Op-Ed

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Deconstructing what we’re saying

Justin Dallaire | Fulcrum Contributor

A FREE SPEECH wall was erected and subsequently torn down in one day at Carleton University this January. The Carleton Students for Liberty, the group who initiated the project, intended to “promote the competition of ideas” by having students freely express themselves on a giant makeshift wall made of paper. Arun Smith, a fourth-year human rights student at Carleton, then destroyed the wall on the basis that “not every opinion is valid, nor deserving of expression.” Smith felt as though some comments left on the wall negatively targeted the gay community.

This incident only reopened the whole free speech debate. Who was right? Was it the Carleton Students for Liberty or Smith? Should we have the right to say whatever we please? Or should the moral compasses of the world—like Smith—keep us from going too far? The answer is neither: Moderation is key.

Smith should be convicted of being ignorant and for giving a bad name to all human rights students. Does he need to be reminded that free speech is viewed as a basic human right? Perhaps he slept through that lecture. It could be argued that Smith was defending human rights by standing up for the LGBTQ community, but the only comment on that wall that could be interpreted as anti-gay was “traditional marriage is awesome”—hardly worth having a fit over.

Smith ultimately acted hypocritically by saying that not every opinion is valid and then deeming his own opinion valid enough to tear down the wall. Writing “I believe that not every opinion is valid” on the free speech wall would have been an equally effective and much easier way of getting his message out there.

On the flip side, the Carleton Students for Liberty are to blame for harvesting the idea that we can say whatever we want, and the “I’m right because I have the right to be, according to the law” mentality. There’s nothing wrong with advocating for free speech, but we have started to take things too far.

Free speech leaves us feeling as though our opinion is coming out on top, and things are getting accomplished—but in reality, is this happening? No, because no consensus is ever reached. It’s great that we’re having a meaningful debate, but if we never arrive at a conclusion or even a semblance of one, what’s the point? Just watch the Piers Morgan gun control debate with Alex Jones, an American gun activist, to get a sense of how free speech on steroids becomes a verbal boxing match with no winner.

Free speech needs to involve not only speaking but also listening. What good are differing opinions if no one ever listens or tries to understand them?

You can begin right now. If you happen to disagree with everything I’ve just said, write your own opinion on the subject. Make sure you understand my position before you go and present your own. And if you’re speaking with an open mind, I’ll truly listen to what you’ve got to say.