How to keep free speech free

We are a country of very detail-oriented individuals, perfecting the tiniest aspects of all that we do, noticing every minute detail in the way we are addressed. While this can work to our advantage in some situations, it also contributes to an abundance of conflict.

Perfecting those tiny aspects produces innovations. However, being hyperaware of someone’s word choice and speaking tone results in overthinking that often finds us offended or hurt by what they didn’t even say or mean to say.

This doesn’t just happen when speaking about personal beliefs, but also in daily conversations.

Every day, we tiptoe around the feelings of the people we work, volunteer or simply hang out with by watching every word we say and the exact tone that we say it with, holding our breath the whole time. Yet, somehow, someone still ends up offended. All over the place, we see people apologizing for something they accidentally said while trying to say or do something else.

Since it is so easy to offend someone, we should not worry so much about the offenses as we do the ease at which they come about. We are not a naturally offensive country, but a country that is becoming naturally sensitive.

There are two problems with this. The first is that it is impossible to never hurt anyone. We try so hard to be nice to everyone and remain perfectly neutral, but it is simply not possible. There are so many different points of view, cultures and beliefs that anything one person says has the possibility to go against another. The only way to never offend anyone is to never speak. While never speaking or being spoken to may sound like paradise, it is not realistic.

The second problem is that to ask someone to filter what they believe is to infringe on their right to free speech. In the Constitution, it does not say we have the right to never be offended. It says we have the right to free to speech, meaning I still have the right to believe what I believe and to say what I believe, even if it offends someone in the room.

To be clear, this is not an excuse to be overtly racist or sexist or to deliberately cause anyone physical or emotional harm. This is permission to say what you feel. This is the right to free speech.

We work so hard to protect people’s feelings that we openly tell others what they can and cannot say. This not only silences what they wanted to say in the first place but changes it as well, by unwittingly putting different words in their mouth. How is that OK, but disagreeing with someone’s beliefs and therefore hurting them isn’t?

So, what do we do? The easy answer is to not take everything so personally and grow some thicker skin. A person’s beliefs are not always a direct attack against you or your beliefs. And most importantly, it goes against America’s basic principles to ask someone to muffle their voice. We need to stop asking people to stay quiet on what they believe to avoid hurting someone else.

America’s attention to detail has led us to success in many areas, but our overthinking and hyperawareness have caused the beginning of a new conflict: an impossible restraint on free speech. To overcome this new conflict, we need a reworking of the way we think. Not everything is personal. Not every opposing belief is a statement of attack. Not every difference in tone is a sign of aggression. With some thicker skin, we can all breathe and walk on flat feet when we speak our minds. With some thicker skin, free speech can remain as it was intended: free.


Emily Price is a sophomore psychology major. She is a staff writer for the Newswire from Miamisburg, Ohio.

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