Sep 14, 2004

freedom of speech

I just went to kickass speech on the balance of freedom and accountability in research and education.

The keynote speaker made a statement I rather enjoyed: “One should have the freedom to say whatever they want. But, there many things one oughtn’t say that they COULD.”

His example involved calling your Dean an idiot with no clarification. CAN you say this without fear of being fired in most academic situations? Yes, actually. Should you say it and expect to a: not hurt his/her feels, b: alienate the recipient of such a declaration and c: not make others uncomfortable in expressing their opinions to and around you? Probably not. SHOULD you just because you can? Probably not.

This, was, naturally, in the context of the political and social environment of academia. However, I found this statement, obvious though it might be, refreshing in it’s balance between responsibility and personal desire, communication and reticence. It strikes me as a reasonable guideline in most situations.

Sure, some might consider this politics.

I am more apt to call it the social convention necessary for conscientious and effective communication.

Just because you have an opinion, does not mean it needs to be expressed in every arena. Just because you have an emotional response or distaste or thought on something does not mean that everyone needs to know such a reaction with the full force of it’s convictions.

It’s amazing how often I hear personal freedom and desire used as an excuse to bust out with some of the rudest, unkind comments you can possibly imagine. With irresponsibly conceived rhetoric and fundamentally serf serving statements and ego massaging declarations. Look at me! I have an opinion! And damnit! I’m exercising my freedom by forcing it on you all.

Then there is actual freedom of speech. The ability to say what you need when you want and need to say it. That is sacred. It exists to foster clear communication and freedom in other arenas as well.
But I suspect it requires safe boundaries, personal awareness, interpersonal politics to thrive. And it involves the ability to say anything you could, indeed. But exercising one’s freedom does not need to be done by testing the boundaries of abuse.
Likewise, one should not be surprised that others are occasionally off put by ill timed calisthenics of such personal expressions.

the bottom line is: freedom and need are important concepts. But exercising ones freedom should make ones freedom stronger, not others weaker. And sometimes, to use a well known phrase, one persons freedom really does end where another's begins. Certainly one's comfort can be compromised by anothers needs and desires. So when expressing what we have a right to express maybe it's best we think about why we wish to express it, and how this expression might effect those around us, if we hope to have our oppinions welcome, and not simply allowed.

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