Recently, I came across an article on Facebook from a conservative leaning website about the case of a florist in Washington state who had been sued (and lost) because she refused to provide flowers for a gay couple’s wedding. Nothing like taking a bold stance against someone else’s happiness. The article was bemoaning this miscarriage of justice and I began to mentally file it in my “circular file.” (This link is not to the original article- I can’t bear to drive traffic to the original article.)
Obviously, justice was served. Just as you shouldn’t be able to refuse service to women, or people of color, or the disabled, you should not be able to refuse service to someone because of their sexual orientation. It reminds me of Ellen’s recent response to a vitriolic pastor who was quoted saying that Ellen’s marriage (and he uses “quotes” around the word to undermine its validity) and her show are designed to attract young girls. Her deft response is wonderful and you should watch it.
But the thing that really struck me about the florist article was not the article itself, but a comment below it that basically said, “Everyone has a right to their opinion. Live and let live.” An admirable perspective, right?
Yes, everyone has a right to their opinion and to express it. As a constitution loving, die-hard advocate of free speech, I will strongly defend anyone’s right to free speech- even those I find reprehensible. Censorship is a coward’s tool. But I think matters have gotten a bit confused and frankly, the American public has gotten a bit lazy.
The public dialogue these days lacks the rigor and depth needed to have productive conversations about important issues. One of the by-products of this laziness is the giving of equal weight to all opinions. Certain elements of the media have embraced this gambit with ardor while others, usually of the Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and most recently John Oliver variety have turned up the volume on pointing out this logical fallacy (WATCH: John Oliver on Climate Change). Giving equal weight to all opinions is NOT guaranteed by the constitution and is NOT an important part of maintaining a democratic debate.
I’ll just pause to acknowledge that I am liberal by nearly all measures, so many of my examples fall along partisan lines- but I am not suggesting that just by being intellectually rigorous you suddenly become a Democrat. In fact, I think real debate is needed on many issues- but it needs to elevated back to a plane where facts, reason, and sound logic are valued.
We see this show up all over the place in the news. Climate deniers given equal coverage on the news or worse, on the floor of the Senate. Anti-vaxxers given a broad platform, all the pseudo-science that flows out of the diet and nutrition world. Two words: Whole. Foods. The power of prayer in healing. There are a stunning number of examples that I could cite.
And it’s not all the public’s fault. It can be difficult to parse the truth from fiction because with the rise of the internet, there is essentially an unlimited amount of space to fill. Given this- it’s more important than ever that we, the public, take our obligation (and as citizens, I DO feel it’s an obligation) to be well educated, critical-thinkers, seriously.
When this country was founded, the easy access to education for all that we have today would have been unimaginable. Particularly when you begin to think about the resources available on the internet through the Khan Academy, Coursera, and even TED talks, to name just a few. The founding fathers would have binged on these free fountains of knowledge the way that we binge-watch The Walking Dead and Downton Abbey. As consumers of information, we need to push ourselves to be rigorous- to think about source, context, laws, and to watch for the kinds of tricks that get used to skew perspective (check out this example). Thank goodness for Snopes.com.
Further, we need to stand up to folks that are trying to advance their opinions on equal footing and say, No! Stand on a street corner and say whatever you want but you aren’t coming on CNN with that malarkey. Recently, the BBC did this by telling its reporters to stop giving climate change deniers equal coverage in their reports. Well done, BBC!
And so, back to the article about the florist. Yes, that florist has a right to her outdated, biased opinion. Thankfully, she does not have the right to discriminate based upon it. But a “live and let live” attitude toward her view is actually the same as endorsing it. If you find yourself thinking or saying that phrase, I want you to stop and really evaluate your position. Are you taking the lazy person’s way out of a discussion? Do you agree with the opinion but are afraid to be upfront about it?
Another good test of whether you need to spend more time developing your view, is by asking whether you would say it to the face of a person that would be impacted by it. Hazel Bryan has had to live with the consequences of her iconic moment intolerance her entire life.
We are so incredibly lucky in America, on so many levels. But I worry that a by-product of our bounty is an ugly blooming of passivity and a general lack of intelligent discourse, curiosity, and rigor. Evolution has endowed us with brains that keep us alive in these modern times almost on auto-pilot, but we have the ability to use them to such great advantage for ourselves and each other. We should take that opportunity and obligation seriously.
Thanks for reading, sharing, and joining me on this journey to challenge and inspire ourselves and others!