THE BLOG

Tolerate Thy Neighbour

31/07/2014 15:24 BST | Updated 29/09/2014 10:59 BST

The first amendment in the United States is a wonderful thing. It means you can say whatever you like about anything. I can tell you that I don't like peanut butter or Oreos - two national institutions here in the States - and you can't do a thing about it. You don't have to like it, and you can tell me that I'm stupid, or incorrect in your opinion, but I'm still entitled to my opinion.

But with the increasing popularity of Facebook comment section fights, and chatroom brawls, I'm seeing more and more often that people seem to forget that freedom of speech goes both ways.

The Freedom of speech and expression was established on the back of years of oppression for voicing one's thoughts against an authoritarian monarch (sorry about that.) And as a result, one of America's favourite jokes is to remind you of all this freedom they have lying around. Great. Interestingly enough though, it was a French bloke (decidedly unfree, at the time) who said it best; "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." And I think Voltaire's message contain a little something all of us free people today could learn from.

To use a metaphor coined by my fellow Brit in America, John Oliver, the freedom of speech isn't pick and choose as you like. That means for every opinion you may have that somebody disagrees with, they're allowed to have an opinion that you vehemently oppose, too. And that's okay. In fact, that's kind of great. A little cliche to say, but it's our differences that make us interesting, and opinions are one of those differences.

I get it. There are some issues in America that by the standards of the rest of the western world probably shouldn't still be being debated, and a lot of frustration comes out in those talks. You might think that the separation of church and state (another of those little things this country was founded on) would end the governmental argument over abortion for religious reasons. You might think that any civilised country wouldn't want high calibre guns (see: human-killing machines) in the hands of the common people. You might think that if you can vote at 18 and be entrusted with an opinion as to how this country's run, they'd trust you with a beer too. But likewise, you might completely disagree with what I'm saying, and be muttering to yourself "hippie liberal Brit coming over here stealing our jobs..."

Hippie liberal Brit you can think of me (your opinion, your right to it. I do shower though), the point still stands. Case in point. Up until a few years ago, I used to be an angry atheist. I'd pick fights with what some might call the perceivable hypocrisies within religion, specifically Christianity as that was the vice of choice for most of my North Carolinian classmates. And would you guess what? I didn't convert a single one of them to my way of thinking. And likewise they didn't bring me to Jesus either. One of the best pieces I've ever read was this, by blogger Ian Lang, that puts to bed those hammer and tongs arguments over the presence of a all knowing super being or not. But taking it a step further, it caused me to take a step back in any sort of argument, and really force me to see where the other person might be coming from.

One of the best parts about 2014 though, in my opinion, and something many people who use the internet forget, is how easy it is to disassociate yourself with an argument entirely. If there's a friend who consistently pisses you off on social media, how about unfollowing that person, instead of constantly getting in arguments with them, and annoying everybody else in the process? I know. Mind blown. Yes, believe it or not, rather than try and shout people down and tell them why their opinion they're just as entitled to as yours is wrong, we have the ability to put down the article, turn away from our computers, or walk away from the conversation.

Likewise, you don't even have to read this article if you don't agree with a single word I'm saying. But instead of leaving a hateful comment at the bottom, telling me what a plonker I am, don't you think you might be happier if you just let it go? I'm not forcing anything on you. It's just as much my right to voice my opinion as it is yours to ignore it.

Passion is great. Talking about issues is a step to getting them solved. But resorting to telling people they're evil for having a different way of thinking to you - because of how they were raised, the circumstances they find themselves in, or personal experience with the topic - is going to solve bugger all. So instead, next time someone is voicing an opinion you disagree with, take your hands off the keyboard. Ignore them. Unfriend that person. And I guarantee you'll be happier as a result.

And enjoy the real fun: watching others fight. Like free cage fighting.

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