Twelve people were murdered because of free speech earlier this month, which is something we too often take for granted. Any valid points about the Charlie Hebdo incident were made and re-made in the days following the attack, so I will not be brazen and self-important enough to think that my opinions on the matter would forward the conversation in any way.
What I will (very predictably) be talking about instead, is the small-scale, day to day impact that the rise of self-esteem has had on our freedom of speech. As Americans, we are allegedly guaranteed the right to free speech. Unfortunately, exercising that right has become something of a challenge if what we say has the potential to offend anyone.
We are socialized to believe that, under no circumstances should we communicate in such a way that will be offensive to another person. We should consider the feelings and values of other people before we voice an opinion – an idea that is good in principal, but implemented poorly more often than not. Of course people should behave in ways that take other people into consideration. The problem created by this mentality is that it’s impossible to say anything that matters without offending someone.
Increased focus on being inoffensive or ‘politically correct’ has eroded much of our ability to speak freely. Society has given self-esteem priority over freedom of speech. Because of things like the Self-Esteem Movement, everyone needed to feel special all the time. To accomplish this, it became necessary to create a culture where anything that would potentially diminish self-esteem would be outwardly discouraged.
We now have the right to high self-esteem, but not necessarily the right to free speech or a differing opinion. And that’s complete bullshit.
I have the right to free speech. And that includes the right to say things that you don’t agree with or outright offend you. I get to say whatever I want, because I believe that you get to do the same, which is an often forgotten clause in this whole freedom of speech business, but don’t worry, we will get to that in a minute.
I have been assured that, as an American, I have all sorts of rights to go along with freedom of speech, all of which come with some degree of responsibility. I have the right to bear arms, but the responsibility to use them safely. I also have the right to vote, but the responsibility to research the candidates and vote for the lesser of the evils.
Freedom of speech is no exception to this. We have a responsibility to exercise good judgement when speaking freely. I have the right to offend you intentionally, but also the responsibility to be a decent human being and try to communicate my ideas more effectively than that. Sometimes, that is not possible. Sometimes my right to free speech is more important than your feelings. By default, this means that there are times that my feelings are less important than your right to free speech, which is something I accept, because it is a small price to pay for my own.
For instance, I can’t stand Michael Moore – I think he’s a bag of dicks. Most of what he says and does pisses me off. I don’t like what he says, but I acknowledge and respect his right to say it.
This is where it gets tricky for many of us who have been indoctrinated by self-esteem. The special and unique snowflakes of my generational cohort often forget that your opinion matters as much as theirs. They are the people who cry foul when there is a dissenting opinion, or someone says something unkind about a topic they hold dear. Defending their freedom of speech while demanding that yours be taken from you is not unusual, and sadly enough, they fail to see the irony of this.
My entire generation was conditioned to believe that we were special, smart, unique, and beyond reproach. It only makes sense that some of us feel like our opinions and individual rights are objectively more important than others…which ultimately results in this, which is sad, but makes me chuckle every time I see it:
This week go out and exercise some free speech. If you offend someone, good, that just means you are probably saying something worth saying. Or something incredibly stupid, but I’m working on being a more positive person, so let’s just go with the first one.