Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Freedom of Speech and Whole-hearted Living

The freedom of speech topic hit me this week set off by an email I received regarding a Letter to the Editor printed last week in which someone took offense. As the editor of a newspaper (thankfully not one that feeds the media frenzy of shock and horror), we welcome letters to the editor. We honor people’s freedom of speech and we often get responses to someone else’s letter and points of view are often conflicted. We may not agree with the writers’ beliefs, but we have an obligation to allow their freedom of speech. (We do, however, remove profanity.)

We suggest that people, instead of being upset with us for allowing freedom of speech, to submit letters of their own. They, too, are allowed that right. A response letter can state their beliefs on the subject without name-calling and anger. 

This situation made me think further about freedom of speech. I think more needs to be said and we need to look at what that means.

I try not to live in fear and that seems harder to do in these times. More and more I am narrowing my world to avoid listening to all the negativity that is so predominant right now. I am afraid to speak my truth because people are too quick to “take offense” and not only do they take offense, some get downright nasty about it. What happened to agree to disagree if you disagree? What happened to acceptance and tolerance of other people and other views?

Hatred and violence seem to be on the forefront of all newscasts and social media, and having this pounded into us day after day is taking its toll. The whole world seems to be affected (or it seems so because that’s all you hear about). Unfortunately, too many people find this kind of news exciting, and this is what sells so the media keeps pushing it. This repetitive daily negativity is pressed into our souls making it hard not to become what we see. If we let anger and hatred infiltrate our lives, we will live in constant fear which turns us into anger and hatred. 

I refuse to get caught up in it, and yet, it’s hard to avoid it. The news media makes it sound like that’s all there is to talk about it, and people are so uptight they blow up at everything said. They take the minutest of detail and blow it all out of proportion without understanding all the facts and seeing all sides. People can’t say anything without ticking others off; even to the point where words are misconstrued and taken out of context. It’s hard to say anything without offending someone else and getting verbally attacked. 

My thoughts are divided on how to talk about this. My biggest worry is that we are about to lose part of our First Amendment – freedom of speech. Isn’t that what this country was founded on? It’s already started with political correctness. What’s next?

What exactly does this mean? How did it come to this? How do we protect our freedom of speech? And what does this have to do with whole-hearted living?

I totally believe in freedom of speech, but there needs to be courtesy. To me, freedom of speech doesn’t mean name-calling and bullying. It doesn’t mean trying to force others to one belief. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean verbalizing every thought if it’s detrimental of others. Yes, there are those times when people spew off in anger and fear – sometimes that can be for a good reason – but for the most part, anger and fear fuels more of the same and it’s catchy and addictive. It becomes an epidemic. And it has.

Freedom of speech means being able to speak our truth. It’s an opportunity to share ideas, debate subjects, and communicate. Freedom of speech allows us to be open with others. Freedom of speech can inspire, educate, and create positive awareness to bring about necessary changes.

We can protect our freedom of speech by being mindful of what we listen to or read, and taking care in how we respond. Are we hearing just some piece of information given in a way intended to be shock and rile people up? Do we know the whole story behind what was said or are people just jumping to conclusions? If something said or read makes us angry and fearful, will responding with more anger help the situation or make it worse?

Freedom of speech can be protected by how we speak. We need to THINK before we speak. First reactions in a situation can often be negative. If we freak out and start screaming, does that make us look intelligent? Is that the kind of picture of ourselves we want to give others? Sometimes it’s better to walk away to clear those thoughts before we can respond in a positive, intelligent, and informative way. And there are times when it’s better to totally walk away without responding at all (or waiting for a better time).

Taking thinking further, we can teach ourselves to catch negative words before they leave our mouths, or the moment we realize we are speaking in anger or saying something not so nice, we can stop. Also, it’s important to understand that people have deep-set beliefs and they may not be willing to or want to change. It’s not our job to make them change. We need to honor that. This means there may be some subjects not to discuss when together. This is not denying freedom of speech, it’s just being wise in when to speak.

So, what about freedom of speech and living whole-heartedly? I, too, have strong beliefs, but I am careful with whom I have particular conversations, which is another key. Perhaps there are certain conversations that should only be made with like-minded individuals. After all, not every personal thought and belief needs to be public. Again, it’s being mindful and respectful. It’s about knowing when to speak and to whom. 

I am honoring myself by knowing when to speak and when to not get involved. I live my whole-hearted life in avoiding situations that are upsetting (whenever I can). I live whole-heartedly by knowing I am doing the best I can, trying to live each day in beauty and peace. Today I will find beauty around me.

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