Freedom of speech?

Now I’m all for freedom of speech. I believe that people should have the right to voice their opinions and not be supressed. But what I have issue with is when people use that right to force their views on others and use it as a chance to say that other people’s decisions and opinions are wrong. Especially people who have some influence on shaping other’s ideas. Recently, I’ve seen some examples of this that have really ticked me off. I can’t exactly do anything about these people or what they do, but I felt that it would help if I wrote about it.

A friend of mine became vegan as part of a new spiritual direction she’s taken. Which is great. I completely respect the lifestyle change she’s made and I’m glad she’s sticking to it. But then, what she decided to do was go on facebook and share her “passion” for veganism. This involved posting multiple pictures and videos every half an hour that not only promoted veganism but that also condemned all other lifestyles (non-vegetarians and vegetarians). Saying that they were essentially murderers and are cruel to animals by eating what they eat. She began calling everyone out for their choices and insisting that being vegan is the best choice if you care at all about animals and the environment. What bothered me most about her posts was that she wasn’t promoting veganism for what it was. She was more intent on saying that her choice was the ultimate and that everyone else were essentially criminals for what they believed in. It wasn’t even about her decision or her experience anymore. I feel that people can choose whatever they want and live life however they feel best, but they shouldn’t admonish others or react badly when someone else does something different. I am vegetarian. I’ve been so all my life. But I’ve never been repulsed by the idea of eating meat or cringe when I go to restaurants with my friends and they order something with meat in it. I have my food that I’m happy with, and I accept that others do too. I can’t understand why people feel the need to force their ideas on other people through what can essentially be called propaganda. I believe that if you genuinely believe in something and are happy with your belief, you wouldn’t need to spread it to everyone else. You should be content with what you have and trust that others are too. Not become the perfect example for the joke: “How do you know someone is vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”

Another example of the abuse of freedom of speech was by a few lecturers at university. As part of our first couple of formal learning weeks back at university, we had a day learning about Māori health. In New Zealand, where I live, Māori are the indigenous people of the land and we have been taught that there are many health disparities between Māori and the rest of the population in NZ. It is said that these disparities are due to the institutionalised racism and implicit biases in the healthcare system towards Māori. This is a topic of quite a lot of controversy and political debate about whether the current government cares and is doing enough about these disparities. This was the main aim of the session. I had several issues with this approach, but one of the most concerning things was that the lecturers who stood in front of us basically said that the current government is completely useless and racist and that the people who voted for them are all interested only in themselves. They also went on to imply that our prime minister was gutless etc etc. My issue with this wasn’t the what they were saying so much as the situation they chose to say these things and how they decided to put it. Being the lecturer who is trying to teach us to be more culturally sensitive and stop being biased towards different races and kill prejudice in the form of racism, was also essentially telling us that a certain group of people (the ruling party) should be hated and abused. Ironic isn’t it? I thought so. And more because I didn’t actually learn about Māori health in a medical sense at all. I only came away with the idea that health disparities are due to things of the past. Not anything about the actual nature of health of Māori people or any positive points. It was really a disappointment. Everyone has political ideas. Everyone has a party they support for different reasons. But I think these are personal choices and should not be for people to judge or comment on. I voted for the ruling party and I support them. But I’ve never felt the need to think or say that other parties are useless or stupid. I feel like lecturers should recognise the position they hold and the influence they may have on students. By acting the way they are, and saying what they’re saying, they are only encouraging fixed, strong beliefs. That could manifest in any way. I again go back to my point about, if you believe in something truly, you shouldn’t have to show it by putting others down or being forceful. I think that says more about you rather than the thing you’re talking about or the people you put down.

I just wish people would say things in a more positive way, without having to attack anyone personally just to get their point across. Or saying that their ideas are THE ideas and everything else is not. As my best friend would say: “If you haven’t got something nice to say… zip it.” By all means, be vocal with your opinions, but just YOUR opinions. Don’t go talking about anyone else’s.

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