Given the plethora of issues we are facing as a country right now (the list seems to be increasing daily, if not hourly), as part of my daily self reflection, I wondered what America’s Founding Fathers would say about what is going on. So, in my attempt to figure this out, and to “seek to understand before I am understood”, I decided to ask them. “How??!”, you ask? Well, believe it our not, I happened to run into several of them at the Salt Lake City airport two weeks ago. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the picture below 😉
The first topic I wanted to discuss with them given the recent events in Charlottesville was the First Amendment, which, of course, protects our freedom of speech. I think I understand the concept that in a true democracy an individual should have the opportunity and the right to say what he/she believes, regardless of what others may believe. The fact that others may strongly disagree shouldn’t censor that individual’s view.
George Washington stated:
“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”
Ben Franklin opined:
“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government: When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved.”
I firmly believe that people have the right to say what they want, which is maybe why this quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s The Friends of Voltaire (which she wrote under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre) resonates so deeply with me:
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
But, on a practical level, I draw a clear line between speech and action: My belief is, okay, you can say it, and even march if you want. However, do not in any way threaten or physically harm another human being. “Free Speech” does not permit “Free Action” under any circumstances.
Personally, I believe that even though people have the right to say anything, the world would be a much better place if people took the time to first really think about how their words will affect others (there’s that “self reflection” again!). Yes, you have the right to say anything, but do you really need to say it? Are you accomplishing something positive or productive, or are you simply alienating or hurting others for no real benefit? Yes, I do realize my point of view may appear unrealistic and impractical, and I can definitely be accused of being both idealistic and naïve. Nonetheless, being a die-hard optimist, I intend to continue trying to raise this awareness and keep asking people: “Yes, you can say that, but do you really need to say it? What are you trying to accomplish?”
I also raised another emotional topic with the Founding Fathers: the Second Amendment — the right to bear arms — but I will save that discussion for another blog post 😉
Here’s wishing everyone a great week!