This morning, as I was painting a cabinet for my bathroom, I heard an interview with a former college professor of mine. Pretty much anyone in the DFW area who listens to the news is familiar with Dr. Alan Saxe. A small man with a huge heart, he has never met a topic he isn’t willing to research and discuss. Today, he took on the topic of political correctness and how it is silencing a number of Americans because they are too afraid to speak for fear of what others will think.
Dr. Saxe is a small man, not someone you would normally look twice at. Back in the Dark Ages when he was my Political Science prof at the University of Texas at Austin, he was energy personified. That was the first thing that struck me. The second was his joy for teaching and for making his students think. I had him for at least four classes, probably more. He was my favorite professor. It didn’t matter that we disagreed on a number of political issues. When we did, it was a civilized disagreement, one where we could discuss our views and learn.
And boy did I learn from him and, as today proved, he is still teaching any and all who are willing to listen and think.
To the surprise of the radio interviewer, Dr. Saxe said this trend toward being afraid of what we say started in the ’50s and ’60s, with the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Society was changing and words that had been accepted, if not necessarily acceptable, were now forbidden. These words became loaded and the use of them, even innocently, could mark you as, at be, unenlightened, and at worst a racist.
Social media increased this trend. As Dr. Saxe said, we are too quick to use the term “hate speech”, diluting its meaning and impact. We are just as quick to call someone a racist or Nazi, often to simply silence points of view we don’t agree with. It is a dangerous trend, one that needs to not only be slowed but stopped.
As Dr. Saxe said, he teaches people to think, to consider the context and the meaning of a word withing the context. He noted that the quickest and easiest way to avoid a number of the pitfalls we face today with so many trying to silence speech they don’t agree with is to simply think and be nice. No name-calling, no shouting down to silence an opinion that doesn’t match our own. Discussion and consideration.
What a revolutionary idea — not.
One thing that dawned on me as I listened to Dr. Saxe (beyond the fact he isn’t as liberal as he was years ago — or at least he doesn’t seem to be on certain issues) is that two of my favorite instructors, the two who taught me the most about critical thinking and really listening to what others say and framing discussions only after listening were two of the the most liberal. Of course, back then, a Texas liberal was a conservative most everywhere else in the country.
But I digress.
Dr. Saxe was right when he said we are on a slippery slope where free speech is concerned. We have to stand up for our ideas and quit being afraid to speak. Sure, we might say something to hurt someone’s feelings but no one ever guaranteed any of us a life where we wouldn’t get upset or insulted. It is up to us to listen to what people said, learn from it and learn how to discuss issues we don’t agree upon.