The concept of freedom of speech, or freedom of expression as we say in Canada, seems to come out a lot in the news and the media and even online lately. It’s a concept that, in various phrasings, in various western societies, we are lucky to have. It’s a wonderful protection, but it doesn’t mean what many people seem to think it means.
Freedom of expression only means that the government can’t shut you up, can’t legally come and tell you to stop saying or writing or printing whatever you are saying or writing or printing. That’s all.
Because the beautiful and horrible thing about freedom of expression is that WE ALL HAVE IT.
What seems to be lost on many people is that freedom of expression doesn’t mean freedom from disagreement or criticism. It doesn’t mean that I have to let you say whatever you want because you have freedom of expression. Since I have that freedom too, it is perfectly okay for me to call you on being a douchebag, or an idiot, or just plain wrong.
No one has to respect your opinion. I have to respect that you have an opinion, but not what that opinion is. If I disagree with the opinion, I’m well within my own rights to tell you that, to tell you you’re wrong, to argue with you until one of us goes away.
You can, if you like, cry unfair or cry foul or just cry, but that doesn’t change my right to disagree. In fact, it doesn’t change anything. You have the right to possess whatever opinion, on anything, you want, however informed or uniformed it might be. But the right to having that opinion doesn’t automatically grant you the right to an audience for that opinion. If you find one, good for you, but that doesn’t abrogate anything else I’ve written here. However big your audience is, however much you enjoy your own echo chamber, it doesn’t matter. I can still disagree. I can still tell you you’re wrong. I can still argue against you.
The counterpoint is that you don’t have to argue back, you don’t have to listen, you don’t have to believe what I say. You have every right to ignore me completely, but then, I don’t have to let it go, either.
And I’m not infringing on your rights if I don’t. What so many people seem to miss is that there’s another path rather than whining about how your free speech is being violated when it isn’t. When someone argues against your opinion, you could engage with them, listen and study and understand and see if maybe their argument has some merit. You could try to have an open mind or you could try to open their mind. Or both.
You could have a discussion. Find a place where your freedom and theirs meet. It may be that neither one of you convinces the other, and that’s okay, because, when all is said and done, you have the freedom to hold whatever opinion you like.
So do I.
And neither one of us has to agree with the other.
Be well, everyone.by