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The privilege of free speech

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Second, to my shame I find that I only now recognize how disrespectful the call for respect can be. Why must I respect the neo-Nazi chanting “Jews will not replace us!”? Respecting him in conversation says that his idea is worth respecting. It says that it’s an open issue. I believe I only ever assumed conversations should always be respectful because my privilege has meant I never really had much personally at risk in such conversations.

Part Three: I recently attended a 3-hour Zoom celebration of consultant and author Chris Meyer, who passed away a few months ago. Chris was a networker of people and a synthesizer of ideas— wicked smart and so kind and joyful that you came away from every encounter feeling lifted up. Chris could entertain ideas he thoroughly disagreed with, use them to illuminate other ideas, and bring people together in conversation. Assuming there are any intelligent Nazis, Chris is the person who could have engaged them in a worthwhile conversation. But Chris was exceptional in this way and others. And although he was immensely sensitive and empathetic, he too entered conversations secure in his unshakable position of privilege.

Now, I need to shrink back from the ledge. I still think that all people should be treated with dignity, although that doesn’t preclude being the object of righteous anger. And there are many times when calm, respectful conversation is the best way forward. But I no longer assume that is always the case. I attribute this change to my slow but ever-growing recognition of the pervasiveness of my privilege.

I think my parents would agree with me.

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