I’ve always been a big believer in freedom. As a creative person, since I was very young, freedom was very important to me. The right to express myself. The right to make choices. The right to be in control. The right to have a say. The right to be heard.
I believe 100% in freedom of speech as a core value of our country. The idiots of the KKK and other groups I find abhorrent have a right to it just as much as I do. I don’t like what they have to say, no, but I have a right to condemn them for it in my own contrary opinions stated as freely as they state theirs. I believe in freedom from censorship. It’s important in free society that free exchange of ideas can happen. Without free exchange of ideas, many things which have changed our society and world for the better would have never come to be.
But our societal sense of freedom seems to have evolved for the worst over the years. Because freedom comes with responsibility, and I see more and more irresponsibility. I think it’s fine to want freedom of expression but you have to be willing to respect the fact others may not want to hear it and may even take offense. It’s not a right to force yourself on others. And it is unfortunate that is how things get interpreted. Additionally, people often try and repress or discriminate against those they disagree with while demanding freedom for themselves. If you want it, you have to be willing to defend it for everyone. True freedom is not a selfish thing.
But I also am careful to choose my words. I think freely speaking and wanting to be heard comes with respecting the audience. People think using abusive, inflammatory, foul words is cool, but I disagree. I think it often shows lack of maturity, respect, restraint and taste more than anything. It detracts from people listening your opinion. It detracts from being taken seriously. Those kinds of statements have their place but must be used with wisdom, not just bandied about as a mass rebellion against societal or religious mores to which you object. For one thing, it’s forcing your values on others. When you curse in front of other’s children or other people, you are saying “I think this is okay for you to hear” without regard for what they think. And people feel like their own freedom to live without that is being encroached upon. The fact it doesn’t bother you doesn’t make it less respectful.
So it’s interesting to me in the present climate to see people claiming great love of freedoms they abuse. I think it’s a sad decline of overall honor and class, personally. It’s hard to feel good sometimes living in a country where your senses are assaulted by things you find offensive because your neighbor doesn’t share your values or respect your right to have different values, isn’t it? In a way, to me, it seems almost uncivilized behavior. And I think it creates a divisiveness which can be very painful. The sense of unity we once shared as Americans is in jeopardy. And I think that’s very sad.
But today is a day to celebrate independence bought at hard price. An independence which came from people speaking out about values and demanding them for themselves. I think at the time, it was seen as a show of unity, despite differences. I think it created a bond of varied people coming together, and I hope that as we reflect on freedom today and continue to value and celebrate it, we can learn to respect it and not abuse it. Freedom should be a gift, not a weapon as often as possible. There are times where it must be used as a weapon, but not every time.
The truth is we need each other. As a newly divorced man, I realize that more than ever. I’m lonely on a level I couldn’t have imagined 7 years ago when I was still single. I realize how much the little poorly chosen words sometimes lead others to conclusions we never intended–the harm they can do. And how important it is to be wise in your self-expression when around others who matter to you and even sometimes those who don’t. I’d like to be more surrounded by friends right now. I’d like to feel more connected. The present isolation gives me a feeling of freedom which is not pleasing. My marriage ended over more than words, but looking back it’s often the little moments/words I most wish I could take back. She may have left me anyway because of other factors, but she wouldn’t have done so with the impressions caused by those words.
Isolation is inevitable if our freedom of speech is practiced with total disregard for others. And so as I celebrate and think about freedom today, I think all the more how awesome a responsibility freedom is. And how awesomely important it is to exercise it responsibly, with wisdom and care.
You may not agree, but those are thoughts on my mind this July 4th about freedom. I think it’s very important to think about.
For what it’s worth…