Stop using 'free speech' as an excuse to be horrible, says well being writer Lisa Fouweather

Hardly anyone is asked to explain their opinions these days; to outline, not just what they believe, but why.
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The problem with this, however, is that if you don't think about things, you'll never understand them.

People are so quick to pass judgement on things they don't understand, too quick to form opinions based on little other than hearsay.

'Black people are dangerous.'

Freedom of speech doesn't mean you can used it as an excuse to be unkind to others.Freedom of speech doesn't mean you can used it as an excuse to be unkind to others.
Freedom of speech doesn't mean you can used it as an excuse to be unkind to others.

'Being gay is a sin.'

'We don't want more immigrants coming to our country.'

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These are just a few examples of some of the completely unsolicited, wholly nonsensical, statements I've heard, all of which paint anyone who is 'different' as being inherently 'wrong', somehow.

Ask whoever's saying any of the above statements to explain their opinions though, and they can't.

Most won't even attempt to explain, they'll just repeat the statement in that head thrashingly self-assured way, followed by the line; 'freedom of speech', as though, in the context of LGBTQ+ people, the 709,920,000 people in the world who identify as LGBTQ+ (9% of adults), are in in the wrong, whilst they - Dave from Doncaster - are, obviously, in the right.

Freedom of speech is great, but don't use it as an excuse to be an idiot. Have your opinions, but have a reason for them.

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Be able to explain them. Don't just hate and hurt people for the sake of it.

Dave from Doncaster (a fictional person, I'm not hating on Daves), doesn't know anyone, directly, who identifies as LGBTQ+, and, other than the hate messages he sends, nor has Dave ever had a conversation with anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+.

His views are deep-rooted, but entirely formed from some bizarre, preconceived idea he has (with absolutely nothing to back it up).

'Fear always springs from ignorance' (Emerson, 1837). People react with fear, anger and hatred due to their ignorance towards the things they cannot, or rather, the things they choose not, to understand.

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If only Dave could show more empathy to people who are 'different' to himself, he would see that there is nothing 'wrong' with being gay or bi or trans or queer, or any sexuality other than the heterosexual 'norm', but there is everything wrong with being homophobic, racist, misogynistic- whatever it may be.

But, for people like Dave to see this, they need to stop viewing people who are not 'like them' as some other species, and start viewing them as people. Whatever our sexuality, gender, political views, etc, we're all just people.

As Brene Brown puts it in her book, 'Braving The Wilderness' (2017), 'People are hard to hate close up. Move in. Speak the truth. Be civil.'

In other words, we can (claim to) 'hate' people from far away, that's easy, but it's really hard to hate people close up. It's why so many people are so quick to drag others down on social media, because a face on a screen is so distant and unrelatable.

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Would the 'trolls' on social media say half of the things they say to people online to them in person? No, of course they wouldn't. But social media, and the influx of 'influencers', has led to people being viewed as 'brands', as opposed to actual human beings.

And, it's not just celebrities in the firing line for this, either.

Marginalised groups often find themselves at the brunt of such hate speech, too.

The quote 'you can't be what you can't see' works both ways in the minds of the people who want to 'squash' marginalised groups down.

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Homophobic people (like 'Dave'), for example, might target openly gay influencers, seeing them as a 'threat' to their ideals. It is such a perceived threat which, I believe, lies at the source of so much of the hate we have in the world today- misogyny, homophobia, racism, transphobia, fatphobia - all the hate directed at, and against, the marginalised in society, based on a fear of being 'different.'

If you're a parent bringing up a child in such a way that teaches them to, ultimately, fear stepping foot outside of the box which houses the norm, then you're, undoubtedly, doing them a massive disservice.

Look at it this way- teaching children the importance of equality, teaching them about the importance of respecting everyone, LGBTQ+ rights, for example, it won't kill them.

It won't 'turn them gay', god forbid!!

But, not teaching them to respect everyone, teaching them that there is something 'wrong' with being gay, just might (kill them). If they're gay, and they're brought up being told that being gay is a 'sin', well, I don't think you need me to tell you what effect that would have on their state of mind.

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It's why I think that it's so important for us all to surround ourselves with people from all walks of life.

Social media is a great way of doing this. Follow accounts on Instagram which represent real life, not an idealised version of life.

Follow people of different races, nationalities, genders, sexualities, body types, socioeconomic background (class), exposing yourself to diversity, and reminding yourself, constantly, that we all have as much right to be here as the next person.

To end, as is my spiritual belief, we're all one and the same anyway. It doesn't matter who we are, or who we love, we're all just spirits having a human experience for a little while.

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We're all just mere specks of dust in the grand scheme of the universe.

And so, what our skin colour happens to be, who we happen to fall in love with, what we happen to believe in, it really does not matter, like, at all.

So, can we all just agree to be nice to each other? I can assure you that, we all have far more in common than you think.

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