As a public speaking instructor, I try to emphasize that last point to my students. The speaker is not the most important part of any speech; it’s the message. I try to get them to understand regardless of who is delivering the presentation, try to avoid being distracted from the message. Focus and listen to what they’re saying, especially if you disagree with them. Listening to alternate points of view, having our own views challenged, giving others the opportunity to speak is how we continue to grow. It’s how we continue to learn. It’s how a democracy is kept a democracy.
Imagine my disappointment at reading the news publicizing some of the recent graduation ceremonies around the nation where graduates either walked out before the delivery of the commencement address or worse, disrupted the speech itself by standing up and turning their backs on the speaker or loudly booing during the speech. These behaviors are not admirable. The actions are not the actions of the brave. And for the students who are next to graduate, please consider the following reasons walking out on or disrupting a speech is not a good idea.
- It doesn’t make you look courageous. It makes you look cowardly.
You see, if you view someone as the “enemy,” the best thing you can do for them is to turn tail and run in the opposite direction. Nothing shows cowardice and weakness like running away. It lets them know you’re too weak-minded to sit there and listen to an alternate point of view. It also lets everyone else who witnessed you running away know that you have no spine.
- It doesn’t show you to be grown-up. It shows you don’t have even a modicum of maturity.
I hate to be the one to break it to you (well, no I don’t), but “adulting” doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want whenever you want. Sometimes it means sitting there and taking it because the situation requires it. You’re not always going to like your boss. You’re not always going to agree with your co-workers. You’re not always going to like the policies your leadership team put into place. But guess what? You suck it up until you can find a better opportunity. You can’t just walk out. You can’t just lash out. You have bills to pay and responsibilities. Others cannot always be there to take care of things and clean up the mess for you. It’s important to understand things won’t always go your way, no matter the size of your temper tantrum.
- It shows you don’t want to hear alternate points of view.
Walking out of the venue because someone you don’t like or agree with is about to speak is tantamount to a defiant child running to their bedroom because they don’t want to listen to their parent. Disrupting the speech is even worse. That’s like a child covering their ears and screaming, “nanabooboo I can’t hear you” while the adult is trying to speak. And how annoying is that shit? It’s fine to have your own opinion. It’s fine to disagree. It’s fine to not like the other speaker because you think they’re a jackass. But how will you ever know if it’s remotely possible to find common ground if you’re not even willing to give listening a try? Or do you want to continue listening to people who agree with only you, further reinforcing a narrow mindset?
- It shows you don’t support free speech.
How completely and decidedly unAmerican. Our founding fathers understood quite clearly freedom of speech is the cornerstone of democracy. I have a feeling if you were the speaker, you would feel absolutely appalled and completely oppressed if a group of people didn’t want to allow you to speak during your own presentation. In essence, by taking the attention away from the speaker, you are saying they don’t have the right to be there. They don’t have the right to speak. They don’t have the right to have their voice be heard. You cannot expect others to value your opinion if you are not willing to provide the same in turn. Freedom of speech isn’t just about saying what you think and sharing your opinion. It’s also about supporting the value of listening to opposing ideas. It’s about listening to a viewpoint directly from the mouth of someone you would not necessarily ever have a conversation with. How can you try to understand another’s point of view if you don’t support their right to say it? How can you have a democracy without being willing to listen to those with whom you are most opposed? You can’t.
- It shows you have a complete lack of discipline and lack of respect.
Discipline is being able to adhere to a code of conduct regardless of the chaos that is happening around you. It shows that you are in command of the situation and can be depended upon to not lose your cool when the proverbial shit hits the fan. It shows that your feathers cannot be ruffled and that you can stay the course. You don’t quit just because you don’t like what is happening at the moment. Regarding respect, it’s important to remember respectfulness is a trait exhibited regardless of how others behave. Respect is not a reaction; it is a reflection of your own character.