Every once in a while, my personal mental filters refuse cooperation, and I read about something that doesn’t belong in my own little happy bubble when it comes to people behaving logically. One of those things is the rise of the cancel culture in Western society. On one hand, people are judging communistic countries for the censorship and media being controlled by the government, but on the other hand, they are perfectly fine with canceling art or humor if it offends them in their own countries. How is that not hypocritical? They claim that certain things people say are offending their feelings or are insulting. But if we agree on the fact that you will always have someone disagree with you and always have someone who will be offended by your words, should we all just stop talking altogether?
Why is freedom of speech so important?
Some things may seem natural, logical, or important, but if we do not realize and understand them, it is much harder to defend them. Simply saying, “Because it is,” doesn’t cut it anymore. That is not a valid argument. Educating people about the free speech is more beneficial than just saying how they somehow magically have it or need to have it.
If we want better laws and a better society, the way to go is through challenge, rebuttal, and debate. But how can you have those things if you are not free to say what is on your mind and criticize? The very essence of democracy (or at least it should be) is people’s right to say things that are disagreeable. But as everything else in life, this too is a tango, and it takes two to tango. Free speech is not only about your ability to speak about what you want and consider to be important. It is also the ability to listen to others when they have something to say.
If you want to be heard but fail to listen to others, you are very explicitly telling those others that they shouldn’t listen to you either. We should always treat other people the way we want to be treated. I always think of it as, “My behavior towards you is literally giving you permission to behave that way to me.” People too often function solely through focus on their point of view and are very loud when it comes to demanding their freedom of speech. When it comes to opinions of those they disagree with, their freedom to express their opinions is either disregarded or just plain forbidden. But imagine if you were not advocating for your freedom of speech but for the free speech from those you disagree with, those who have different opinions from you. Now, that would be a real free speech advocacy.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”– George Orwell
The right to not be offended
Let me make something very clear. YOU DO NOT HAVE THAT RIGHT. None of us have that right, and there are actually two reasons for that. The first reason is because we are all very subjective beings. What you might find normal or even funny, someone else might be offended by, and vice versa. The other (and more important) reason is because no one on this planet is responsible for your emotions and feelings except you. You are the one experiencing them. There is no magical way I can put a feeling of sadness or happiness inside you, and the whole, “You/he/she/it/they made me feel…” is a completely wrong construct. No one made you happy. You were happy because YOU reacted to a stimulus outside you in a way that was at that moment natural to your current state of being. Everyone else would not react in the same way, but you also wouldn’t react in the same way every time that stimulus happened. Today it might satisfy you, and tomorrow it might aggravate you.
Work on yourself and establish a zen-like state of peace and don’t-give-a-f@ck-about mentality. Your emotions should not be dependent on what other people say. Why would you want to give so much power to someone else anyway? Why would you strive to have your mood be reliant on other people’s words? That is emotional and mental dependence. If you are easily offended by someone else’s words, way of life, religion or spirituality, sex preferences etc., etc., you need to start working on yourself and not them. Find security and stability in who you are, and realize that you being you is not threatened by they being them. If you want to be free, that means you have to let them be free too.
“Everyone agrees with the freedom of speech until they hear something they don’t like.”– Ricky Gervais
Hate speech and learning how to communicate
When talking to people or reading about this subject, I often come across a saying how free speech doesn’t justify bigotry. Yes, it does. It actually does. What it doesn’t justify is the lack of communication skills. It is very different to say to me, “I think you are stupid,” and, “I think you are completely wrong in everything,” from saying, “You are stupid,” and, “You are completely wrong in everything.” Can you notice a subtle but powerful difference? In the first set of examples, a person is giving their opinion, and no one in the world can deny them that right. In the other set of examples, they are trying to state facts.
Even what people consider hate speech is not always hate speech. Cambridge Dictionary defines hate speech as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.” I will be so bold and correct that definition slightly and say how the part about expressing hate should be removed. You should be free to say how you hate something or someone. That is expressing your emotions. If you hate Black people for being Black or gay people for being gay, you are weird and I disagree with your opinions, but I can’t disagree with your emotions. I cannot make those emotions go away, nor can I say that you aren’t feeling them when you are. And by trying to forbid you to say that you hate something is taking your freedom of speech away. Just remember, express opinions and emotions, not facts. Your opinions are not facts.
The reason I quit all social media a couple of years ago is that I just couldn’t handle so much stupidity anymore. People are getting more and more frustrated with their own lives, and they are spitting hatred all over the web in a futile attempt to make themselves feel better. Sooner or later, they will realize it doesn’t work that way, but I don’t have to stay around and watch the show until that realization happens. Hidden behind their anonymity and/or distance, so many people are, in their lack of communication skills, trying to substitute their right of free speech with hate speech and even encouraging violence.
The biggest problem in today’s modern Western society is we talk about our rights 99% of the time and about our responsibilities 1% of the time. Every single right comes with the responsibility. If I want to be a part of a harmonious society, then I need to make sure that I am a contributing part of it and that my actions or words don’t make someone else’s experience of that society any harder than it needs to be. I need to educate myself in how to communicate with people in a respectful way with freedom to express my own opinions but without forcing those opinions on others and presenting them as facts or universal truths. I also need to educate myself in accepting other people’s different cultures and following that old saying, “When in Rome, do what Romans do.” That means that I will not go into a mosque and try to explain to Muslims what I believe is the right way to treat women. When in Asian cultures, I will follow the social etiquette of bowing or taking my shoes off when I need to do those things and will not tell them how they are wrong for doing that and myself right for not doing it in my home. I will not try to teach Christians the “rightness” of paganism or try to explain to them on Christmas or Easter where those holidays actually come from. If you want to be free, you need to accept responsibility of respecting others and their freedom. There is a time and place for everything. And while you are free to speak your mind, choosing in what setting you are speaking it, shows wisdom.
“Most people do not really want freedom because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”– Sigmund Freud
Accepting freedom is giving it others
Words carry great power – they always did – but letters in them are not the only substance of conveying meaning. Our tone of voice, facial expression, body posture, the situation we are in, and the context of those words all play their part in communicating that which needs to or wants to be said. For example, some things that others don’t find funny may be hilarious to me, and some things that I find not funny at all, may have them bursting in laughter. Something not being funny to me doesn’t mean that it isn’t funny at all. It simply means that my sense of humor is different from the person making that particular joke. I personally don’t have any problems with humor regarding women, pagans, or focused towards any other “group” to which you could say I belong to. Some of it will be amusing, and some will not.
The only way to truly accept and nourish your freedom is to give that same freedom to others. Empowering others to express themselves even when you disagree with them is inviting them to do the same, but you are not doing it just because you expect them to “return the favor,” because not all of them will. You are doing it because your freedom is just a small part of universal freedom. We must all protect that freedom, even when it seems hard. Canceling someone or something because you disagree with that opinion is denying your own freedom of speech. Every time you defend the freedom of another human being to express themselves, you are defending your own right to do the same.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”– Voltairean principle by Evelyn Beatrice Hall from “The Friends of Voltaire”
– cover created with image by Christopher Ross from Pixabay
– first photo by Sasith Mawananehewa from Pexels
– second photo by Lucas Pezeta from Pexels
– third photo by Elijah O’Donnell from Pexels
– fourth photo by Alana Sousa from Pexels
Merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again my dear pagan soul. Rejoice in life, and life will rejoice in you. May God and Goddess bless you in everything you do and spirit guides follow you wherever you go.
In love and light,