Speech Therapy

In a blogpost I wrote in November of last year I brainstormed about all the different shapes and forms that freedom comes in. I dedicated a segment on freedom of speech, as I tried to make sense of the desire many people seemed to have to use this “freedom” to make other people feel like shit.

Rowan

In a speech from 2012 that only came to my attention in recent days, British actor and living legend Rowan Atkinson defended free speech in a way that gave the little wheels in my mind a spin. His appeal was a response to a British law at the time, that caused ridiculous arrests and offered too much room for interpretation and misuse.

Rowan Atkinson’s full speech from 2012 on the repeal of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986

Insult legalized

A conclusion that the British government was coming to was “that language or behaviour that is merely insulting should never be criminalized.” The fact that this statement needed to be made signals that up until then, insulting an officer (or his horse, apparently) was in fact something you could get arrested for.

In his speech Rowan Atkinson pointed out that “the clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is easily construed as insult by certain parties. Ridicule is easily construed as insult. Sarcasm, unfavourable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy can be interpreted as insult. And because so many things can be interpreted as insult, it is hardly surprising that so many things have been.”

Barack

Atkinson proceeded with a proposal: “For me, the best way to increase society’s resistance to insulting or offensive speech is to allow a lot more of it. As with childhood diseases, you can better resist those germs to which you have been exposed.” He emphasized these words by referring to Barack Obama’s 2012 UN speech, in which the former president said: “We [defend freedom of speech] because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities. (…) The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.”

The message these two men are trying to bring across is clear. They both stress that, when faced with intolerance and hatefulness the solution lies in more communication and more freedom, rather than the opposite. It may lead to more insults, but it will also lead to more compliments, more debate, more questions and more answers. In Atkinson’s words: “If we want a robust society, we need more robust dialogue”.

Makes sense, right?

Sacred principle

The motivation behind Rowan Atkinson and Barack Obama’s defense of freedom of speech is one I applaud. It is a sacred principle that characterizes any civilized society. Encouraging and protecting that freedom implies that insults can and will happen. And we need to learn to be OK with that.

Mr Atkinson addresses snowflakeism by bringing up the influence of social media on the way we communicate and our ability to take a joke: “The storms that surround Twitter and Facebook comment have raised some fascinating issues about free speech, which we haven’t really yet come to terms with. Firstly, that we all have to take responsibility for what we say, which is quite a good lesson to learn. But secondly, we’ve learnt how appallingly prickly and intolerant society has become of even the mildest adverse comment.”

Rowan Atkinson: “Feel free to insult me”

Clearly bothered by the rise of this phenomenon, Rowan Atkinson spoke his commentary on the troublesome British law with two banners beside him reading “Feel free to insult me”. This type of freedom is essential for comedians, as their craft lies in seeking out truths in the realm of the absurd (or absurdities within the realm of truth). Aren’t the best jokes the ones that bring a smile to your face and a slight sting to your conscience?

Bullies

Not only comedians hold freedom of speech in high regard. It is highly appreciated and respected right here within the blogger community as well, as it is pretty much what it is all about. It grants everybody equal amount of time at the microphone and once there, it ensures that every individual can speak their truth fully and fearlessly.

But in the defense of free speech, people on the receiving end of bullying, hate speech and threats are told to adopt every elementary school’s mantra “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. So we all cultivated some hard leathery skin to protect our souls from the ugly byproducts of freedom of expression.

However, what Atkinson doesn’t mention -because we never thought it would be necessary to do so-, is that even though speaking your mind can be felt as an insult to some, inflicting pain should never become a goal in itself. The tragic train wreck that was Barrack Obama’s successor demonstrated what that looks and sounds like. Also, it showed us what abuse of this sacred right can lead to.

That the solution for this cruel tendency is actually “more speech” still rings true in spite of all of this. Something I have found to be especially challenging in upholding this ideal is that those individuals that insist freedom of speech must be utilized to verbally crush their self-appointed opponents seem to have only limited patience with communication. They sling their intolerant words into the world like children send anonymous spitballs flying around from the back of a classroom. Further communication about the matter is never really possible.

Speech impairment

So, let me stress again that I really, totally, full heartedly encourage and support more dialogue within our societies and especially between people with opposing opinions. However…. It is not enough. Instead of teaching people on the receiving end of hate speech to toughen up, we also need to start asking the mudslingers WTF is wrong with them.

Not by going back to throwing bullies in jail for their assholery, like that former British law did.

What I would suggest is helping these verbal thugs to find other ways to express themselves. And by that I don’t mean they should just yell into a pillow every time they feel their inner douchebag playing up. I mean they should actually look into why they feel so uncontrollably angry, sad, afraid or threatened in the first place.

And yes, refraining from calling them thugs, degenerates, douchebags (or any of the words I may have used in this blog to refer to these people) would also be helpful…

Psychobabble

We are complex beings with incredible brains (and souls, I guess, if you believe in that). We are capable of thinking such deeply perplexing thoughts that we don’t know what to do with them ourselves sometimes. On top of that, the times we live in and the technology that dictates our every day lives, let’s us feel all the feels all the time!

