The priceless value of free speech

7 June 2021  |  Insights
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‘I wish I knew how

It could feel to be free

I wish I could break

All the chains holding me

I wish I could say

All the things that I should say

Say ‘em loud say ‘em clear

For the whole round world to hear

I wish you could know

What it means to be me.’

Nina Simone

A year since the death of George Floyd shocked the world, human rights campaigners against systemic racism have been making their voices heard in the US and the UK, with Black Lives Matter protestors making news headlines protesting for fair treatment in society.

Increased social media use and citizen journalism has played a huge role in sharing Mr Floyd’s story and sparking global change.

The stark legacy of Mr Floyd, a 46-year-old African American whose tragic murder in US police custody was witnessed by onlookers with phone cameras, as well as security cameras, has been far reaching. Through raw reporting, whole sections of society have seen online the inequalities still experienced first-hand by black people, while sitting in their living rooms. News is taking on a different guise and viral media advocacy is available to individuals and organisations on a new level, helping their cause gain a louder collective voice.

Recent news of vanishing public protests in Belarus continues to demonstrate how a climate of fear can surround spoken challenges to political control. But thanks to the power of technology, there is another route to dissent: those who have held no public platform can now spark united feelings of support from the other side of the world through sharing blogs, videos and tweets.

These are picked up by news organisations and used as story evidence when TV cameras are not present – and as we’ve seen in the aftermath of Mr Floyd’s death, the resulting fierce anger and intrepid hope can spread like wildfire: a viral movement for change.

Public scrutiny over inaction on the issue of systemic racism is now more significant than ever and a public response to the Black Lives Matter campaign is a call to action that can no longer be ignored.

This free speech revolution offers a huge opportunity for Christian organisations, churches and individuals who want to share their stories of change and enable the voices of struggling and vulnerable communities to be heard.

As we raise our voices, however, it’s crucial that we also take the time to listen. Best-selling author and staff writer at The New Yorker, Malcom Gladwell, in his book Talking to Strangers, challenges society’s shared assumptions about ‘the people we don’t know’, through recording multiple encounters of historical events from perspectives the reader may never have considered before. His book extols the virtues of listening as a key to not misinterpreting others while always accepting our human limitation in fully understanding a stranger’s perspective on an issue.

Listening well to the truth is arguably a greater part of communication than speaking – and this is changing the way organisations are communicating their key messages – creating ripples of transformation in society.

Good news of positive change has never been more needed and both listening carefully and speaking with respect is essential to utilising our free speech humbly. Being open to what others say can help our story to be told more powerfully and received more fully by other people – from stakeholders and new audiences to our families and friends.

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