A “Safe Space” for Free Speech

In a world of nearly 7.4 billion people, it’s safe to assume that you’ll find someone out there with something stupid to say. I know, it’s hard to believe! Luckily for you, you’ll never have to worry about that here. However, one place many Millennials are most certainly going to encounter an idea they don’t like is on their very own college campus.

Being young as we are, college students are in the midst of finding their way and forging new ideas. With so many Millennials populating universities across the U.S., the institution of college should reflect a veritable marketplace of ideas. If any one place should exemplify a safe environment to express oneself freely, this would be it. But a growing culture of intolerance on campuses threatens to fully undermine that ideal.

Groups of students, expressing a sensitivity to opposing views, are speaking out in the name of “social justice.” And by speaking out, I mean shouting down speakers, demanding changes to university policies to limit free speech, and labeling every instance of offensive language as “hate speech.” This behavior has even led some to question whether Millennials are less tolerant than previous generations. Is this really the legacy we want to leave behind? Do we honestly want to be known as the intolerant generation? Surely we can behave better than this.

The end consequence from all this, however, is not simply the creation of “safe spaces” where individuals are completely free from an offending view. In fact, it sets up a landscape where students (and some professors) can no longer express their own opinions and ideas without fear of strict censorship. To me, that sounds like quite the unsafe space for young minds.

Disagreement is a perfectly natural and healthy facet of human life; it’s not something to be feared. But what I do fear is open discourse becoming a casualty at the price of forcing political correctness. In our daily lives, we will be offended by something. No amount of censorship is going to change this inevitable fact. You don’t like what someone is saying? Present your case. Use knowledge, reason, and logic to delegitimize their opinions. Host a counter event to promote your beliefs. Write an article for the school paper detailing how your idea will succeed and how theirs will fail.

Simply shouting at someone about how offended you are does nothing to promote your cause for the better. It only turns people off to your message. If we turn every instance of offense into an issue of political correctness, we’ll only hurt our ability to speak freely. What we’re then left with is a society where people will become too afraid to speak their minds for fear of offending. New ideas and perspectives may never be heard. Do we really want a world so sterilized and sanitized, where the diversity of thought is forever stamped out? Free speech can be very offensive at times, it’s true. But only through it can we truly remain a free society.

For those of you that think differently, let’s look at it this way. Suppose today the speech that gets barred from campus (or anywhere, for that matter) is one that you vehemently disagree with. You think it’s vile, offensive, and is an outrageous example of “hate speech.” In your eyes, a victory. But what happens when the speech that’s outlawed tomorrow is your own? “But I don’t say anything that’s offensive” you might say. Ah, of course you don’t! But not according to little Johnny over there. You said that one thing that really hurt his feelings. You even offended him. He lobbies for your point of view to be silenced and now a dangerous precedent has been set; nobody is safe from censorship.

So my advice to you? When encountering an opposing point of view, whether on campus or beyond, remember one thing: the concept of free speech doesn’t stop the moment you disagree with someone; in fact, that’s when it’s needed most.

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