Friday, April 27, 2007

Speech Impairment

There's been a lot of focus in the culture here lately on what people say in public forums. From Don Imus being fired from a 30+ year broadcasting career for uttering stupid, disrespectful, unneccessary comments on air to Rosie O'Donnell leaving 'The View' under questionable circumstances and under fire for her outrageous, overblown opinions.

Whenever things like this happen, those in the line of fire quickly run to hide behind "free speech" as a defense for saying anything they please. They claim that we live in a country where anyone can say anything they want without fear of retribution or losing their jobs or having their record sales (or whatever else they pedal) go south... And when they get a negative public reaction to their over-the-top comments or opinions, they're just 'apalled' that people would react that way. After all, we have "free speech", don't we?

Yes, we do have free speech, but that claim is one of the most used and abused reasons cited on the planet as a defense for saying any darn thing anyone pleases, and I'm pretty sick of it.

Yes, we have free speech. Tecnically, it means we can say anything we want. But it doesn't mean we SHOULD say anything we want. And why is it that we suddenly want to say all these things that we probably shouldn't? When did that happen? What has happened to our culture?

We've had free speech here for over 200 years so why suddenly do we feel the urge to pull out all the stops and say so many things that cause us to constantly run and hide behind the First Amendment? What ever happened to "self-editing"? When did we lose our ability and/or will to do that? And why? Weren't we just a little bit better as a society when people actually thought before they spoke and considered the impact of their words on the rest of us?

Even though free speech provides the ability to 'say anything', it still requires us to be responsible in what we say, particularly in public forums. You can't scream "fire" in a crowded theatre, because that would be irresponsible. You can't encourage people to go out and 'shoot the president' because it's highly likely that some fool will then go and do that. Free speech does not absolve you of the requirement to speak responsibly, especially in a public forum where you may have undue influence on those who hear your words.

And I'm so tired of the 'other defense' -- that he/she's a comedian; they say controversial things, and it's okay. Well, not in my book. You don't get a pass because somebody out there thinks you're funny. You still need to play by the rules of healthy society. I don't care how funny you are. Your words have impact, and you need to consider what that impact might be on even the least of us out there.

So in speech, who gets to decide what's over the line? That's always the question, isn't it? What's indecent? What's disrespectful? What's okay?With the general degradation of the morals of society, with the rampant disrespect for authority of late, with the rise of the 'shock jocks', with the gangsta rap overflowing on the air waves, I don't think we can trust anyone to tell us that. But here's some general thoughts I think we should consider in both our speech and general behavior:

Is it something the uplifts society? Does it move forward the human condition? Does it have the ability to inspire us to something more? Does it promote the good in us, rather than the bad? Is it what we want to plant in the minds of our children? Are we better for having said it? Are we better for having heard it?

These are things we should be striving for, not the "shock" value of what we CAN say, but the inspirational value of what we SHOULD say.

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