I recently wrote a post on “the speech of freedom“, which I proposed is the kind of speech that affords the dignity, and seeks the freedom and flourishing of those I am speaking about or with, particularly those with whom I disagree.
Really, when it comes down to it, this is just responsible free speech. Responsible free speech never undermines the dignity and freedom of others, even those we disagree with, to obtain our object. It recognizes that there really is no “us” and “them”, whether we are talking about our town, our nation, or our world. We are in this thing called life together.
I heard a talk at a conference recently that proposed a simple statement that we can utter when confronted with the different that we are tempted to call “them”. It was a very basic example to me of practicing “the speech of freedom.” It was the statement, “tell me more.”
“Tell me more”:
- is an invitation to a conversation, not an argument.
- is an indication that I want to understand rather than pigeonhole.
- requires that I shut up and listen.
- is a statement acknowledging the dignity of the other, that their “more” is worth hearing.
Most often when I hear something with which I take issue, or meet someone who I sense is very different I want to:
- immediately jump into an argument about why they are wrong.
- fit them into a category and be done with them.
- tell them more about why I am right.
- persuade myself of at least the moral inferiority of the other, that somehow I am more virtuous, or more “something.”
All these things fail the test of the speech of freedom, because to be on the receiving end of such speech neither engenders good will nor extends greater dignity and freedom to the other. I wouldn’t want to be treated that way by another.
“Tell me more” is different. In extending the freedom to another to make themselves understood, I open up rather than shut down speech. It also allows each of us to open our minds to the other and to be curious rather than shutting our minds to the new and different. “Tell me more” gives me the freedom for a whole range of other options than simply being “offended” by difference–I can be intrigued, open, thoughtful, even delighted in the end. “Tell me more” allows me to either be persuaded, or unpersuaded by a different idea. One thing it doesn’t allow me is to be ignorant of why someone else might think that way.
I hope to write more on “the speech of freedom” this year. I believe this is something we desperately need to sustain and enhance a democratic and civil society. I also want to work on using these three words more consistently when I encounter difference:
“Tell me more.”