George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) had this phrase carved into the mantelpiece of his living room: \”They say. What do they say? Let them say.\”

A few years back, a writer at the Hard Honesty website dug down into the sources of this quotation.  It may trace back to the founding of Marischal College, in Aberdeen, back in 1593, at a time of high political and religious tensions.  The earlier version was: \”Thay Haif Said: Quhat Say Thay? Lat Thame Say.\”

Here, I\’m less interested in the history than in considering the sentiment itself. As we launch into a new year that will among other events bring a contentious national election, here\’s a reminder of the spirit that listening doesn\’t imply agreement, and letting people speak doesn\’t imply agreement, either. Anyone who is interested in learning will learn more by listening than by talking–even if you are only learning how to disagree more powerfully–and you can only listen if you let others speak.  In addition, ignoring speakers or smiling insincerely and shaking your head in sad disagreement while passing on are also legitimate responses to unwanted speech. There should be a powerful presumption against seeking to silence others.  And of course, there is no need to silence yourself, either. 

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