Thursday, April 08, 2010

Free speech means also accepting the consequences

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

While free speech has been one of the cornerstones of our society, I always marvel at the fact that there are those out there who forget another cornerstone of our society: accepting responsibility and the consequences for what we say.

Despite being a treasured fundamental freedom, I find that with the onslaught of online media in the past decade, we've lost sight of the reality of one thing: if we shoot our mouth off, there are consequences. I'm surprised at the number of people who feel they can say anything yet somehow believe they're immune from any repercussions.

I've heard the following: "This is freedom of speech!"; "I can say what I want!"; "Can't you take criticism?"... and so on.

Although I'm the first to admit that I don't have the thickest skin in the world when it comes to criticism, I'm certainly fine with being told I'm wrong about something. As someone who likes to be right (don't we all?), being proven wrong is actually a good thing, because then I can change course and end up being right! Right? Right!

Recently, someone posted comments on a video I made and I deleted them because, in my opinion, they were insulting and inappropriate. They were critical for one reason only: to be critical. There was nothing constructive. There was nothing factual.

That's OK. It's a free country. But here's where it's a free country for me, too: I deleted the garbage and blocked the person who posted the comments. They e-mailed me and were completely out-of-sorts that I dared delete their words. Poor baby! I feel so bad for you that I could just cry. You decided to throw nastiness at me and I decided to wipe it off and put up a wall so you couldn't do it again and, somehow, I'm the bad guy here?

It's really puzzling. This stuff doesn't only happen online, it also happens in person. It can happen while walking down the street. It can happen on the telephone. It can happen anywhere. I find that people are standing up and demanding free speech -- people like American shock entertainer Ann Coulter (I refuse to give her any credibility by suggesting she's a legitimate political commentator) -- yet when the consequences come as a result of their "free speech," they cry foul.

You've probably heard this before, but regardless of what some people say, free speech does have its limits.

There's the old adage that says free speech is nice, but you still can't scream "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. People seem to think that they can say and write anything -- and I do mean anything -- and that somehow people don't have the right to react strongly.

I reject that notion. I fully agree that you can say what you want. You can write what you want. But I can also react the way I want. When you exercise the right to free speech, you must also accept the consequences. Sometimes they're fair. Sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're mild. Sometimes they're drastic.

To anyone out there who believes you can say anything to anyone regardless of how it hurts or insults them, I say, "You're right! You can!" But you have to accept the consequences of the reaction -- whatever they are.

When a person says something that is legitimately out of line and that offends you, you have the right to react. You can choose not to, of course, and depending on the circumstances, that indeed may the correct course of action. But sometimes it's just not. Sometimes it's appropriate, and in fact desirable, to launch a shot across the bow of the other person's ship just to let them know to move on and pick on someone else.

I always ask this very simple question when people are surprised at getting pushback following their nasty messages: "What did you expect?"

It's simple, yet complex at the same time. Seriously, "What did you expect?" Did you think that calling me fat, an idiot, or useless was going to get you a positive reaction? Did you think I was going to let your comments stay on my website, blog, video channel or what have you?

Did you think I was going to give you $20 and thank you for being part of my life? Were you expecting a kiss? A tender caress? Perhaps an awkward curtsey of subservience with my eyes looking toward the ground in surrender?

If you did, you have some serious personal interaction issues that you should talk to a psychiatrist about (I'm only half kidding.) Next time someone insults you and you react badly, look at them in the eyes and ask that question. "What did you expect?"

Maybe a light will go on then.

We all have choices. We can choose to spread the love, so to speak. Or we can choose to spread the hate, so to speak. Whichever one you choose, that's up to you, but I reserve the right to choose what I allow into my personal space in the world, be it the mailbox attached to my house, my e-mail, online activities, my telephone, or what have you. And if I'm ever critical of something, then I'll need to accept the consequences too! I'm not suggesting criticism isn't ever warranted, just be prepared for the repercussions.

People who spread garbage -- the spammers, the haters, the fraud artists, the insulters -- well, you have fun with that. But when it comes to me, I choose not to give in. I won't start any wars, but I'll ignore, hang up, write "Return to sender!" on an envelope or whatever else I have to do to divert your attention elsewhere.

The soapboxes we stand on are our own. We shouldn't demand that others maintain them for us, too, especially when we decide to go negative.

1 comment:

Sarah Butland said...

Criticism needs to be constructive even in a free speech world or else it's just useless. Thanks for contributing to society by restricting your "friend" from continuing to add negativity to your world.