Thursday, December 13, 2012
A Fifth of The First, Please
In the 'liberal West', we've been conditioned to the right to free speech, formally codified in the United States' Bill of Rights. The normal interpretation of the First Amendment is that we are free to say whatever we like, whenever we like, with a few very distinct exceptions (like shouting "Fire! in a public place).
It's a very important part of what made this country great, and was created so that political dissent could never be stifled (not that there haven't been attempts, like the Alien and Sedition Act!).
The unspoken assumption behind this right is the presence of a degree of civility, such that the speech that's protected will have a place in both public and private discourse and intercourse.
It worked pretty well...until a few decades ago. Civility became a "drag", and a "hang-up". "Expressing yourself" became the highest good, and a true expression of your feelings was equivalent to absolute truth.
Think about that. Feelings, that can change with the speed of a swallow chasing mosquitoes, are suddenly elevated to natural law.
This is pretty awful, but worse follows - that these feelings should be expressed. Not to tell people "how you feel" will give you mental constipation.
An apt metaphor, and one that can be brought to mind when someone "expresses himself" and verbally craps all over you.
Words are a powerful weapon - and like arrows or bullets, they can't be recalled, once sent out.
And, like a projectile tearing through flesh, words can tear through a person's soul, and irrevocably change a life. Whether the intent to harm was there or not - once the words are there, the damage they do can never be repaired. It can be plastered over, but a hurtful sentence, once delivered, can change a relationship forever.
Say your husband tells you, "You never were much of a cook."
Maybe he was just frustrated at work, and didn't enjoy dinner tonight. Maybe he truly wants to help you improve your cooking, and has the sensitivity of an ox.
Will you ever feel the same way about cooking again? Will you ever be able to accept a compliment about your culinary skill, without feeling you're being patronized?
The Freedom of Speech is great.
But perhaps the Right to Remain Silent is even better.