YOUR GOAL IS
NOT TO BATTLE THE MIND,
BUT TO RESHAPE IT.
- Rabbi Laibl Wolf
Using words to share, explore, question, invite and connect are distinctly human aptitudes. While animals and plants possess more rudimentary forms of communication (and I suspect all elements of the universe communicate in some very subtle way) human beings are both outwardly intelligible and intelligent. (I know some may argue that human intelligence may be far inferior to the planets and the Cosmos at large, but let’s leave that for another time). But words are not used neutrally. They may inquire or challenge, empower or overpower, draw close or push away, inform or misrepresent.
The other side of the coin is that your words may be well-intended yet prove offensive or hurtful without your knowing. Or words may be misunderstood, not because of poor vocabulary, but due to the other’s insecurity or low self-esteem. Some even fear hearing your words and simply ‘cancel you’, preventing you to voice them. Furthermore, words have cultural acceptance and rejection: dialogue is a ‘good’ word, while argument is a bad word. Debate is a good word, but disagreement is a bad word.
Another issue is whether we have the freedom to use any words whenever feel like it? This goes to the crux of ‘freedom of speech’. Is it absolute or does it possess limits? Does freedom of speech mean freedom to hurt, belittle, or ridicule? Or let’s raise the ante: does freedom give us the license to express racist or antisemitic views publicly? Indeed, where does freedom end, and censorship begin? Is politeness the acceptable boundary, or is it provable accuracy, or inflicting emotional pain, and the many more vague boundaries that could be, and are indeed, imposed both by society and law – the law being simply a reflection of society. And so different societies will have different boundaries depending on the cultural mores and standards.
These are some of the issues we contend with this week – a week UNESCO designated an International Day of Cultural Diversity and Dialogue.
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