For a right that we tend to take for granted, it doesn't hurt to stop and think about the significance and importance of free speech. This story takes an in-depth look at the importance of freedom of speech.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."
It all sounds so fancy when worded in legal terminology, doesn't it? But take a closer look at it, and then glance around your periphery―do we, even as part of a "democratic" set up, actually exercise this right in the right sense?
For every free opinion expressed, there is a sea of people you can potentially offend―and we don't even have to consider the radicals here, when we have parents, spouses, neighbors, Internet trolls, co-workers, and bosses as potential offendees.
But despite this rather depressing scenario, hope does shine through, only when we actually understand the importance of using our right to freedom of speech and expression. Here's how it works.
Why is freedom of speech important to society?
This is what it says. The Founding Fathers of America drew their inspiration from the Magna Carta when they asserted that 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were inalienable rights'.
The First Amendment of the Constitution assures us that,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So you see, there aren't any exceptions, foot notes, or caveats along with this, which leaves us to assume that freedom of speech must be absolute.
But this is real life. Remember how we mentioned the breed of potential offendees a while ago? To that we add the concept of societal obligations. Yes, constitutional rights may sound all fanciful and musical, but let's face it―we're people with families and jobs, we'd just rather shut up.
Let's be honest and think, when have you actually expressed yourself without having worried about what the other person might think? Did the cat catch your tongue when you were about to say that your wife was indeed looking fat in that dress?
Did you suffer from temporary amnesia when your boss expected you to integrate your soul with that of the company, while he took off on a vacation to Hawaii? So you see how we just tend to zip it up, and let it go because too much is at stake? Freedom of speech? This definitely does not apply here!
Wait a minute. Are you saying what I think you're saying? Absolute freedom of speech seems like a Utopian concept, considering the world we live in. This is a world where a Nicki Minaj gets away with her truffle butter and anacondas; but a bunch of cartoonists expressing their hearts out are massacred in a supposedly liberal city like Paris in broad daylight.
Isn't it ironic how people can easily make a joke, but can't really take a joke? It's become so easy to offend someone with our mere existence these days, that one might as well walk around wearing a burqa paper bag around their head.
But hope floats, despite it all. All the 'shutting up' that we do on a daily basis is bound to take its toll someday. The frustration at withholding our opinion is vent out eventually―it may come as a blog rant for an individual, or spill out into street protests for a community.
Humans are a breed which can be shackled, but only for so long. Which is why those who knowingly or unknowingly hinder freedom of speech are always termed as oppressors. And human history stands testimony of the fact that oppressors have never had the last laugh. Ever.
Before we speak freely, let's resolve to HEAR patiently. The world we're living in is too naïve to grasp the true meaning of 'live and let live'. At the moment, it's too busy being bossy, overbearing, one-dimensional, negative, and overly judgmental (notice how there's a 'mental' in 'judgmental').
We have zero respect for our fellow human beings, we only think what we say is right, or what our religion says is right, or what our newsreader says is right―rather than hearing things out, or being empathic. It's not for nothing that freedom of speech and expression is considered as a basic human right. It is really basic, is it not?
So, the next time you're about to get offended by something, remember how it would be to live in a world where you'd have to filter out your each thought before expressing it. Therefore, listen to what the man has to say, hear him out without interruption. And then, process it using the brain you're blessed with to decide whether to accept it or let it go.
Think of it, isn't it funny how adjectives with negative connotations like 'brash', 'brazen', or 'impertinent' are used to describe people who speak their mind? Parents across cultures impress the value of being tactful on their children, who have a natural inclination to clearly say what's on their mind. We teach them to destroy that natural instinct.
We go great lengths to ensure that they never say what's on their mind, but express an opinion that is more socially acceptable. And then put up our hands in despair when the said child grows up to parrot radical thoughts. It would indeed be a wonderful world where we'd be easily saying what's on our mind, without any inhibitions.
Just think how this basic right of freedom of speech can liberate this world, torn apart by zealots. Then people would listen to each other, communicate their ideas, disagree or agree, take offense or not, and ultimately realize that we're inhabiting this same planet that can thrive on improved, uninhibited communication among its largest race.
So, you wish to live in a world like that? Stop being such a stuck up. Honestly respect your fellow humans' right to freedom of speech and expression. Feel free to get offended―you are entitled to your opinion―just make sure you don't hold a grudge.