Free Speech

I am an oral storyteller. Or I want to be. Someday, I will be, after many hours of practice. My imagination explodes with story ideas All THE TIME. It drives me crazy that I am most creative just after my head hits the pillow at night.

I find other forms of self-expression elusive. I don’t write exceptionally well. In fact, I must apologize for my general lack of skills in this early blog. I hope that my skills develop over time.

I don’t have any artistic or musical talent, so I don’t draw, paint, sculpt, or play an instrument.

I consider myself stunted in the realm of self-expression; particularly oral communication. As a child, I was expected to be quiet so as not to bother anyone. I was raised to present a pleasing, accommodating, and comforting ear to anybody who wanted to talk to me. I wasn’t supposed to challenge the talker. It wasn’t polite! I was, however, to sit and listen intently. If I didn’t agree with what I heard, I was taught to pretend that I agreed with their opinion. In other words, lying was acceptable to assure that the talker was happy and satisfied.

Under no circumstances was I to broadcast my thoughts or opinions.

These days, self-expression is expected. Especially through social media. Opinions, criticisms, trolling, and commenting happens continuously via Facebook, Twitter, and other outlets. There is no expectation of politeness or accommodating others’ feelings.

The pendulum swing, from my point of view, is nauseating.

And I haven’t really caught up to the new reality. Any criticism that comes my way, whether warranted or not, sends me into a state of deep anxiety. I am learning how to cope with this, of course; jumping into the fray is the most expeditious way to learn.

Many mistakes will be made.

I recently met someone who does not share my political views. This person is conservative, and (as so often happens), I had difficulty listening without feeling angry. He was complaining about how he gets “squashed” when he expresses his opinion; he is not the vocal majority and he feels put-upon. He likened it to free speech suppression and accused the “liberals” of being hypocrites.

I wonder whether he is capable of effectively communicating his thoughts and opinions. He might simply be bad at it. He may want respondents to be polite and affirming because he can’t deal with criticism. He may have difficulty using language or speaking orally. He may have expectations of privilege – his opinion should hold sway over all others, merely because he is a white man. He may be lazy; backing up his opinion with facts and reasoning is too much work.

There are countless other issues at play here: he may be unwilling or incapable of taking in new information and changing his mind. Some people have stopped growing and learning.

Nothing about this is simple. He has a lifetime of experience and behavioral patterns that make him who he is. And if he wants to express himself, he needs to find an effective way of doing that – it is a fundamental need of all human beings to do so. He should not, however, confuse responses with oppression. Every opinion, every human expression, be it art or an article, is subject to critique.

This man is attempting to develop his oral communication skills at Toastmasters. The major premise of Toastmasters is to support one another in a positive, uplifting way. He felt safe to express his opinions in this setting, and I applaud him for challenging himself. I do hope, however, that he begins to understand that feedback can also be negative; it does not mean that his free speech is being suppressed. Real free speech oppression comes from countries that limit and police the Internet. Other countries imprison, torture, and kill human beings who speak their mind.

Free speech is a privilege we should not take for granted. Good, bad, or ugly, self-expression is here to stay in the United States. Thank the Constitution!