Freedom of Speech

Freedom of Speech

Freedom of speech is guaranteed in many countries. In the US it’s protected by the First Amendment. It is recognized by other countries constitutions and laws. But what is this freedom of speech? Let me quote Wiki here: “Freedom of speech is the right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship.” It is a brilliant idea, unfortunately too often misunderstood. Looking at today’s society, I can’t help but notice that freedom of speech for too many people means simply the right to talk whatever they want. “I’m free” – I hear – “I can say whatever I want, and you cannot forbid me.” What a pity that such a glorious principle turned out to be an excuse for nonsense waterfalls of words or even words vomit.

How less is more

I grew up in a family that didn’t talk too much. My grandparents were hard working farmers, and had no time to sit and do blabbing sessions. It’s not that we didn’t talk at all, but I do not remember ever being trapped in a nonsense conversation. I do not remember forcing myself to listen or to focus on a conversation. On the contrary, I always tried to be as close as possible to my grandfather when he started talking, because I knew that I’m going to hear something special. I learned as well that a look, a smile, a gesture can be much more meaningful than waterfalls of words.

No wonder that one of my favorite book characters from the childhood was Snufkin. It was a short description of him in Moominsummer Madness that made me like him immediately. Just listen:

Snufkin was a calm person who knew an immense lot of things but never talked about them unnecessarily. Only now and again he told a little about his travels, and that made one rather proud, as if Snufkin had made one a member of a secret society.

And indeed I could often feel like a member of a secret society when I met Snufkin-kind-of-people in my life. Thanks to my mum, a brilliant poet and philologist, our house was filled with real Snufkins. One of them was an outstanding Polish anthropologist and a writer prof. Włodzimierz Pawluczuk, who would always sit in our red armchair smoking a pipe and telling stories. I felt like I’m sitting in a magical circle and listening to the stories of Scheherazade. Long after he was gone, our curtains smelled like his tobacco. I loved this smell; it reminded me about his magical stories.

I can say whatever I want, and you cannot forbid me

Of course, you can. But why should you? I see these days a trend to joke about or even disrespect things that are for others sacred. I remember seeing everywhere slogans “I am Charlie” which is supposed to stand for “a rallying cry for the freedom of self-expression.” Wait a second. I went through Charlie’s covers: Jesus in a sexual intercourse with St. Peter, or so called “cartoons” with Mohammed, Pope, etc. Is this the essence of freedom? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not supporting here the attacks and bombings that were the reaction to those publications. However, I as well do not support offending true beliefs of others and thus unnecessary hurting people. If you are not offending Christianity, or Islam, or any other religion, it doesn’t mean that you share beliefs. It simply means you are a decent human being. Let’s put religion aside. Would you like someone to make “fun” (read: totally disrespect) someone you love? I can’t imagine you would. That’s what Jesus and Mohammed are for those that believe. Therefore, personally I am not Charlie. Because freedom doesn’t equal saying whatever no matter what, no matter if we deliberately hurt someone without any reason. Freedom of speech means that I am free to choose not to hurt people with my words without any reason.

The right to not listen

During the process of putting the value on the amount of said words instead of their merit, the wise and brilliant of our millennium didn’t enough protect those who do mind listening to all those waterfalls of words. Internet, TV, or a book you can always close. But what when it comes to social contacts? Can you simply get out of the room anytime you feel your right to listen to what you want is violated? Unfortunately, it is still rude to leave the conversation or not to listen. But why? If we are so much into freedom, if you have the right to say what you want, I should have the right not to listen to what I don’t want to. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

I remember us coming from Cuba and having few people over. The kind of people that I rather sit in the room and play with kids than start a conversation. What you have to know about us, unless we meet people who want to know about our travels, we are not torturing anyone with travel stories. If they haven’t read our blog, they probably have no idea where we’ve been. And that is fine, coz why should one listen about Cuba, if one is not interested in Cuba. But this time, it was even more awkward. So, Dario was sitting with two people in our living room and they asked him a question about Cuba. He started answering, but before he even managed to finish the sentence, he was interrupted. The rest looked like this: the talkative two, who’ve never been to Cuba, started to answer their own question and discuss what they read about Cuba, or heard, or what a friend of a friend of a friend said that their friend ….. After 10 minutes Dario came to me and said: “f@#$%ck it.” He stayed with me in the kid’s room, and the other two continued their conversation about Cuba for the next half an hour. SERIOUSLY?!? They didn’t even notice us being gone, and till today have no idea what we did in Cuba.

The right to remain silent

The Miranda warnings state: You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Anything you say may be used against you. So yes, we have the right to remain silent. The right many people nowadays often forget. We so much focused on expressing our opinions and executing our often misunderstood freedom, that we totally forgot how to be human beings. Let us stay sometimes silent, not only to avoid self-incrimination, but as well to avoid destroying the endangered pieces of morality left in our culture.

 

 

Foto: by C.Alain

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