Freedom of Speech, Not Agreement of Speech

The Constitution gives all Americans the right to free speech. That means you can share what you think and believe without fear of harm. There is no caveat for agreement. In other words, one doesn’t have to agree with the speech of others; one doesn’t even have to listen to the speech of others. One does not, however, have the right to silence the speech of others, or to respond with violence in word or deed when one does not agree. Speech is a protected right. Period.

Notwithstanding criminal threats, slander and libel, and screaming Fire! in a crowded venue, if an opinion is so wildly unpopular or provocative, people can simply tune it out or walk away, leaving it without an audience. How long do you think that person will be able to continue with an unheard and unaccepted message? If on the other hand, many people agree with that opinion – even if you or many other people do not – we must all respect their right to speak.

So, why is it that when some people or groups exercise their right to speak their opinion – regardless of how unpopular – they are met with threats, angry rants, and in some cases, violence or destruction of property? This is unacceptable! If you don’t like what is being said, leave, turn the channel, scroll up, block it, or respond with maturity and respect. If you can’t handle that, perhaps you are not ready to participate in society and should consider disconnecting from news feeds and social media while you train for re-entry.

Destructive means of disagreement can be seen regularly in response to social and political issues from the National Anthem to immigration, to which political party you affiliate with to what government officials have said or done. What has happened to the art of conversation, information exchange, and debate? The purpose of these things is to expand our knowledge, consider other perspectives, gain exposure to other viewpoints, and ultimately assist us in determining our own stance on issues and the way we each want to live our lives.

Of course, we all believe our own way of thinking to be best and want to convince others to agree with us; however, anger, personal attacks, and violence are not acceptable ways to accomplish that goal. Knowledge of facts, the ability to patiently convey that knowledge, and the willingness to agree to disagree are what is needed.

Unchecked emotion vomited upon the listener is the enemy of useful conversation. Another enemy: unproven statements and beliefs based on feelings instead of facts. When these elements are present, the question becomes why are we talking at all and what is the goal? If the goal is to vent without allowing for rebuttal, then make that clear before beginning so that the listener can choose to silently listen or excuse themselves from your monologue. Otherwise, if your goal is to try to convince someone of your stance, it would be better to have a two-sided discussion with a healthy back and forth volley in hopes that you can all come to a reasonable consensus. Even without agreeing with all others have to say, there may be some points made that can be accepted and added to your own side of the equation, thereby honing your own viewpoint.

When a discussion shifts to anger, yelling and elevated emotions, it ceases to be helpful. The attention once given to the content of the issue is shifted to the improper behavior of the speaker, devaluing any and all reasonable points made previously.

This can too often be seen in the media when someone espouses an unpopular opinion. The response is often to ignore or negate proven facts with volatile emotions followed by personal attacks on the person. The responder may go on to say the unpopular view is untrue, only to be met with facts to prove otherwise. Once facts are given, instead of acquiescing to them, emotions, name-calling and character assassination become the tactic of the hour. If one cannot dispute the voracity of a claim, other than my bad, I didn’t know that, what else is there to say? That’s the point of discussion, to bring up things to be pondered, answer questions, clarify misconceptions, lend credence to already held beliefs, and to change minds, if the facts so lead.

Since society has become so addicted to feeling outraged and reflexively spouting off about it, the time for mature and respectful discussion is way past due. We can all practice exercising these elementary elements of good conversation and debate; the ones we all learned before we finished grade school. Perhaps we should all go out today and have an extended discussion with a child and revel in how much we can learn from them about how to have a civil conversation.

#notafraidtothink #notafraidtolisten #putprideaside

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