Have your say ... intelligently

Former Prime Minister John Howard's voice  reminds me of people calling for the
Former Prime Minister John Howard's voice reminds me of people calling for the "good old days".

FORMER prime minister John Howard waded back into public discourse recently searching for relevance by suggesting a level of intolerance was stifling public debate and that people were becoming too afraid to speak for fear of being challenged.
I couldn't help wondering to myself what's wrong with being challenged?
Surely this is the only way our society can be at its best.
 In many ways I see politics stifling sensible and robust debate but, on this occasion, I can't help thinking that voices are not being silenced, they are just being held to account or called out in the way that they must be. Surely, this is not silencing the debate but rather enhancing it by demanding those views are put in a more informed and sensitive way.
Howard's voice reminds me of those calling for a return to the "good old days" where one could call a spade a spade without being challenged seriously. Those who join the chorus of voices yearning for the good old days don't usually understand that those days were not particularly good for many people in our society.
In those days select voices - usually middle-aged white guys - could say what they wanted without ever being seriously challenged. Other voices were silenced and powerless.
 In those days one could refer to Aboriginal people as coons or boongs and if we ever complained then we were labelled as troublemakers or not able to take a joke.
We could refer to gay people as poofters and faggots and somehow blame them if they ever got bashed for being who they were.
Women just had to accept their role was to serve men without even daring to question why they never received equal pay or got promoted in the workplace.
Thankfully our society has evolved and it seems that some who might have once had all the power are now feeling powerless.
As I reflect on this circumstance it seems those feeling powerless now simply got accustomed to a time when they could speak and behave in such unevolved ways without ever being seriously questioned or challenged.
To them this was a kind of normal they were comfortable with perhaps because they enjoyed the fruits of such a status quo. A status quo that pushes others to the margins and renders them voiceless because of their race, gender, or sexuality is a status quo with a gross lack of integrity. It is indeed one that stifles itself by stifling the humanity of those within it.
The challenge for them is to evolve with society rather than try desperately to retreat to a time that lacked integrity and could not ever be sustained.
Some might try to appear evolved, arguing that equality means abolishing programs that are designed to do things like "close the gap", stop young gay people being bashed, and promote the rights of women in our workplaces.
 In the face of such hypocrisy I can't help wondering where was their was your sense of equality and righteousness back in your "good old days" when indigenous children were being left entirely out of the education system? Where were you when young gay men and women found it easier to commit suicide rather than exist in a society that despised them? Where was your sense of equality and righteousness when women had to endure domestic violence in silence, and were not ever allowed to enjoy equal wealth and opportunity in the workplace?.
A part of me wants to say "if you had shut your mouth back in your good old days, then you should shut your mouth today".
Many of us know however that a society with voices silenced is a society diminished.
All I am saying is bring on your views in a way that is intelligent, informed and sensitive to others. I am not saying we have to tip-toe around each other. If you bring ideas that are uninformed and insensitive expect to be challenged.
This is how it should be. Our challenge is to evolve with the debate rather than retreat and get sooky.
We cannot afford to be too precious about our ideas and these should be kicked around in the interests of being better together. It is the humanity we share, not our line of argument that is precious. This must always be respected.

Chris Sarra is an educator and the author of Good Morning Mr Sarra (UQ Press). Connect with him on Twitter @chrissarra
Chris Sarra is an educator and the author of Good Morning Mr Sarra (UQ Press). Connect with him on Twitter @chrissarra

Topics:  free john speech

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