Freedom without boundaries is chaos.

Freedom of Speech (preliminary version)
Freedom of Speech (preliminary version) (Photo credit: cliff1066™)

Freedom is the hallmark of a civilised society and so is mutual respect! Free speech is not a permission to indulge in defamation or libel. Why am I writing a post on the freedom of speech? I had written a post earlier on free speech https://antoniarapheal.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/free-speech-or-just-an-excuse-to-be-insensitive/

And I came across very interesting comments. Many held the opinion that reprimanding commentators, writers etc. to be more sensitive and curtail their insults or jokes that satirize individuals by drawing inferences to the disabled was a hindrance to free speech! Although thoroughly upset with the behaviour they still defended it in the name of free speech.

This post is to illuminate my well-intentioned fellow bloggers (no, I did not want to argue on a discussion forum) on the basic tenets of free speech. In the wise words of a great thinker (if memory serves me right its Abraham Lincoln but Google doesn’t support my notion), “You are free to say whatever you like but not in any manner you like!”

Freedom is indeed precious and the birth right of every individual, as is the right to a person’s emotional and mental well-being, in simple terms no one has the right to poke fun at you because you are different in the name of free speech. While I am not calling on a crack down on name calling, what I am trying to highlight is, when did we as a society begin to shy away from our moral responsibility to defend the oppressed and abused? Which school of thought has brainwashed us into believing that people have every right to deride and joke at the less fortunate or different all in name of free speech and those derided have no rights to respect and equality?

When did the right to an opinion get distorted into the right to abuse and discriminate? It is not a right but an offence and it saddens me that in today’s age we have evolved to such a tolerant degree that we have incorporated an offence as a basic human right. What’s next? Declaring schoolyard bullying as the right to freedom of expression? For those still in doubt here is the multilateral treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly that covers Freedom of speech:

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Article 19

1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.

3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals.

Yes, the right to freedom of speech carries with it responsibilities, to be mindful of the right of an individual to mutual respect. Power without control is useless and freedom without boundaries is chaos.

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Free speech or just an excuse to be insensitive?

English: Kids at shore
English: Kids at shore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Humour at the cost of hurting another individual, that’s cool? Really? How is it ‘Free speech’ if it costs a tear and stabbing pain to another? Here is an excerpt that got me agitated, again.

I’m not surprised you get along well with all the other neighbours. If you put fifty children with Down’s syndrome in a room there is going to be a lot of hugging.

The only way the writer could ‘get back’ at a mean neighbour is to compare him to someone with disability? So according to the writer people with challenges are to be looked down upon, ridiculed, basically the children of the lesser God? I have worked with Down syndrome children and I assure you there is nothing derogatory in being compared to them. They are sensitive, kind, honest and the gentlest creatures on God’s Earth.

I know he was trying to be funny and was exercising his ‘Free Speech’, but I beg to differ. It isn’t ‘free’ if another pays the cost of expressing it, with tears and pain. I love humour and often do indulge in a little ‘smart alec’ dialogue delivery where the recipient, usually my mom, decides to chase me with her rolling-pin. However, I do respect the fine line between hilarious and insensitive. I was once laughing my head off at a Friends episode when my elder brother walked in, took me aside and spoke these words to me, “It’s ok to laugh with someone but never at someone. Is this entertainment for you, laughing AT someone.”

I know he was being a little too critical, since these characters were universally loved for being comical and not because they were ‘stupid’. However, it did highlight something in my mind, the fine line between respect and entertainment. I never watched another episode of friends again, as I wasn’t comfortable with the idea that I was laughing at someone, even if that was someone I loved and admired. In hindsight, it should read, especially because it’s someone whom I love and respect.

I had a friend who rationalised her name calling as, ‘it isn’t mean if it’s true’. For e.g., A horrid teacher can be labelled a B*&^% if she truly is mean and obnoxious. I agreed with that reasoning until I met a dog lover who remarked, “Who says female dogs, a bitch is mean or obnoxious?” That got me thinking and I realised that dogs are faithful and basically a man’s best friend, it isn’t an insult to call a man a dog but it’s insulting to the dog if the man is horrid. Unless off course, if you consider dogs to be repulsive or to be despised.

Which is exactly what the writer is equating people with Down syndrome to be, despised. If you meant to insult someone and you did it by comparing them to people with disability you are insulting people with disability, that’s not free speech that’s mean, rude, backward and unintelligent. You can’t justify your statement saying it was targeted towards the mean person and you meant no disrespect to the people with disabilities. You just compared them to a mean and obnoxious person, how is that not insulting?

Wake up people, just think before you speak or write and if you do, then have the humility to apologise and say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realise what I was doing.” There is nothing more painful than someone justifying his or her wrong; it’s like being hurt all over again. Spread a little love people, I’m done with the hatred and the name calling, aren’t you?