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No less a philosopher than John Stuart Mill said, “We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion, and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.” “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation, those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth. if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
You likely agree John Stuart Mill is a complex thinker. He is definitely not one who endeavors to stifle an opinion, especially his opinion. What might be easily overlooked though, is each of us is the “minus one” in his “mankind minus one.” We are thus obligated to be sure the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle isn’t ours. You have it on the authority of John Stuart Mill stifling your opinion is “an evil still,” so the next time your tempted to keep your opinion to yourself, are tempted to be self-censoring, consider standing up, speaking up, and sharing your “clearer perception and livelier impression of truth.” It’s your civic duty.
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President Eisenhower said, “Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.” Proactively boarding the train isn’t just a good idea, it’s the only ride from the past. As Confucius counseled, “They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” The advice was, in turn, expanded by Saint Augustine, “If you would attain to what you are not yet, you must always be displeased by what you are. For where you are pleased with yourself there you have remained. Keep adding, keep walking, keep advancing.”
You may bemoan the ever-changing, uncertainty of life, but as Bertold Brecht pointed out, “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.” Over four hundred years ago, Francis Bacon observed, “He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils, for time is the greatest innovator.” He also noted, “Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the better designedly.”
There is potential good news though. “Change always comes bearing gifts,” according to Price Pritchett. Sure, those gifts may be a mixed blessing, but as the famous Anon. suggested, “If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies,” and then added, “You can avoid having ulcers by adapting to the situation. If you fall in the mud puddle, check your pockets for fish.” If butterflies and fish aren’t sufficient incentive, keep in mind, at the bottom line, John Lilly was on target, “Our only security is our ability to change.”