Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week, I opine on free speech and why it is healthy to have an opinion and talk about it.

Judgmental - Having an Opinion Does Not Make a Person JudgmentalI’m one of those weird people who actually likes debates. In marriage that can be a downfall, because I love to win fights, though it only counts if I do so because I score big points, not because my husband gives up and rolls over. I like ideas, and opinions, and discussions.

Lots of people do, and that’s healthy for a society (though not necessarily for a marriage). When we hash things out, and hear the other side of things, we often grow and develop even better ideas. Societies that debate things are stronger than those who silence debate.

Sometimes, though, I think our society needs a lesson on what constitutes an opinion and free speech, and what constitutes judgment. Too often I find that when people yell, “we need tolerance!” what they really mean is, “no one is allowed to disagree with me.”

That’s why I hate the label “judgmental”. It’s thrown around so much, as if it’s the most evil thing in the world. But what does being “judgmental” really imply? To judge someone is to say that they have crossed your moral code. It doesn’t mean that you think the person is evil, or that you hate the person, or that you wish the person would go away. It simply means that you think the person has done something that was wrong.

We all make judgments all the time. We think the waitress in the bar is wearing a skirt that is just too short. We think the soccer coach doesn’t understand child psychology and is too hard on the kids. We think our brother-in-law has gone over the edge with politics, and doesn’t understand that in the real world, money has to come from somewhere.

That does not keep us from smiling at the waitress and exchanging pleasantries. It doesn’t keep us from supporting the coach in front of the kids, or trying to help him with some of his administrative jobs. It doesn’t stop us from throwing our brother-in-law a birthday party. We don’t hate; we aren’t trying to hurt anybody. We just notice things that we think are wrong. It’s human nature.

I have found that anybody who holds traditional values today, though, is automatically labeled judgmental. We see it in politics with Conservatives. We saw it in religion when the new pope was chosen. Even if a public figure has never opined on a certain topic, it’s assumed that they are judgmental if they label themselves “religious” or “conservative”.

I read a bumper sticker recently that said: “You say you want tolerance and despise hate, but if I don’t agree with everything you say you call it intolerance and hate. Explain to me again how that works.”

Exactly. It seems to me that what people mean when they call others “judgmental” is that we are no longer allowed to have any opinions except theirs. In fact, making a judgment is often called “bullying”, even if the person never speaks that judgment out loud or does anything about it at all. The mere thought that someone may disagree with you is now labeled bullying and hate, though it has nothing to do with either.

A healthy society is one where individuals try to operate from a moral code, and deciding on what constitutes that moral code means that there will be disagreements. That’s okay. Aren’t we adult enough to handle disagremeents? As long as we are kind and welcoming to all, what does it matter if some people think differently from you?

Trying to silence critics is the worst kind of insecurity. If you want to be taken seriously, then, engage in serious dialogue, don’t tell people to shut up. That’s what real tolerance is.

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