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Point of view

True free speech involves everyone's opinion, says Gazette student columnist

Student Life | Student View

By Hayley Whelan

The ability to speak freely has always been something I advocate for.

In this age of selective exposure by news and media, it is difficult to distinguish what the truth is.

The reality is that social media algorithms and limitations of journalistic platforms are deciding for us what is right and wrong, and what should be believed versus what shouldn’t.

As students who will someday be involved in these aspects of life, we must recognize that it is okay for others to have differing opinions.

Freedom for all

Democracy is built on this foundation.

If we all agreed on every subject, what would be the need for politics? Free speech means allowing others to voice their opinions – even if they are contrary to yours.

I often find myself self-censoring to avoid the conflict that would come with suggesting an alternate view.

I do not feel that I am free to say what I mean, and I feel as though I have to temper my words to reflect the more vocal, “public” opinion.

“Sometimes it is just not worth the fight to defend a subjective opinion.”

This is reflected in many different aspects of my life – from discussions with friends and family to writing papers for university classes.

In the latter case, I often become worried that my disagreement with the professor’s point of view will result in a lower grade on an assignment.

Sometimes it is easier to acquiesce, to conform with society and to “play along” per se, to pretend that you agree with others so that you avoid unnecessary confrontation.

Those of you who understand this sentiment will know that sometimes it is just not worth the fight to defend a subjective opinion.

What kind of world do we live in when people will condemn you for mentioning certain politicians, for supporting causes you believe in and for simply not agreeing with them? What world where social media bans those whose opinions they don’t agree with?

Evidence-based decision

In my opinion, the only way to have true free speech is to allow all people – even those who you disagree with vehemently – to present alternate ways of seeing things.

Something inherently human is our ability to consider complicated concepts and to make decisions based on evidence that is presented to us.

However, throughout history there has been a condemnation of those who present evidence that is contrary to what the people in power want us to believe.

“I ask you . . . to experience the world around you with an open mind and a tendency towards acceptance.”

In science, we call it confirmation bias – the rejection or tendency to ignore evidence and facts that do not support our opinions, while searching for and accepting information that confirms our beliefs.

Confirmation bias is a dangerous flaw in scientific research. A group of scientists that seek to affirm their hypothesis to the extent that they willingly or even unknowingly reject relevant information to the contrary can end up with invalid results.

Likewise, if we do not consider opposing opinions in other instances, we decline the chance to use adverse information that may support our points, or enlighten us as to a better solution.

Open and objective mind

What I ask you to take away from this is to experience the world around you with an open mind and a tendency towards acceptance.

If you approach ideas and solutions with an objective mind, and respectfully accept and consider all points of view, you will find yourself in greater harmony with those around you – even those with whom you disagree.

This is the reality of free speech. It is the ability to exist among people who have differing opinions.

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