On this day of the American elections I want to share with you some wisdom I recently was taught by one of the wisest people I know. A few weeks ago I was expressing some concerns I had about the election to a dear friend of mine. I told him that the language that was used by a certain candidate scared me. That it scared my that someone who refers to women as ‘bimbos’ and who speaks about people from other countries by referring to criminals could be a candidate for such a public and powerful function. That it scared me because it does not fulfill my need for acceptance and tolerance, needs that are very important to me.
My friend, who is an amazing listener, patiently waited until I was done talking about my fears and then replied to me. He said that, in cases like these, he always thought of the words of philosopher John Stuart Mill about liberty. Very loosely explained this would be something like: ‘We need to have freedom of speech and therefore also the ability for people to express their opinions, no matter how extreme they are. Because opinions, and especially extreme ones, will open a discussion and a pondering about what we consider to be normal. It allows us to spot mistaken beliefs we might have otherwise missed.’. I loved this way of thinking so much and it feels so inclusive; no matter who you think should win the election, or who should not, both candidates have shaken us awake and got us thinking. Their behaviour and their speeches forced us to look within to find out what our own opinions about these matters are. What values do we hold? What is important to us, on a societal level as well as an individual level? And if we disagree with someone, why do we disagree with them? What mistaken beliefs we held in society were uncovered by this election? No matter who we vote for or if we even vote at all, we have gained something through this whole process; we have gained wisdom that we might otherwise never have. So with thanks to my friend and to John Stuart Mill, I will leave it at that. Over to you America.