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Sarah Ruger directs free expression initiatives for the Charles Koch Institute and Foundation. She is a passionate advocate for open inquiry, free speech rights, and engagement that respects the dignity[…]

Sarah Ruger: Well, you're hearing a lot these days that everyone is fragile, everyone is a snowflake and who someone is pointing the finger at depends a great deal on their political ideology. And what the research is showing is that everyone wants to censor someone, everyone thinks somebody else is wrong they just disagree on who should be silenced and who is incorrect. One of the things I've been excited to see is the work of some of the folks like Jonathan Haidt at NYU who make the case that human beings are anti-fragile in the sense that we get better, we get stronger, we get more resilient and more capable of dealing with the world when we encounter difficulties and overcome them. I think that has huge relevance to the free expression conversation because fundamentally dealing with free expression is difficult. Supporting the idea of free expression means supporting the idea or the existence of even offensive speech. And that's not a small thing. We're cognizant of the fact that we're talking about free expression in an era where self-identified white nationalists and Nazis are marching down the streets in Charlottesville and people are dying trying to peacefully counter protest those ideas.

I'm thinking of a story that I think is powerful and somewhat representative of the good things that common people feel comfortable to express even nasty views, I was listening to NPR and heard the story of Daryl Davis. He's a jazz and blues musician who began, he's an African-American gentleman, he began collecting KKK memorabilia as basically a reminder of how far the civil rights movement has come, but how far we still have to go as a society in terms of eliminating bigotry and prejudice. And in the course of collecting this memorabilia he came into contact with a lot of current or former members of the KKK or family members of those people who had sympathies to those abhorrent views and he was just sitting down and talking to these people he was having drinks with them at a bar, he was conversing with them and often he would hear these people say that they've never met a black person, they've never actually had a conversation. So much of what they'd been taught had never been challenged through dialogue of that sort. And you hear this on college campuses a lot it is entirely unfair that a Darrell Davis has to bear the weight of those bigoted views and be the person who engages in the difficult exercise of dialogue. But over the course of his life of doing this he's converted more than 200 KKK members to turn in their robes, to disavow their beliefs and ultimately to recognize that they were wrong hating somebody on the basis of skin color.

So how can we promote a culture of openness in society that makes us as individuals receptive to engaging with even the most deplorable views with the goal of changing them? At the end of the day I'm a Jon Stewart Mills nerd, I think nothing but good things happen when you engage with ideas with which you disagree. You either learn how to better defend your position, maybe you move closer to truth, maybe you persuade the other of a given view, but either way you've all learned something and been made better by that encounter. So there's a role for protests, there's a role for civil disobedience, there's a role for robust disagreement, it just means that your disagreement has to stop short of violating the rights of others, it stopped short of your fist at my nose or you stepping onto that property or causing harm. So I don't think civility is necessarily the be all end all goal in and of itself. What's more important is I think fostering an inherent respect and dignity for every human being and recognizing that even if you disagree with an individual they are a human with inherent worth and value who shouldn't be harmed.