Opinions free, powerful: Don’t be afraid

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“On the count of three, say,
‘vagina,’” says a young man using a
megaphone. The man, in a beatenup
white tank top and jean shorts,
just wants to rile up a crowd of
concertgoers who have been
standing in line for hours for Vans
Warped Tour in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Vagina,” roared the crowd on
cue.S
econds later, some security
guards apprehended the man
and took him away on a golf cart.
They had
p r e v i o u s l y
warned him
not to go
through with
his chant.
Why did
they take
him away? It
was clearly
because of
his words. But
all he did was
get a bunch of
kids to scream a sex organ. That’s
punishable?
It’s a good example of how, as a
country, we are terrified of ideas,
despite the hordes that rally to the
cry of “First Amendment.”
We are terrified of religious
ideas – We made Islamaphobia
a thing after the 9/11 terrorist
attacks because we were scared
of Islam, and in a 2006 study
by University of Minnesota,
atheists were found to be widely
distrusted.
We are terrified of political
ideas. Being a communist or a
socialist is seen as un-American.
Calling the president a socialist
is seen by swaths of right-leaning
thinkers to be a valid, negative
criticism. And you can’t identify as
a conservative without someone
jumping the gun and thinking
you’re intolerant.
We are terrified of social ideas.
Gay rights have made amazing
strides recently, but the fact
that there’s any resistance at
all to social equality shows that
some of us are uncomfortable
with changing our antiquated
social norms. Sexual liberation
is still seen by some as a negative
character attribute– “slut!” we
yell at people who dare to be
comfortable with their sexuality.
On campus, we talk about
visiting preachers who damn us
to hell. We get angry at them for
condemning us. Some of us might
get in their face, ready to pounce.
Conversely, they might get in our
face.
All for ideas. We like to get
offended by ideas, as if they’re
going to take up arms and hurt us.
We say, “That’s offensive” when
someone espouses an idea we’re
uncomfortable with. Why?
Ideas are not lethal, and there
is no need to get physical or feel
threatened by them. We should
not be afraid of ideas. A free
marketplace of thought thrives
on the open exchange of ideas, no
matter how radical or offensive or
whatever other irrelevant word we
apply to them.
It’s difficult to do. If someone
calls themselves a conservative
or a liberal or any other word, we
immediately create a template
in our minds that we expect their
ideas to conform to. Stop for a
second next time and erase that
template. Try to see why they think
the way they do. What factors in
their life and what life experiences
shaped their ideas? Human beings
should not be written off merely
because they have an idea that you
don’t quite understand.
This was a challenge for
myself. I used to write off the
ultra-conservative, ultra-Christian
folks because I found their ideas
reprehensible. And while I still
disagree with their ideas, I
realized I respect them for the fact
that they are convicted enough to
hold them.
It’s similar with the preachers
who send me to hell with their
words. Hell means nothing to me,
so I’m not worried. Their ideas
are intangibles – just a concept
you are free to disregard, just as
you are free to present your own
ideas in opposition. When either
side gets physically aggressive
over ideas, it’s the moment when
the marketplace of thought shuts
down.
And of course, considering
this is how our government
works, people with ideas can
affect your life through policy. So
on a governmental level, putting
your ideas into action is a natural
process.
But on a face-to-face level,
in a coffee shop with friends, on
the library lawn or at a group
viewing of a presidential debate,
remember that ideas can’t harm
you. If someone tells you you’re
going to hell because you’re gay,
remember that only you have the
right to make yourself feel bad.
“I disagree with that person”
has power, and when you’re
comfortable enough to hinge on
that thought, it’s usually all you
need to say to yourself.