Glossophobia is the fear of public speaking.  According to Wikipedia,

it has been estimated that 75% of all people experience some degree of anxiety/nervousness when public speaking.[3] In fact, surveys have shown that most people fear public speaking more than they fear death.[4] 

While clinical causes of glossophobia have been speculated about, it is also interesting to explore the condition’s connection to the public silence which ensues from complex fears of being despised, hated, argued-with, corrected, ridiculed or otherwise had one’s faults and follies pointed out.  Few people enjoy being publicly humiliated.

Clearly the suggestion here is that glossophobia and freedom of expression are fundamentally linked.  Why are people afraid to be vocal in public?  That is to say, afraid to express facts, truths and even genuinely held perspectives (whether those perspectives are correct or incorrect) that they are fully entitled to hold. Furthermore, what conditions are needed to ensure that people are confident to express their views publicly? What can be done to quell people’s fear?

Perhaps we have to start with an understanding that it doesn’t matter who you are or what your opinions are – someone, somewhere probably disagrees with you, dislikes you and may even despise you. Simply for the facts you recognize or the opinions you hold.

Additionally, in a social environment where any manner of subjective experiences or opinions are claimed to be matters of human rights and/or academic study, we have to understand that it can be difficult to be patient with every eccentric individual that manages to find a platform or generate some news.  This position is particularly necessary if their opinions and experience happen to be offensive, irritating or just simply demonstrably wrong (in your opinion).

Consider these examples of  “controversial” opinions and subjective experience.  Each of these stories, or the coverage of them, is considered offensive, objectionable, hateful or detestable by a portion of the community:
Each of these articles contains perspectives that are deeply contentious to significant portions of the community; perhaps the subjects of the articles are dishonest, problematic or event repugnant individuals to some people; perhaps the writers of the stories appear dishonest and represent ideologies someone finds hateful.

It might be tempting to give in to the urge to attempt to shut these people down.  Take away their platforms.  Remove them from their positions.  Put an end to the stupidity.

But that isn’t necessarily a wise and correct thing to do.

In an article from, Philip Slayton argues that lawyers have an ethical duty to defend the rights of people they may detest,
The hate speech/freedom of speech ethical dilemma is a horrible and persistent issue. All other freedoms depend on freedom of expression. In a free society, the government does not pick and choose what citizens are allowed to say. In a free society, freedom of expression must be defended vigorously and without qualification. Lawyers have a duty to be in the forefront of that defence. But can it be that the right of free expression permits deliberate, dishonest and crude attempts to insult, demean and provoke violence? Do lawyers have an ethical obligation to defend even these despicable and dangerous expressions of opinion?
When public trust in government, public education institutions, media and others is terribly eroded it is reasonable to inquire whether the public also has this ethical duty to defend the rights and freedom of expression of those we may detest.

In The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath,  a book oriented to the management self-help market, there is a chapter is devoted to the promotion of courage.  Within that chapter (pp. 188-193) , the Heath brothers recount the story of a study wherein experiment subjects and some study confederates were gathered in a room  with the task to  affirm a  colour opinion of a colour-coded card presented to those gathered.  In one notable version of the test, one confederate blatantly maintains a contrary colour-opinion despite unanimous opposition – and being wrong.

According to the Heath brothers, it was observed that when the study confederates maintained a uniform colour opinion, there was little deviation from that opinion by the study subjects.  However, when variance in colour opinion was more common among confederates, subjects spoke up more often to express their own different opinions. Particularly when the “brave but wrong” confederate had been a part of the experiment.

Note that they {experiment subjects} were brave even though they hadn’t practiced courage themselves.  They’d only witnessed it.  Brave but Wrong Guy was willing to speak up for himself – even though he was mistaken about the color.  That act of dissent bolstered the other participants’ resolve.  As the researchers wrote, “exposure to a dissenting minority view, even when that view is in error, contributes to independence.”

This is an essential notion.  Everyone’s independent expression and bravery increases when we allow “brave but wrong guy” to talk among and with us.    Do average citizens have a duty to protect the free speech of those we may detest?  Absolutely…our own courage and independence may actually be strengthened by the presence of wrong-headed, but outspoken people.

So, here’s a recommendation to whittle away at the increasing prevalence of public glossophobia includes:

  • accept the probability that somebody won’t like your views
  • accept the probability that you won’t like somebody else’s views
  • understand that listening to a view we dislike is not the same as agreeing with it
  • understand that we’re all better off if those views are still expressed
  • accept that the confidence to speak publicly develops in areas where diversity of opinion is tolerated, respected and encouraged

It isn’t necessary to agree with idiots, charlatans, fools, butt-heads or anyone else we happen not to agree with – just benefit from the increased courage that comes from knowing that even they are allowed to speak their minds.  It should make you more confident to go ahead and bravely be factual, accurate, correct, reasonable and perhaps even articulate when speaking in  public.

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