What Brooks Gibbs Gets Wrong About Free Speech

I came across a disturbing video defending free speech. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences.Brooks Gibbs is a motivational speaker and a self-proclaimed passionate student of “peace.” His special interests include emotional toughness and, ironically, the Golden Rule. His videos are used by schools worldwide and he’s been hired to speak at more than 1,500 school assemblies. He gets really serious about emotional toughness here and it’s important to acknowledge that while it’s a given to be strong, it’s not good to keep emotions inside for too long. There may be good intentions behind what Gibbs is saying, but there is so much logic that is flawed that it has to be debunked. Here’s what I’ve figured out:

1. Words actually hurt.

If words didn’t hurt, rap wouldn’t have made so much money in the 80s and 90s. Poetry would be meaningless. Mental illness wouldn’t be at its critical height as an issue. Psychologists and counselors would never make money if words didn’t hurt. Words do in fact hurt. How others see the pain in words being hurtful is irrelevant. The Bible says the tongue can bring life or death (Proverbs 18:21). We’re human. That means we’re imperfect, vulnerable, and broken. I try my best not to be sensitive, but that doesn’t mean I get to generalize my experience and demean what other people feel. When someone says “you hurt me” or “that hurts” nobody can render the feelings subjective by saying “no it doesn’t.” If what Gibbs’ saying is not to let that hurt fester into deeper wounds, then that should be made clear, because I agree with that. A hurtful statement should never stop anyone from living life to the fullest. Learn to spell it out better for students.

2. People want to be respected.

Nobody is saying that everyone has to be nice. People just want to be able to go about their business and be treated with respect. Respect is not a huge thing to ask of people. A statement saying “When you believe that you have a human right that everyone must be nice to you, you’re setting yourself up for failure.” is a statement defending idiots. People have the freedom to say what they want. In fact, I hate censorship. The first amendment exists so everyone has a free voice. But the question is whether the first amendment covers hate speech or not.That being said, as individuals, we are not required to tolerate hatred in any form.

3. Free speech works two ways.

If someone is going to defend a person’s right to verbally abuse someone (which is really unsettling about this clip) then it’s a bad idea to condemn a person or group of people’s right to be offended.

4. It’s important to know the difference between hate speech and real free speech.

Nobody is actually calling to cut a well-known version of free speech down. Real free speech includes the freedom of choice to express social communication or connection or a concern about something. Hate speech is a form of speech with the intent on destroying a person’s ego, bullying a group of people, chipping away at a person or group’s reputation, or to put it plainly, being a dick. People are encouraging each other to stop supporting hate speech. And how do they condemn hate speech? With free speech.

5. No one has the right to be disrespected.

Just because Canada or the US or most European countries are free, does not mean people have the right to be disrespectful. That is flawed logic. A free country means we have the right not to put up with disrespect. We may not be able to stop people from being emotionally destructive or abusive, but that doesn’t mean no one shouldn’t try.

6. Tolerance always has issues.

Rewarding disrespectful behavior with a positive response in no way guarantees that it will stop, especially if we never take a stand about how we don’t like it. That is a huge problem with tolerance. Choosing to tolerate hateful speech will get a lot of people into serious trouble. We can’t just expect people to react by saying things like “Oh, well you’re a fool but I won’t do anything about it because that’s your right.”

Change happens when people stand up and do whatever they can to promote an environment that’s emotionally healthy (not a safe space but a tactful environment). Change happens when respect is a core foundation that holds community together. And finally, there’s no completely free speech that benefits every single person. The free speech we think of comes with a price. Speech in any community has its constructive criticism, its disagreements, its encouragement, its discipline, and its love. Once hate and discrimination is mixed in with that speech, the freedom disappears. And that disappearance is why words can be hurtful.