I Am Just Like You | Address at Manchester University, UK

On 10th June 2023, Tom Shaw was invited to give an address at a Free Speech Protest outside Manchester University, UK. The following article is a transcript of that address.

Why am I here today, addressing you all? Well, I’m here because I am just like you. I get up in the mornings, some days later than I might like. I do what I need to live, then once the day is done I might find something for my own entertainment and education. Or, if I’m really wanting to push the boat out, I might do something creative. Then I got to bed, and rinse and repeat, for I am just like you.

Sometimes I wake up tired, paralysed by the weight of the world and a feeling of futility. I get angry when I make mistakes. I get frustrated at those who don’t live up to my ideals. I get stressed when something isn’t going well. I feel the pain of being hurt, physically or emotionally. I get wrapped up in grief when I see unnecessary suffering in others, and I am overwhelmed with guilt when I ignore them and walk on by, with the thought of them never leaving me. Sometimes I don’t sleep, as I’m reminded of past failures I’ve never learnt from or futures I feel unable to achieve. I am afraid of the walls crashing down around me and not being able to stop them. I am locked awake in a nightmare of asking myself “what’s it all for?”

I am just like you.

I’m a man who has seen what he can be at his worst. So far, I’ve completed three years of a Dentistry degree; a course in which I have my own cohort of patients that I see to and treat with their mouth-related problems. At least, that’s how it was sold to me. In reality, I was expected to be at the mercy of the NHS and my supervisors’ wills; my decisions were really their decisions, and I was just there as a workhorse to be indoctrinated into their system. As my scientific knowledge grew concurrent with my clinical experience, I found what I knew to be true more and more at odds with what I was “encouraged” to do. Mercury fillings, root canals, fluoride; these were just a few of the things I was no longer convinced were the “safe and effective” treatments I was originally led to believe. And yet, I felt powerless to say anything. I could not bring myself to challenge what I knew to be faulty science because I had no confidence in the system and no confidence in myself in the face of conflict. As a result, my patients suffered, and I suffered. I would writhe in agony at night at my inadequacy to do what I knew to be right. I tried to take my life, multiple times, because of it. But most of the time, I just felt numb and lonely.

I had lost my free speech.

As I came to learn through my own experience and through seeing the experience of others play out, the universities, NHS and medical regulators, to name a few, do not promote a culture of free speech; a culture that, in healthcare, should encourage clinicians to take initiative in supporting what is best for their patients. Instead, they are expected to take policy and guidelines from above as gospel, not asking questions about how those decisions were made or the pharmaceutical companies involved in their creation. The doctors, scientists and academics who had serious, well-founded concerns about about the implementation of socially progressive policies, lockdowns, masks, medical interventions for transgenderism, Covid “treatments”, jabs and more, were silenced and slandered at best, and their lives made hell at worst. When we see instances like this in healthcare, and elsewhere, like with the student at this university, who was discriminated against and oppressed for beliefs that were of no relevance to the course he was studying, a culture is established where nobody is allowed to be an individual, even when being an individual is better than being absorbed into groupthink. I am just like those people, in that I knew what it felt like to be unable to stand in my own sovereignty and for what I knew to be right.

It is a feeling I will never forget.

When I listen to what these dissidents of cultural persecution have to say, and I weigh up their arguments, I know these are not “disinformation spreaders”, far less the “far-right extremists” they are often made out to be. These are real people, people with families, with hopes, dreams, fears and flaws, but who care about humanity and in doing good. You and I are just like them. Many of these people hold the opinions they do because they see how ideas which, on the surface, can seem good, are twisted into dogma and forced onto others in an authoritarian manner. If nothing else, it makes these people the antithesis of far-right extremism.

Free speech is not just about saying what we want, when we want, without consequence; it is the mechanism by which we work out what is good and what is not. It is how we come to know our neighbours, friends and colleagues. It is about negotiating solutions to problems that do not cause more harm than good. Yes, it is messy and imperfect, and it can create conflict, especially when we don’t have other communication tools to support that act. But to me that is still better than not having free speech at all, as it is still the best thing we have in resisting the evils that can exist inside every single one of us, myself included. It is a tool that prevents us from becoming slaves to tyranny, whether as an ordinary person in a totalitarian regime or a health practitioner being made to harm their patients. And, it is immutable. When the most oppressed in society has their livelihood taken away, their opportunities squandered, their liberties and possessions stripped from them, when they are put in a prison they should never have been in, tortured in ways no person should ever experience – all that person has left is their free speech.

I stand here today because I am just like you. I cherish the warmth of a loved one’s touch. I relish the laughter of a group of friends making jokes around a table. I transcend in the feeling of pride from helping someone in their flourishing. I would never want anyone to go without such joys – the wonders of this world – because this world can be so, so beautiful. We may not always have the same opinions and life experiences, or know the same facts, and that’s okay. I want to hear the things that make us both happy, sad, angry, guilty and afraid. I want to know the things I don’t know – the things we might both agree and disagree on – in order to work out what I should strive towards and how. I want people around me who feel they can be truly individual and different, whether that be background, spirituality, experience, sexuality, politics and so forth. But I want people who can hold these differences without needing to impose it on others in a dogmatic manner; who hold these opinions because it helps them best elevate themselves and the rest of humanity. I want a society that can hold the breadth of experience so you and I can help the people that need it even more, love the people we do even more, and hold even more people closer than we could before. Free speech allows for that; it allows us to act in honour, do no harm and treat others how we might like to be treated.

I am just like you – a living, breathing, feeling person. I love that we all exist. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Disclaimer: Over To The Youth is a community of conscious individuals. The content reflects the lens of its individual creator rather than the community as a whole.

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