Opinions and Free Speech

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My Time Magazine arrived with a topic and cover story about something that I have been giving a lot of thought to recently. The story is entitled “Why we’re losing the Internet to the culture of hate.” It was both disturbing and a relief to know that writers, journalist, and regular people who express their thoughts, beliefs and ideas are now questioning whether they want to risk commenting about issues and problems in society. The backlash is often huge, ugly, mean and in some cases promotes threats and personal consequences to people’s families, businesses or themselves.

While I have not written for a while due to personal commitments, I also have avoided writing because there are topics that need to be discussed, both in our community and the country, which I know will spark and invoke negative consequences for myself.

I am not sure I want any more negativity in my life than what I see in the news and television now. The idea of free speech has taken a much different road than what we were taught in school and how it is being expressed. I admire the writers in our community who have braved some tough issues to help us be informed and share their perspectives. 

How free is speech when college students who do not want a particular speaker to come protest till the speaker is disinvited or when the speaker is shouted down till they leave the podium?

Social media can destroy a person’s reputation or career when a group dislikes what they say, do, or post. Yes, social media can also save a life, raise money, or draw attention to a disaster and capture volunteers, but the concern here is not the good things it does, but real fear of speaking up and having discussions about tough topics that really need to take place in society is being eaten away by “hypersensitive citizens” (USA TODAY, August 30,2016).

Hypersensitive is a good descriptor for much of what is taking place. 

In our election process, we see people heckling speakers, putting up inappropriate banners, and going so far as stopping traffic and barring people from safely entering and leaving venues where the candidates are scheduled to speak. 

They do it to individuals who support causes and ideas they don’t like. The question is not whether people have the right to express their beliefs and ideas, the question is  why should we feel unsafe for running for office, and why should supporters of a particular candidate feel like they should not be able to voice their opinion about their choice without severe repercussions.

Why can’t people express their feelings in a civil way about a football player who will not stand up during the National Anthem in a civil way.

There is plenty of room and multiple avenues to say what you want without being rude and unkind. We do need to speak up and explain our points of view and feel we can do it without reprisals unless we are blatantly promoting hate and bullying people. 

Free speech does not have to be mean speech. Good communication that is respectful of ideas, thoughts, and actions promotes free speech, it does not suppress it, beat it down, or force people to retreat to feel unsafe and undervalued as human beings. 

We are condoning this culture of hate and meanness by our actions in how we conduct business in our world in smaller realms. I see it at condo association meetings, people booing, speaking out of turn, and shaking their head while business is being conducted when they do not like what is being proposed.

 I see it at our City Council meetings, Little League games when the coach makes unpopular decisions—it goes on and on. You know what is happening and have seen it. Where and when will it stop? That is up to society. 

First we must define and understand what it means to truly have free speech in society and the appropriate ways in which it can and should be implemented. What is unacceptable when invoking your free speech and how does that method of communication affect another person’s life or group. 

At this moment in society, it appears that free speech means a free-for-all at the expense of anyone who disagrees with you or your group’s collective thought or ideology.

Less free speech is taking place due to the backlash of those who disagree and the many methods people have to denigrate you for expressing your point of view no matter how respectful you do it. 

That in itself is a travesty and is not how democracy works in a free society. A culture that is more interested in themselves than the whole will never understand what it means to truly listen, reflect, and look at all sides of issues.

It is very easy to simply retreat and wall us off from other perspectives different from our own, because you can find like-minded people all over the Internet and selectively decide from the many platforms of social media where you want to be and stay in that realm.

We all join groups and causes we believe in, but staying in one place without being aware of other ideas and ways to think about things isolates people and works against a society that supports positive relationships that promote a better quality of life for all people. 

That is My Take

 Gloria J. Alkire


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