This week, Isabelle Hachey recounted another episode in the saga of online harassment, a widespread and difficult to stem phenomenon. Last week, nearly 400 of them denounced, in the pages of Le Devoir, the acrimony of social networks fed by idea makers, by common sense priests and by various opinion manufacturers.
My heart goes out to them, and to the thousands of others who experience this hatred. I admire all those who speak out regularly and publicly, who express opinions that diverge from the prevailing doxa. What they are going through is difficult and the solution is not obvious. In my opinion, we must rehabilitate certain values that underpin our liberal democracies.
First, let’s take a break and recognize the strength of these people who share their opinions, values, knowledge and expertise. When they do, they present themselves vulnerable.
Their contribution is invaluable. It is important to maintain an open and pluralistic society where everyone feels free and able to participate in public debates without disproportionate consequences. Through their contributions, they bring this ideal to life. This freedom, this pluralism, is the cement of our democracies. It is important to remember this regularly.
My heart is therefore with the signatories and all the citizens who animate our political life. Together, it seems to me, fear hurts us less. Without you, our society would only be a reflection of a democratic space, we would only enjoy scraps of our liberal ideal.
Certainly, these deleterious behaviors in the media space and on social networks are not the prerogative of the right or the left. Stupidity seems to be well distributed. It is clear, however, that a certain populism tends to feed the beast of indignation whose clicks fatten media companies. It’s a business model that works.
Social solidarity is a shield that can magnify the courage of those who would like to speak publicly, and thus nourish our ideals of a pluralist, free and democratic society. But that will never be enough. As long as there is a consumer market for scandals and outrageous opinions, someone will raise their hand to take the preacher’s seat.
Can democracy survive without a people who share the ideals of equality and freedom? In my opinion, we must redouble our efforts and rehabilitate certain values that underpin our ability to debate and collectively decide on our future.
We must value humility. Humility is the possibility that we are not right. In public debate, this is the condition for the possibility of a constructive dialogue where everyone listens and evaluates ideas against their own. Humility is also the constant questioning of our relative importance in society and this contributes to democratic equality. Humility underlies our ability to revise our beliefs.
We need to bring back respect. Whether we’re on a popular radio station, at the grocery store, on social media, or in the classroom, we should treat each other with the equal respect expected of all. He too, like us, is a sentient and rational being endowed with a vision of the world and a will of his own. As such, he is worthy of respect. Out of respect, we care about our social relationships and reflect on what it means to live together, and the limits we should impose on ourselves. Respect is the brother of equality.
Generosity should also have a greater place in our society. I am talking here about the generosity that we extend to others: that of listening to them, trying to understand them with candor and authenticity and giving them the benefit of the doubt. We cannot live peacefully in a world believed to be populated by criminals and conspirators. Generosity allows us to live together.
Of course, I can’t help but feel like I’m pushing outdated ideals. But perhaps starting to talk about these values, and others, to explain them and to live them, to show women and men who embody them, to value them and to recognize them, is a first step towards a more decent society. And that decency and those values are the bedrock of a free and democratic society.