“Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”
So said CP Scott, anyway.
I often find myself surfing the Guardian’s Comment is free section when I’ve nothing much else to do, these days. I’ve always been a bit curious about the particular quotation they’ve chosen to highlight as the banner of the section. Today, my curiosity got the better of me and I found out exactly who it was that said those words, and why. The essay from which this morsel of wisdom is taken was written eighty-eight years ago on the nature of newspapers, the Guardian in particular, on the celebration of its centenary. The entire essay can be found here, and is a stimulating read.
Having read that essay, and listened to a particularly re-enforcing two-minute snippet of opinion on free speech, I feel the need to add a little of my own insight, even if it’s only for my own sake.
Before I get ahead of myself: the snippet.
After I listened to that I thought: “I should just write a blog entry that simply posts the link to the audio and says nothing more than ‘Yeah, what he said!'”, but I thought better of that. It’s a satisfying thing when you stumble on something that validates an opinion that you hold so eloquently and tastefully. It is even more satisfying to expand upon such views yourself, and so here I am.
I think the quotation from CP Scott and Anthony Grayling’s reading express similar a similar viewpoint on the nature of comment and fact, and I absolutely agree with both of them. The line, which Grayling makes reference to as being easily drawn, is a line that I have recognized my entire life, without even actually being conscious of it. The right to free speech and an opinion on any matter is something I think everyone should have; it’s also a right that should be cherished and exercised with caution and discretion. There is absolutely no need to be careless and malicious toward people and their lives as they live them. Different lives, different people, and different views are what make our world an interesting place to live. This is not a new insight on the matter, of course, but I don’t think it can be said quite enough.
I’ve often struggled with the political correctness as it relates to matters of opinion, and it’s not a viewpoint I’ve ever been able to express quite as well as I would like. I understand that being politically correct has it’s place, and I would never even begin to think that we should all be allowed to say hurtful things or use hurtful terms when they are accompanied with malicious intent. I think Grayling says what I feel on the matter very succinctly:
…to speak insultingly, or act discriminatorily with respect to people’s race, sex, sexuality or disability is unacceptable […] regarding what people can choose — such as their political or religious commitments — say what you like. People must bear the consequences of their choices, including the disagreement, even the contempt, of others. Feeling offended is no defense against attack on your opinions by those who don’t share them.
I find that last line to be especially important in making my point. It is valid that a person may feel offended after an attack on their opinion regarding a certain matter; however, I have always felt that feeling such offense to the extreme that you might try and force a person to change their behaviour to be an insult toward your opinion and yourself. If you hold an opinion or viewpoint and are not able to take criticism regarding it, it shows a significant lack of strength in that opinion, therefore undermining any arguments you make make for your case in the first place. As a friend of mine says, playfully and with a pseudo-shock, when we debate certain things, “We believe different things!”
As a pertinent addition to these statements, if an attack or simple criticism of a person’s opinion turns into an attack on them as a person, it is an unfortunate occurrence for both the critic and the criticized. Neither party learns anything from such conduct, and their minds are piled higher with hate instead of being nourished with the brain food that is acknowledging, and learning of, differing opinions. Accepting differing opinions into your mind can sometimes serve to reinforce your own opinion, or enlighten you to alter it somewhat. The person who is afraid of such enlightenment, knowledge and growth is that way to their own detriment. There is certainly nothing wrong with standing up for what you believe, but to not acknowledge the fact that other people’s opinions have merit is purely ignorant.
The seriousness of this blog entry is not something I expected when I began writing it. Evidently my passion on the matter has run away with my words and they’re conspiring to fill my life with simple logic expressed in multiple-clause sentences and many paragraphs.
And now, to cut through the words and to the point: hold your opinion; express it well and freely; know your stuff; don’t be mean, and don’t be an ignorant ass about it — the end.