Society needs to relearn how to respect different opinions – Stuart Weir

Insult and offence rages in Scotland as we surround ourselves with only those share our beliefs. writes Stuart Weir
Stuart Weir, national director of CARE for ScotlandStuart Weir, national director of CARE for Scotland
Stuart Weir, national director of CARE for Scotland

‘Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity” So stated the late Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume. Without recognition of difference of opinion which moves to intellectual respect for that opinion we openly denigrate one another. We must learn afresh to respect our neighbour’s opinion purely on the basis that s/he is a fellow human being expressing a view that is important to them. In other words, we hold difference and commonality together in one hand. Difference, because we all espouse slightly alternative takes on the world; commonality, because we all share the one species and the same space as one another.

With the Scottish Government’s proposed Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) bill we see the birth of something that has been simmering away steadily in Scotland for a while but has now come to the boil. People everywhere are more and more exercised and exacerbated by the views of others. This is manifest on social media where increased retaliation and venom is fired at those who put their views out there. Some of these platforms have descended into forums of toxicity which either draw you into the mire, force you to observe but never participate in the debate, or abandon the space completely.

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Moreover, there’s a trend that certain opinions held on controversial social issues must be embraced in order to be considered a human of any worth. There’s a perceived group of opinions on these social issues in Scotland that have been gathered together like cards which make up a royal flush. This hand has become sacrosanct. If you take out any of these cards and replace it with another you literally get shouted down. If you don’t hold the whole set you are at best treated as suspicious. Such knowledge is felt more than telt.

What is happening here? Insult and offence in Scotland rages as we progressively surround ourselves with only those who can subscribe to our intellectual, tribal or social manifestos. There’s certainly very little evidence of people taking the time to work as co-belligerents on issues in the political realm. Nor is there much evidence of a widespread, patient probing of the other’s views at the personal level without a flashpoint of insult occurring and the whole discussion falling apart. It is evident in my collection of social experiences that we refuse to or no longer know how to give people time to unpack their position on an issue. Giving someone time and space to unfurl what they believe is one key practice to honour the differences we hold in our little country. And without time and permission to share your views the opportunity to ask searching questions of such views can never be aired either.

By making this space and time for our fellow species we begin to see views we don’t necessarily hold with greater nuance. And it is when that begins to happen that respect of a certain position can grow. Without giving someone time and permission to elaborate we render our fellow human to some sub-species whose opinion isn’t worth terribly much. Scotland needs tolerance and plenty of liberty going forward in 2020 not an atmosphere of second guessing and looking over our shoulder, which is what an unredacted and toned down version of the proposed hate crime legislation will engender. Only when we learn to treat others as we ourselves want to be treated will we appreciate those who are “different”.

Stuart Weir, national director of CARE for Scotland.

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