In America we have a very specific protection of freedom of speech. In recent times the youngest voices among adults have cried out to silence some people and that really could take us in a bad direction. If someone is racist, un-informed, just plain mean, or trolling they still have every right to say whatever they want to say. As long as a person commits no crime due to the inspirations of their thoughts and words we cannot and should not silence them however we all also have the freedom to say whatever we want back. Freedom of speech doesn’t protect anyone from disagreement and on the contrary it seems to be a means by which all voices can be heard. Still, everything has a breaking point. I for one have never believed in the steadfast rule often lobbed toward children that no matter what anyone says to you that you never resort to violence.
I am not in any way advocating violence to solve arguments. Civility, while a hard concept to truly pin down without getting into a discussion on classes, is vital to problem solving. Arguments are disagreements on which things are a problem and which solutions best fix those problems. Such discussions should be conducted as calmly as possible and with all points of view entertained. This method is slow and that’s why people don’t want to do it. That and pride, as Americans we seem to be ever more infected with the idea of personal pride to such a point that entertaining another point of view becomes an affront to our quality of character. It is okay to be wrong though. It is okay to change your mind over time as you learn and change.
So what violence do I entertain? Perhaps that of the abused. If someone else believes what I don’t it may bother me, but it isn’t truly affecting me. I can choose to walk away or to argue it out but there are other ways that people treat one another. Abuse is the use of overwhelming force to control someone. That force can be applied physically and it is more obvious or it can be applied verbally, socially, institutionally and financially. To say that no words should ever inspire violence is to suppose that words cannot dominate and overwhelm a person to control them. Words very much can. This happens in families, in work environments and in myriad other circumstances. In these cases it may be right to take up arms to win back your freedom and your sense of self from your oppressor though from the outside these scenarios are hard to judge, hard to write a law about.
What does this all have to do with freedom of speech and censorship? The generation of people either lauded as amazing or hated as being vapid are millennials. These people are more in touch with open emotional expression than any in recent history and many would say this makes them oversensitive. Perhaps it does. A nation, like an individual, experiences growing pains as changes occur. When shifting away from being closed off emotionally it’s natural that we may swing too far toward knee jerk overreaction on the topics that have always been hard to approach, but now are not being ignored.
I was inspired to start this writing on hearing the President talk in an interview about college students working to ban any remnants of reminders of people that ever were involved in slavery. Being less than 200 years removed from abolition it seems nearly impossible but the emotions stirred up in people are understandable. Still I offer another point of view that on this particular topic we need to never ever forget that the trade of human lives and the ownership of human being was real here. It continues to be real in other places in the world today. We cannot lose sight of the importance of not abusing one another in this most extreme way. Because of this I ask that you not see reminders of the unchangeable past as a symbol only of current oppression. Realize their value as a reminder of what we have done and what we are capable of doing wrong if we don’t work to be better.
Educate everyone you can and listen to what people have to say to you. You will learn new things and hopefully you will spread good knowledge too but I hope we never decide that the right to any point of view, morally repugnant or not, isn’t vitally important to protect. With that lets hope for more discussion and dialogue and less sided-ness.