The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. ~John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
Here’s a recent conversation with my husband:
Me: I was watching the news tonight, and I just can’t believe what is happening.
Hubby: In Wisconsin?
Hubby: In the Middle East?
Hubby: Then, where?
All together. What is happening all at the same time.
It doesn’t seem right that a parent, or wife, or husband, or sister, or brother, or best friend should have to endure that additional pain as they try to say goodbye. It doesn’t seem right that anyone and their dog ( if said dog can type) can post their opinion, and say terrible things about others online without having to so much as sign their name and stand by their words. It doesn’t seem right what’s going on in this world.
But, on the flip side, it is good that we can speak openly right? Is it good that I can read the blog of another bereaved mother and get some comfort on a night I feel lonely and sad? Is it good that we can have public discourse about our elected officials, and be heard? Is it good that I was able to grieve and share openly, with all of you?
The freedom of speech conversation is not an easy one is it. On one hand, we celebrate the nation’s freedoms, we praise the revolution by the Egyptian people, propelled by social media, but on the other, we expect those that we disagree with to be silenced.
I find it so interesting that in the past month, we have watched a group of young men and woman in Egypt change their world by demanding their freedom to speak, assemble and choose who will lead them. We all watched the power of words crisscross the globe to spread their message in a grassroots way that astounded the planet; all of us holding our breath, to see if change could actually be achieved in this way. And, we stood in silent reverence when we watched the power of a peaceful protest, in a land that we have been historically conditioned to believe is violent. The ripple effect of their initial shout into the night sky that they had enough is still reverberating throughout the Middle East, and essentially the world. The citizens of the world are discovering the power of their voice.
It just seems to make so much sense when the voices heard are saying what we want to hear. But what about when the speakers are hateful? What about the people who spews lies, fear and pure hatred in God’s name no less?
Our voices have power. We can comfort, we can inspire, we can make others want to act or retreat, we can encourage others to believe in themselves, or we can bully them until they believe in nothing but the images we present. We can use our voice to share our opinions, or we can use our voices to ram our opinions down the throats of anyone who will listen.
I believe a change in the law is not what we are wanting. I believe we all are longing for the days of civility, when their was a line that you just did not cross, even if you did have the right to free speech. Policing those who say what we don’t want to hear does not change their message or beliefs. Although on a visceral level, I will admit, I did wish the supreme court ruling would say something like,
“We want everyone else to keep their right to speak freely in this country, except those people who use words to inflict pain on others, especially the weak. You may have as much freedom of speech as you want, you may disagree and talk through those disagreements respectfully. But you may not hurt others with your words. From now on, the United States of America will consider your voice to be as much of a weapon as a gun. Use it responsibly, we have no beef with you. Injure the innocent, and there will be consequences.”
Sadly, my euphoric vision is not at all realistic. If we accept the beauty of free speech, we must also accept that not everyone sees beauty in this world and has the right to talk about it. I know it seems right to silence the few that show no respect for the last passage of a life, and the bereaved. I can not imagine what I would have done if something like that had happened as I tried to bury my own son. I do know that I probably would not have shown as much grace as those parents I have heard from on the news.
We must not look to the laws to correct what we have created, but look at each other to improve and grow. Technology has allowed us to connect in ways like our grandfathers could never have imagined. We can comfort someone from another country, read a twitter post from a young man in Cairo who is, with his people and changing his world. We can also comment on a news story anonymously, and make judgments about people without ever having to be held accountable. Certain groups can even search online and find funerals of the fallen heroes of this country, and attend ones that will garner the most attention to spread their misguided message.
There is no easy solution. But I believe we must let our own voices of love continue to speak, and we will, by virtue of our volume, silence the fear filled rhetoric that is about as far from God as you can get. The only true defense against words of hate are words of love. If we believe that if our only option is to silence anyone who opposes our view on life, we are no better than the corrupt leaders who try to suppress the voices of their people. We must be brave enough to be able to hear those who do not make sense to us. We must be brave enough to listen and to consider, and courageous enough to speak in our own voice about what we know to be the truth. And when others are hurt by those negative voices, we must use our own voices to comfort.
We do not need to change laws. We need to change ourselves. We can only ever change ourselves. We need to stand up, person to person, and demand something better, for now and for our generations to come. We need to ask for a return to civility.
To circle back, I feel truly blessed that I am married to someone who, on a regular basis, has “How can we change the world?” conversations with his wife. Today, I am thankful for the knowledge that we all have the power to affect change on the planet earth. Person to person. With love and kindness.