Do you want to wallow in the pain of heartbreak? Spotify has playlists at the ready for you. Are you in a cute and cuddly mood? The Dodo channel on Youtube has an endless source of videos to match that! Angry and destructive? I’m sure Steven Seagal is still making films in some dark corner of the internet to quench that thirst.

Anyway… What I am trying to say is… Our brains need a break sometimes. Also, we need to learn talk about our feelings. For many that also means learning new words to verbalize all the things we can feel. There are so many ways to express one’s feelings!

Encouragement of expression

A thought that has been going through my mind ever since that Rowan Atkinson vid appeared on my screen is that it’s not “freedom of speech” that we should be promoting and protecting per se. Or, I mean yes, we should also be protecting that, but “speech” is just the bare minimum of what we need to master.

“Freedom of expression” comes closer, because yes, there are more ways one can express themselves than with speech!

But how about not only granting people freedom of expression but actually encouraging people to use it. How? I’m not sure how to fix the current generation of people with a “freedom of speech impairment” but maybe we can start offering lessons at elementary and secondary schools to make sure kids acquire a vocabulary to express their feelings? And let’s not forget empathy lessons, so we can use our fancy feely words to help and comfort others that are struggling to do so.

This idea is (obviously) a work in progress and I can use some help. Who’s with me?

Mind Cleanup July 2020

July was not a good month for blogging, apparently. My goal to publish at least three blogs per month was not met. It was my Alphabet challenge that got in the way. The letter D… Ddddamn you, letter D.

C-words

Words that were more prominent in my life were all C-words: Communication, conspiracies, consciousness and, you know that other C-word.

A double C-word that featured in a discussion I had with my boyfriend G was crowd control.

He was telling me about how 5G technology has the power to stun and paralyze people through milimeter wave frequencies. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes, and G couldn’t help but notice.

It turns out that Mona Keijzer, the Dutch State Secretary for Economic Affairs, helped fuel this idea when she mentioned crowd control during a debate on the implementation of 5G in the Netherlands. For Dutch speaking people interested in hearing her exact words, click here (but please close your eyes while you listen, as the imagery in the vid is misleading imo)

My first reaction was that she was referring to the capacity of 5G to be more precise about peoples’ exact locations, making it possible to anticipate where it could become undesirably crowded (and of which individuals that crowd might consist). Cynically enough, I think we’re already past the point that that is shocking or secret, troubling as it may be. This New Yorker article from April 2019 explains my feelings about that quite well.

My boyfriend challenged me to read into it further, as he felt my filter bubble may have been keeping me away from seeing the full picture. So, I did. And I hereby admit that I did find reliable, science based information, backed by governments and mainstream institutions, that affirms that “hypersonic weapons” are a thing and that 5G could play a role in making the application of such weapons easier.

That’s all I’ve got to say about that (for now).

Music

Time for a musical interlude.

Can we all just take a minute to appreciate the talent of this young man?

And can somebody please make him a sandwich?

‘Good’ communication

During the lock down period, when we were all working from home, a lot of communication was conducted in writing, rather than in spoken form.

It has been interesting to see how eloquent people who have no problem explaining something face-to-face can have so much trouble doing the same thing when those words need to be presented in writing. I witnessed a lot of sloppy communication that I knew was meant well, but could be interpreted in so many ways, that it made my brain hurt.

I find the power of language wildly interesting. Learning about meanings behind words and the unintentional damage that can be done with them is something I wish everybody would take a little time to think about.

Luckily, I actually like my co-workers. They are cool peeps with good hearts, making it easy to forgive their verbal clumsiness.

I have been re-listening Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings myself, which have turned out to be excellent running and cycling soundtracks.

As a lover of sarcasm and brutal humor though, I have always needed to check myself every now and then. I don’t always get it right but I do try to fix any damage I may have done and do better the next time around..

It did make me realize that, once again, ignorance is bliss.

The fact that I have knowledge of Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings and the implicit idea that there is such a thing as ‘violent communication’ turned out to be a bit of a burden for me.

It made it harder to let things pass, even when I knew what the message was that someone was trying to convey. Words that I have come to identify as ‘aggressive’ make me frown, where I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought in the past.

These spasms of annoyance also demonstrate that I’m not done learning. I know that the way I receive and process a message is up to me. How I feel can never be somebody else’s responsibility (or their choice of words).

Still… I just wish they would just ‘do it properly’.

the letter D

Deodorant. Doom’s day preppers. Defunding the Police. the Daily Show. Dancing. Drought. Dominance.

As I said, I’m having a hard time finding something to write about that starts with the letter D.

I had an idea about the word Dixie, but I have to admit that would just be a sorrow attempt of me trying to be relevant and probably failing. I know too little about it and simply do not have a strong enough opinion about the matter, which means I lack motivation.

And then there was Democracy. I do have an opinion about that. But I just wish I could come up with something easy for once… A topic that not only makes for easy writing but also easy reading.

I’m sure something will get written in the upcoming weeks, but July 2020 will have to go into the history books as one without an Alphabet-inspired post.

Alright, August Blogust. I’m ready for you.