Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang said that, “We don’t want Hong Kong to be just another Chinese city”. I could not agree more. We’ve all worked too hard and been through too much for Hong Kong to be just another Tianjin or Shanghai. And it’s in China’s interests, too, that Hong Kong doesn’t become just another Chinese city, and instead keeps its rights, practices and traditions – including the right to free speech.

That right is a fundamental part of Hong Kong, one that I, like many Hongkongers, hold dear. I support every person who wants to express his or her opinion; dialogue, discussion and debate are the cornerstones of a healthy society. This is what I teach my students, from five years old to 18, every day. But when freedom of speech morphs into the freedom to interrupt and disrupt, it gets tricky.

Last week, just before all the Occupy Central protests, I visited my dentist at his new office. For four years, he had worked for a bigger dental practice, saving up for this moment, when he was finally ready to break out on his own. It’s a risky move. In a town full of medical groups and fancy offices, his looked tiny in comparison. But he didn’t let that deter him. I watched as he hopped around his new office, getting this cleaning tool and that sink ready. He was dizzy with excitement.

Then, Occupy Central happened. When it did, I immediately called him. I was supposed to go and see him on Monday. He told me not to bother. Because of Occupy Central, he can’t open his office. Nobody will come in anyway now, he said. His office is smack in the middle of Central. When I asked him if he thought everything was going to be OK, he said with a loud sigh: “Who knows?”

My dentist was not talking about Hong Kong democracy. He was talking about his life.

In Hong Kong, having to close up a shop is no joke. With sky-high rents, closing, even for a few days, could destroy a small business. When I hung up the phone, I sat there stunned. That’s when it dawned on me that, in this fight for democracy, we may also be crushing a lot of dreams – not through tear gas and pepper spray, but through something that’s also dangerous: disruption.

These dreams are not the dreams of Beijing or Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. They are the dreams of innocent, hard-working people like my dentist – the kind of conscientious, good people who make up Hong Kong. These people did nothing wrong. By making it impossible to go to their store, by making it hard for people to go to work or children to go to school, we’re hurting all the people who live in Hong Kong. It may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and I’m confident that, when Occupy Central is over, many people will be able to quickly rebuild. But some won’t.

This is not to say that I think the protesters should give up; that they shouldn’t fight for what they believe in. They absolutely should. But I believe that the pen is mightier than the sword. And it’s far, far mightier than disruption.

Kelly Yang teaches writing at The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School.