Free speech, free speech, free speech …

 

I feel like I’m in permanent PMS. But rather than this state of exaggerated frustration being brought on by hormones, it’s brought on by others practicing their right to free speech – no matter how mean, uneducated or bigoted.

I teach First Amendment, and I feel I understand it enough to do so, but with all the different opinions and misinformation floating about, it’s easy to forget that we ALL have this right, even the people many of us wish didn’t have the right:

The people who are cheering the Planned Parenthood shooting because babies lives will be saved – though three adult lives were taken and others were injured – have the right to do that, disgusting as it may be.

Wyatt Tilton, a former Newcastle police officer can, indeed, make a joke about Adacia Chambers doing Oklahoma State fans a favor. Of course, he is referencing her driving into their homecoming parade and killing people, so they didn’t have to experience the Bedlam loss. But he’s a real loser for doing so. I have a First Amendment right to call him a loser.

People who believe every Facebook meme they see and use them to judge and insult others have a right to do that, even though most of the time, those memes represent half-truths or even non-truths.

All I ask is this:

  1. Be nice to each other. Recognize that everyone has the right to free speech, and if you don’t want to hear what someone else is “speeching” about, unfollow them, leave the room, put in your earbuds. If your disagreement is REALLY strong, do some research and formulate a rebuttal that is free of insults and grammar and spelling errors (you want to be credible, right?). Then post that thing in your own space. Continue to recognize, though, that they had the right to say what they said.
  2. Educate yourself. Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Understand how to tell the  difference between biased and unbiased sources, and how to identify those that are not remotely credible. Know who “they” is. I don’t know how many times I hear, “They said …” Well, who the heck is “they”? Know who and what you are talking about.
    When you hear that Trump wants Muslims to wear ID badges or that young, male, muscled Syrian refugees are arriving on U.S. beaches, go check it out, because both seem improbable. Try snopes.com or factcheck.org.
    Turns out Trump answered some reporters’ questions in a rather ambiguous way and his responses were taken out of context and plunked into a more specific context in the article. Yes, he’s in favor of a database, but he never said anything about or agreed to anything about ID badges.
    And those muscled refugees? That pic was taken in Australia in 2013. Syrian refugees would not come to the U.S. by sea. Took me less than 10 minutes to find this information.
    But still, what if some refugees DO have muscles? If a man is in pretty good shape, but his home is bombed or his life and the life of his family is threatened and he finds himself suddenly in refugee status, do those muscles melt away? Does he look like he’s starving the next day? Week? Even month or longer? You could just as easily suddenly find yourself in a bad way here and you can’t make your muscles go away so you’re a credible homeless person.
  3. Have some empathy. Understand that no one has control over what family they are born into or what nation they are born in. We fear what we do not understand (see No. 2). Most Christians do not understand Islam; and most Muslims do not understand Christianity, but both are quick to condemn the other, and quite often based on extremist behavior. Muslims judge the Christian west based on what they see on American TV. Think about that for a minute. What would YOU think of us?
    We do the same. Christians judge Muslims on what they see ISIS doing. ISIS is a small (but horribly violent) segment of Islam, not the general population of Muslims. Philip Yancy wrote a post that I found interesting, and it helped me understand some of the differences, even among Muslim countries.

    It’s not so different between various cultures that thrive here in the U.S. The average individual doesn’t really understand that someone else’s experience in the same country, in the same city, in the same school, can be vastly different from their own. Open your eyes and try to understand others. Not everyone has electronic devices, a nice car, plenty of clothing for all the seasons, or shoes that fit, the opportunity to go to the doctor when needed. Not everyone has a home with furniture, with heat and water, with food in the cabinets. Not everyone has a mom and a dad in the same house. Some live with one or the other. Some live with a grandparent or two. Some live with other relatives or even foster parents. There are those who live with two moms or two dads or with friends because they have no one else. There are lonely kids out there who don’t live anywhere. Not everyone’s experience is the same, but each experience is valid and real. Accept other people’s reality. Help if they need help, but don’t condemn someone for not having the same experience as you, whether because of an economic, racial, religious or other artificial divide.

Freedom of speech is powerful, but it is wielded much too carelessly, especially here in the digital age.

I wish I could give everyone who posts or speaks thoughtlessly that long, uncomfortable teacher/mom stare that makes you (quickly) reflect on what you’ve done, what was right or wrong about it, how it will affect others, how you can make it up to someone you’ve hurt and how you’ll consider all of that before you post/speak next time. Honest.

But that’s not the way it is, and the problem is much too vast. All I can ask is that you, who are reading this, join me in trying to use the power of the freedom of speech responsibly and set a good example for others to follow.

Be nice.

Educate yourself.

Have some empathy.

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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