Talk about a loaded title for a blog! This subject is timeless, but the high beams have lit up social and mainstream media about this for the last few weeks. I started to write about my take on the idea a few weeks ago after Canadian celebrity and polarizing sports figure, Don Cherry got fired for an ill advised impromptu rant about Remembrance Day and Canadian immigrants needing to wear more poppies, a national symbol of our veterans of war. But I decided it was too polarizing.

The next thing I know, another “celebrity” in Canada, Jess Allen, who is on a daytime, women’s panel show called “The Social” goes on an equally inappropriate rant about the dark side of hockey calling the majority of players “bullies” and it’s a sport for rich, white families (yes, she actually said that live on air). All of a sudden, she’s in the witness protection and hasn’t been on the air since. It was tempting to tie the two stories together, but I chose not to.

Then this week, well known sports radio commentator for the San Fransisco 49ers of the NFL, Tim Ryan, also a “celebrity”, is suspended for his bizarre observation that Baltimore Ravens star rookie quarterback, Lamar Jackson  can run like he does “Because with his black skin, uniform and dark ball, you can’t see who has the ball!” Yes, he really said that.

Before I go on, let me be very clear. Football players have come to Ryan’s defence for being surprised and suggesting “he’s not like that, not a racist, etc.”. I believe them. Hundreds of thousands stood behind Don Cherry and  even Jess Allen’s panel peers are in their words…”100% behind Jess”. Let me also be very transparent when I admit, I’ve said some pretty stupid things. I actually got in the mail, a cassette audio tape of a speech I gave in 1981 for a religious convention at a church in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan. I told two “handicapped jokes” that if I told them today, I’d be incurring the same wrath as the people I am focusing this blog on. But it’s not about Them”. It’s about the new truth!

 

What’s Happening and where is it from?

Whether we like it or not, we are experiencing the kind of “Tipping Point”, best selling author and New Yorker Magazine contributor, Malcolm Gladwell is known for popularizing in his book of the same title.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the “Me Too” movement was a huge catalyst in this change. It’s actually intriguing to me because when the Me Too issue hit the main stream in 2017, it was about allegations of sexual abuse against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. But did you know, the term…”Me Too”, was coined by American social activist sexual assault survivor, Tarana Burke on MySpace in 2006! Unbelievable! What took so long?

I vaguely recall that story but are you in my same place. I truly thought the movement started in 2017 and I can’t lie…I was annoyed! I truly believed this was one disgruntled woman with a score to settle.

So a personal thought came into the front of my brain. “What’s Happening?” If you follow me at all, you may have noticed my last blog was about Leadership related to the game of hockey. That was “inspired” by NHL Head Coach, Bill Peter’s release after comments from ten years ago, while he was with a minor league team, where he used the “N” word on a black player. Interesting that all kinds of players are coming out calling out other coaches in hockey, and it seems other sports too, about inappropriate behaviour from what I have dubbed; “Behind The Curtain”!

 

Free (with Conditions) Speech?

In my work as a motivational speaker, I don’t just boast about how “amazing” I am said to be. I encourage people to take a look at themselves. To consider their own life challenges and any personality flaws they may have, and work to be better people! I’m not judging, by they way.

On the “other side of the coin”, as the expression goes, I’ve observed a segment of society who is becoming “hyper sensitive” to being offended by the other popular expression…”The Politically Correct”. If you are one of those, that’s okay…I guess. But the world is going to leave you behind and by the way, this isn’t a subject reserved for “old fogeys”!

I understand that “relics” like Don Cherry “may” be past their best before date, and who doesn’t know someone over 75 years old who has “lost the filter” and say racist, homophobic, sexist and rude comments and don’t see the problem?

Jess Allen was born in 1989! She’s a white woman and according to Google, is a “style consultant” in Toronto. Is this resonating?

I’m not comfortable writing this blog because it’s so sensitive, but it’s an illustration of how social media and it’s effect on people is having an impact on divisiveness and anger building in our world. People have taken to saying things online they would never even imagine saying to someone’s face. What happened to civility and respect?

I could write a lot more but let me challenge you with this thought. People will so often use the principle of “Free Speech” as a a support for their statements, no matter how inappropriate they are. But Free Speech has “never” been free. It’s another “Red Herring”. A belief you can say whatever’s on your mind may be correct in its concept, but as we all know,  needs a “makeover” reflecting the new truth of our civilization.

 

Free Safe Stuff

Having said all of this, let me broach a truly sensitive issue. I speak on college and university campuses and many of them have gone too far the other way. “Safe Spaces”? These are not “safe” from physical or sexual assault! They are for being safe from offensive ideas! Honest! They now post “Trigger Warnings” ahead of videos or even written material. I understand the “concept” which was to prepare people with PTSD about material that may “trigger” an episode. Research is already proving they are ineffective. In my opinion, and remember, I work with organizations like the Tema Conter Memorial Trust whose focus is helping first responders and their families deal with the psychological scarring of traumatic events. That is “The Real Deal”, as opposed to some people just being “sensitive”.

Let me explain some mechanics. I write a lot. Not because I’m a “writer” but because I have limited time on stage for my talks. Thanks, or frankly, no thanks, to the “Ted Talk” phenomenon, talk times have shrunk substantially. I’m not complaining and I’m not “dissing” the Tedx franchise in particular. It’s been a great source of new ideas, on line. Having said that, my job for 38 years has been to explore human dynamics and the accompanying challenges. Hard enough to do that in 60 minutes, let alone 15! So my blogs in particular are sometimes a bit longer than even I prefer but I want to explain my thinking, not just make a statement.

This blog has been ten days in the writing, simply because I’ve been fascinated by the fluid dynamics of this story. Today, Steve Forbes released an interview with Justin Folk and Owen William Brennan about their new film, “No Safe Spaces”. Guess what it’s about? Free Speech! You simply can’t make this stuff up. So I’ll let Mr. Forbes tackle the more controversial angle as proof that this is very tricky to clarify and sadly, what will likely be divisive. I’m not trying to create “Camp Kumbaya” here but it’s a discussion that needs to be had in our associations, companies, and communities because somewhere in the middle there has to be a solution and that’s the type of discussion I bring to my Keynotes!

 

What Does Free Cost

This is indeed, a very complicated subject.  So allow me to use a somewhat shallow example of what I want you all to consider because this isn’t just about the anonymity of the Internet. It’s really about our community culture. Culture in the workplace, schools, and even at the local corner store.

One of my favourite movies is “Remember The Titans”. It’s a football movie about the 1971 Virginia State High School Champions who experienced the divisions caused by race relations and the experiment of school integration. It’s not fiction. It really happened. While at training camp, the black and white young men on the team are struggling with getting along so Denzel Washington, who plays the new head coach replacing a legendary coach who is white, takes the entire team on a dawn run to Gettysburg. In an emotional and memorable moment, the head coach makes a speech. Part of his quote is…”Thousands of lives lost fighting a war we are still battling to this day. A war of division. One that is dividing this team. Unless we come together on this hallowed ground, the war will go on! I don’t expect you to like each other, but you will respect each other, and maybe just maybe, we will learn to play this game like men!”

It is, of course, a movie and though it’s a true story, it’s clearly my interpretation for the purposes of this blog. But make no mistake, this subject isn’t going away anytime soon so what are you prepared to do to discuss it with your co-workers, friends or even family to strive for more understanding of the “Cost of Free Speech”?