I do not agree with what you have to say…
but I will defend to the death your right to say it
For several years I have gone each year to Kilkenomics, my favourite event of the year. One of the most remarkable things about it is that the panel moderators are professional comedians, who bring their skills in sensing the crowd to how they facilitate conversations, and also are really well briefed, particularly Konstantin Kisin and Colm O’Regan.
However, I had never seen any of the comedians doing a comedy set, until last weekend when I went to watch Konstantin and his show “Orwell that ends well”.
Konstantin went through a media whirlwind late last year, so I have to admit it was with some trepidation I went to his show, as I had a surface concern that his material might offend me.
What happened instead was that, by being open to going to the show and to listen, instead I found the show deeply moving and affecting and reminded me strongly about the power of listening to diverse views, and, above all, to the importance of free speech.
Free Speech is paramount to enable Diversity of Thought
I’m someone who so often talks about the importance of diversity of thought, that we can’t see the goldfish bowl we are swimming in, the importance of avoiding echo-chambers etc.
Heck, my professional role is to be a Sounding Board to Leaders, so a key element of my role is to take time to learn and understand alternative viewpoints so as to be able to present them to my clients to challenge their thinking. And yet… there I was, having skimmed the surface of Konstatin’s twitter feed over the last year since the media blitz, and wondering if he was too “Fox News” for me, wondering if I’d be offended by his show.
What a wake up call the show was, to recognise that my own biases had crept in. Am so glad I went beyond my (false) concerns and went to listen!
Orwell that ends well
This is the name of Konstatin’s show, referencing George Orwell’s famous book “1984” and the scarily real (in today’s world) way that free speech and even free thought is being pressurised.
About a year ago, Konstantin was offered a gig at a London University, but they sent him an agreement to sign that he would not. Within 24 hours this blew up into a global story.
As he explained and demonstrated in his show, with deeply personal stories, he is indeed a progressive and open person, so his objection to this was on a simple principle, the importance of free speech.
I have found since moving to London that “woke” culture has exploded to a level where every word must be carefully chosen, that the correct terminology of the moment must be used at all times for risk of offending others.
Having listened to Konstantin in his show, perhaps we can be judged more by our deeds and what we express with our words, rather than a rigorous policing of our precise language. Also, do we truly need to go so deeply into identity politics so as to identify ourselves and others so strongly? As Konstantin jokes in his set, it used to be enough for him to be a Russian comedian, now he has to say he is Jewish too 🙂
To take this back to #OpenLeadership just for a moment, the Leaders of today and tomorrow are not only unafraid of divergent views in their organisation, but actively and structurally encourage everyone to challenge orthodoxy.
Anyway, thank you Konstantin, for reminding me of the power of free speech and how vital this is to both allowing and encouraging diversity of thought.
I leave you with the trailer for his show, capturing the story from late 2018.
Also published on Medium.