Recent weeks have divided opinion regarding the legacy and the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. The funeral will take place at St Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday 17 April. The West Steps of the Cathedral will be lined by 14 Pensioners of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a single half-muffled bell will toll as the cortege arrives followed by the Cathedral’s bells, half-muffled, for around half an hour. The grandchildren of Lady Thatcher, will carry cushions bearing the Insignia of the Order of the Garter and the Order of Merit, and lay them on the Dome Alta. There will be two modest arrangements of white lilies and greenery at the foot of the lectern, and a ring of flowers around the candle. Lady Thatcher wanted the service to be ‘framed’ by music from British composers and the funeral will feature the poem ‘Little Gidding’ by T.S. Eliot.
Already there are talks of protests to the funeral. People want to voice their opinion about a woman who has now died but who has left such a controversial legacy. These opinions are heartfelt as the perceptions that the damage done by this former prime Minister still hold true, just as strongly as those people who felt she was a Prime Minister of which the country should be proud.
As Stephen Covey said in his eighth habit ‘Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs’. More importantly, freedom speech is considered to be a fundamental human right, to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment. ‘Speech’ is not limited to public speaking and is generally taken to include other forms of expression. This right is preserved in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is granted formal recognition by the laws of most nations, not surprisingly, to varying degrees.
However, balanced against that, we also have Section Five of the 1986 Public Order Act which is sometimes perceived to impinge on the freedom of speech.
So, how can we express controversial opinions?
A very difficult quest that will no doubt continue to be discussed for days, weeks and even years. One way of possibly considering this is to directly relate freedom of speech to Emotional Intelligence, a model established by Daniel Goleman, that seems to underpin all behaviours, often considered to be the cornerstone of communication and positive relationships.
Using the four key elements of Emotional Intelligence can in some cases help clarify when and how to put forward our own views when we have an opinion, particularly one that maybe controversial.
1. Self Awareness
If we consider self awareness we can identify what motivates our need to say our opinion – is it for a cause that we truly believe in, a greater good, or is it something that gives us ‘centre stage’ or feeds a need to enhance our ego? Fundamentally, if it is driven by our own agenda, then how can it be for the benefit of us and others? Is it possible to communicate our message in a way that evokes positive intent rather than a malicious intention?
2. Self Management
If we then look at the second stage of Emotional Intelligence which focuses on self management, we can then consider how to put forward our message. If we consider both sides of a discussion to be equally valid, it is therefore only fair and reasonable that each person or group has an opinion that should be heard, so ‘how’ we communicate that message in a way that also invites the other opinion, rather than defensiveness or aggression, must surely be considered. As Mehrabian said through his research of non verbal communication established many years ago, it is not what we say, it is how we say it.
3. Other Awareness
If we consider other people’s right as important as our right to express our opinion then maybe we will listen more and speak less, or at the very least listen once we have spoken. Otherwise, we are immediately making the assumption that our opinion is inherently more important than an other’s opinion and in that sense, cherry picking the ‘rules of engagement’ of freedom of speech, to suit our needs. How often have we agreed with a protest if it is something we agree with but disagreed if it is an opinion we do not agree with. If we truly believe in freedom of speech not only will we express our opinion but we will let other people express theirs without shouting down or making it impossible for their opinion to be heard. In this sense it is sometimes about timing, when is it your turn to speak and when is it my turn to speak?
4. Relationship Management
This may possibly be the most relevant part of Emotional Intelligence in relation to the expression of controversial opinion. If we do not respect the relationship, or see it as important then ironically the opinion we are so desperate to voice maybe lost in translation and what suddenly comes under the microscope is the fact that there is a conflict; ‘me against you’.
It will be interesting to see how the events unfold over the next few weeks to see how people react, respond, listen and voice their opinions.