We often read about free speech being shut down on college campuses, in workplaces, and in the entertainment industry, but we need to talk about the stifling of speech within families.
After the election of Donald Trump, I heard of families setting some interesting rules for Thanksgiving. You know how it usually goes: Who’s coming? What are you bringing? Will grandma let us have wine this year? Well, politics seems to be off the menu for some Thanksgiving gatherings in 2016.
My mother shared the story of a friend of hers, an elderly lady who lost her husband this year, who had been previously invited by extended family to share Thanksgiving with them in the Northeast (she lives in North Carolina). This lady is a big Trump supporter, and everyone in the family knows it. They’re Democrats, so they tolerated their red state cousin through the election, believing all dissenters would be put in their place once Hillary Clinton won.
That didn’t happen.
So the day after the election, my mom’s friend got a phone call from her oh-so-tolerant and enlightened family in the Northeast, disinviting an elderly widow from Thanksgiving dinner.
So fragile are these snowflakes, so intolerant are they of different political views, that they can’t even bear the presence of a Trump-supporting, newly widowed senior.
Another story comes from my own experience. A family email was sent to all of us from the organizer of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, informing us of the time and place — and adding a nice little note at the bottom that “politics” will not be discussed this year.
In other words, if you can’t keep your mouth shut about Trump, stay at home along with your potato salad and stuffing.
Hmm. None of you received any such prohibitions in 2008 and 2012 when Obama was elected did you?
Why do conservatives have to be subjected to the political gushings of Democrats, but Democrats can’t take the same in return? Why don’t conservatives ever try to shut up their left-leaning friends and family?
The answer is becoming all too obvious in our culture. Conservative views have been labeled as so extreme, so racist, sexist, whatever, that they must be silenced for the sake of peace and unity.
While this is dangerous in the broader spheres of society where free speech is paramount to maintaining a democracy, it is just as dangerous among friends and families.
All the liberties and privileges we enjoy as a nation really do start at home. They’re born of free associations and relationships built on the foundations of openness, mutual affection, and respect.
When you silence people because you are incapable of hearing dissent, when your feelings are so fragile that you melt at the first hint of disagreement or divergence from what you have determined to be acceptable and true, then you disrupt relationships.
If people aren’t free to share, to speak their minds — especially when they disagree — then they are no longer connecting with one another in an authentic and rational way. They are alienated from each other at a fundamental level.
This disruption of relationships and separation of individuals through silencing lays the groundwork for creeping tyranny. It undermines democracy. If people aren’t free to express their thoughts, if they hide what they think because they are afraid to offend, and if others silence speech because they’re too easily offended, then a vacuum is created. That vacuum is filled with the messaging — the propaganda — of those with the most power.
If people have been silenced, they will be afraid to connect with others and form associations that are necessary to defy oppressive powers and ensure liberty.
Freedom is as important in the home as it is in the public square. Relationships cannot grow or be strengthened if one person or group is controlling others, shutting them down, forbidding them from being true to themselves as free individuals.
This need to control others isn’t derived from any real principle of civility or amiability. It’s born of fear and an inability to control oneself.
Evelyn Sommers, in “The Tyranny of Niceness,” writes:
There is a vast difference between controlling others and being in control of ourselves.
We all want and need a measure of control over our lives. On the other hand, attempts to control other people are ill-advised in personal relationships and are often a result of having little control over ourselves.
This Thanksgiving, instead of shutting down your family and friends because you’re so upset about Trump’s presidency (or the other way around), control your own impulses and feelings. If someone says something offensive, have the maturity to listen and not let it “trigger” you to the point that you can’t control yourself.
If a debate breaks out, engage your mind and intellect, discussing the issues with respect, tolerance, and self-control.
Controlling speech disrupts marriages, families, schools, and workplaces.
Personal relationships thrive when individuals are free to express themselves in a dignified way. Too often, however, people interpret mere disagreement as an offense, as a lack of respect. In response, they demand that others not speak.
In the end, all we are left with are opposing sides simply co-existing without connecting. We have isolation instead of social integration. It’s meaningless and frankly dehumanizing.
Silence does not build cohesion; open communication does, and we need individuals to have strong, connective relationships if our society is to remain free.