"These things stir up emotion inside us and it’s ok to talk about that"
Think critically, live authentically; they’re just two aspects that kind of summarise me as a human being. I have learnt to not care about what people think about me; I dress how I want to dress, I act how I want to act, and sometimes I’ll go out wearing makeup because what people look like shouldn’t make a difference to anything. Also the fact that I’m able to criticise the left wing when I’m on the left myself is authentic. No matter what you’re a part of, you should be able to criticise your own people and your own culture. If you just live by a certain ideology regardless of the consequences, regardless of anything that may come and challenge that, then that’s so closed-minded and that’s not going to be beneficial for your personal development and society as a whole.
I’m part of the Essex Humanist Society. Basically we focus on rational discussion founded in evidence-based arguments, logic, and reason, and we host a lot of debates on quite controversial issues and big topics that are at the forefront of our society at the moment.
Last Wednesday we had an event on the rise of far right extremism and we did a collaboration with every political society at the University. We organised it on Monday and we had it on Wednesday because it was in direct response to the New Zealand terrorist attacks. So we managed to get 50 people to come to our event in 3 days and we were super proud of that. We wanted to get every political society to come together and show that we stand in solidarity, but the way in which we do that as the Humanist Society is to host an event where it’s all up for discussion and everyone can present their own opinions. We invited the UKIP society and there was quite a bit of controversy around that, but we think that everyone has a right to speak their mind and if people have questions for them regarding their contribution to any issue, they can be there to answer that. We want to provide that platform for discussion.
That event wasn’t about our society, it wasn’t about any political society, it wasn’t about anything but respecting those people in New Zealand and the way in which we do that is to have that kind of conversation. Some things aren’t up for debate; incitement of violence is not up for debate, violence is not up debate, but it’s about having the conversations around that and trying to move forward from that. How can you move forward unless you talk about it?
It can get heated but we want to show that it’s ok to get heated, it’s ok to get emotional, because these things stir up emotion inside us and it’s ok to talk about that. If you harbour those kind of emotions inside you and you don’t talk about them, then they can fester. This is why we believe so much in freedom of speech, because with the extreme right wing, if we allow their opinions to fester and if they gather in their own circles and only talk within their own community and don’t express their opinions, then how can we challenge them? It can lead to what happened in New Zealand, so that’s why we think that talking is such an important thing.
What our society does is we provide this unique space where people of all different persuasions, not just political persuasions, but philosophical persuasions, ethical persuasions, religious persuasions, all of them can come together and discuss a variety of a different topics. We want this broader perspective where we are pushing our values of freedom of speech. We believe everyone has a right to speak their mind.
What’s super interesting is that the ex-President of the LGB Society, before it had the T in the society in 1999 I believe, is now something like the Director of Communications for Humanists UK. We got him to come in and do a talk with us on LGBT rights in the Middle East and we had the Arabic society come along, too. We managed to convince them of certain rights that LGBT people have, just through discussing it with them and that’s something that is wonderful about our society; we really do have the power to change and we’re using that for a good cause.
Being involved in Humanism and the Humanist Society has made me a lot more willing to listen to people with different opinions to mine. Before I came to University I was part of the problem that I see now on the left wing, where I wouldn’t have been as willing to converse with people and I was very stuck in this politically correct culture. I still am politically correct out of respect, I believe that people should be kind out of respect, but that is a should; I don’t think that there’s any right that’s stopping people from being able to say what they want to say, out of respect they should refrain from saying certain things, but it doesn’t mean that they can’t say those things. That’s something that I’ve learnt from this society that I’m going to take with me, just to be a lot more open minded.
Hateful opinions, no matter whether they from the right or the left wing, they don’t come from nowhere; they come from the way someone has been raised, their environment, a whole host of things, and if you can get to the root of that by asking them questions and showing them how some of their opinions are almost contradictory, they can start to see your side too. It’s helped me develop my own critical thinking skills and to become a lot more self-aware. Whether you identify as a Humanist or not, Humanism can be really useful and I think everyone can take something from it and develop and grow as a human being.
I’m thinking about setting up a Humanists society at the university I’m going to for my year abroad in America, because it’s been so hugely fruitful for me here, so I think it would be amazing to give that platform and that concept to them. Even if I’m only there for a year I can pass it down and they can keep it going, I think that would be amazing.
There’s a candidate for President in America called Andrew Yang and he stands for a lot of what our society stands for. He’s essentially a social democrat, he’s left wing, he believes in universal income, free health care, free education, but his policies are very much based in rationality, science, and math, and I’ve set up a group in the UK for supporters of him called Colchester UK Yang Gang. We’ve got 70 members so far! I believe that if we have someone like Andrew Yang in office in America, the kind of change a lot of what a lot of us want to see would hopefully come to fruition.
It’s kind of up for debate about whether Humanism is a religion, I don’t personally see it that way, but I do believe that we have a right to be a part of the religious societies convene. We have a Humanist pastor and we’re a member of the Faith Centre, because we believe that non-faith should be included in that. We also do a lot of work with Faith to Faithless, so for example we have people who have left the religion of Islam and we work with them to help them through their journey on leaving religion. We also do a lot with LGBT rights as well, and LGBT Muslims.
Humanism isn’t just for atheists and agnostics, it is open to absolutely everyone. It’s hugely important that people listen and come and engage, even if you don’t join the society, just engage with people who have different opinions to yourself and learn more about every aspect of it. We need to talk in person and have these conversations.
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