Thursday, August 4, 2016

Speaking One's Mind? Really?

I agree with speaking one's mind. I believe in being able to express one's opinion. I believe in freedom of religion, speech, the press, and so forth. I have known the 1st Amendment by heart ever since I had to memorize it as an 18-year-old journalism student. To limit people's freedom of speech is not only unconstitutional, but also dangerous.

I also believe that people must take responsibility for what they say, and that we can and should hold others accountable for their words. Not that there's no forgiveness, but that there's accountability.

Therefore, it has long bothered me that “speaking one's mind” is used like a get-out-of-jail-free card that people can play whenever they want to express intentionally offensive or hurtful remarks or when others seek to justify that person's remarks. As if a person doesn't have to be responsible or respectful as long as they are “speaking their minds”. As if accountability is irrelevant as long as a people are "speaking their minds". That's not only illogical, it's also antisocial.

Speaking one's mind, as far as I can tell, should mean that one is able and willing to express unpopular ideas. There are situations when speaking one's mind is just that. For example, if colleagues have one opinion of a supervisor, but you have another. Or when people are ignorant of or blatantly ignoring an elephant in a room. If everyone in your company insists that there is no ongoing sexual discrimination, but you know or believe that there is, it behooves you to speak your mind rather than let injustice persist.

Then there are ways to speak one's mind that are quite socially inappropriate. It is inappropriate, not to mention illegal, to slander someone. It is inappropriate to someone bully someone. Yes, insulting people could be a way to speak one's mind, but it doesn't mean we should simply accept it. That doesn't mean we should excuse it. It certainly doesn't mean that we should praise that person for their willingness to speak their minds, ignoring the actual messages they express.

And here's the ugly reality: We only think it's speaking one's mind when we are not the ones personally insulted. We can say someone is simply speaking their mind when they are calling people of other countries "rapists" or when they are insulting people of a different religion than our own. However, it doesn't seem so acceptable when it is directed towards our own demographic groups.

What if Obama said, “Christians are a bunch of ignorant, uneducated fools.” Is that just him speaking his mind?

What if Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama quipped, "White American men are redneck, sexist pigs." Is that just her speaking her mind?

What if Paul Ryan remarked, “Divorced women are hard-to-please gold diggers who don't know how to properly take care of their husbands.” Is that just him speaking his mind?

What if Richard Dawkins stated, "Jesus was a clearly a pedophile. He always wanted the children to come to him so that he could 'bless' them. We know what he really wanted." Is that just him speaking his mind?

Or, are these four examples simply remarks that would be promoting ignorant stereotypes? Trying to intentionally stoke anger? Outright race/gender/religion baiting?

I think my worst fear is that I might actually have to answer that rhetorical question.

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