The airways, the newspapers, and our very own blogosphere are filled with chatter about 1st Amendment rights especially the freedom of speech and expression. Yes, it is an important issue to all sides of the conversation from left to centrist to right. But, should it be stirring up such controversy and baiting?
We have always had this right since the inception of our Bill of Rights. It has been there regardless of whether the interpretations have been handed out by the Supreme Court of the United States or Joe Blow from Yakima. The Preamble states that these inalienable rights have been granted by the Creator under the heading of LIFE, LIBERTY & PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Take notice! The “C” in Creator is capitalized. That means this Creator is not just any creator but, THE CREATOR. That makes the reference special. It does not matter if you believe in my version of a creator, Tom Jefferson’s version or your very own personal version which could be that amoeba from way back in the primordial slime eons ago. Freedom of speech and expression has always been ours, yours and mine, since its creative inauguration. Accordingly, it is our, yours and mine, responsibility to grab onto it, cherish and protect it .
Problem is that some folks believe theirs should take priority over ours. Theirs is better, more godly. Maybe theirs has usurped passages from scriptures or maybe theirs is founded on outdated traditions, or maybe theirs is simply some cockamamie interpretation of what grandpappy preached as truth. It matters not because, as much as we would like to deny this, theirs is as valid as ours. What has heretofore saved our civilization from annihilation is that we collectively employ a conscience as a navigation system to pick through the varying ideas regarding freedom and for the most part have used that guidance judiciously.
Here comes the glitch. My conscience guidelines could be light years away from the conscience of another. So what do we do? Well, we could all pull out our placards, put on our marching shoes, exercise our shouting voices and stand face to face to those with whom we disagree. That’s not a bad thing, actually it is a good thing when we also cover our hearts with another characteristic which is not inherent, it needs to be nurtured and practiced. That trait is civility.
I can oppose your viewpoint by letting you know that you are the biggest asshole in the world, call you names which would make my mother ashamed, and raise a fist to your nose hoping to duck any fists you could raise to me. Lately, that seems to have become the American way.
Or I can exercise my abilities as a statesman and simply say, “Sir/Madam, I hear your point of view, I honor your right to express it, and I respectfully disagree. Now, please hear my viewpoint.”
I believe that this is how great leaders and statesmen of the past have conducted life and achieved greatness for America. They did not wear red hats or pump fists. They did not tweet infantile insults at those who disagreed with them. No, if responses were necessary to protect their freedom of speech or expression, it was normally, “I hear your assessment and I respectfully disagree. Now, hear mine.”
Civility. It goes a long, long way in resolving issues and conflicts. I freely admit that I also need a refresher course in civility basics now and then. I am not immune to the name-calling and drama which has become a normative feature of today’s political discourse. Ultimately, I want civility in my life because it lays a foundation for my primary objectives of “clean and serene” while trekking through God’s universe.
“Count to 10 before you open your mouth.” Those words spoken by a very wise old man to me as a rebellious, young know-it-all hold a vast reservoir of wisdom when practiced out of respect for others as well as myself.
“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” Proverbs 10:19
It seems that the disagreement over what is tolerable under free speech and expression is the vehemence, hatred, and violence which some are claiming as protected under 1st Amendment rights. How can it be? We can all talk about every issue until the cows come home and agree to disagree, but you threatening me and my family through words or actions with physical aggression or death because I do not think, talk, act, nor smell the same as you cannot possibly be what the Creator nor our founding fathers had in mind when they spoke of our inalienable rights. If so , then mankind is definitely not destined to be the enlightened species capable of unfathomable love and compassion as we have envisioned.