The Right to Free Speech vs. the Right to Not be Offended
First… The right to free speech is a constitution right. The right to not be offended does not exist. There are limits to free speech such as lies (yelling “fire” when there is none), derogatory statements about race or gender (which can be construed as hate speech), using obscenities on the radio and tv, and a few more you can look up yourself.
Being an author, a blogger, and an artist, I’m strongly attached to this issue. There is an important discussion going on in this country regarding our right to free speech, and many organizations are circling the wagons, but there seems to be some major confusion between “recognizing bad taste” and “being deeply offended.” There was recently an incident of a satirist being accused of sexual harassment over a college newspaper article published on April Fool’s Day that stated a new college building was being constructed in the shape of a vagina. The charges were brought about by one person, the Coordinator of Women’s and Gender Studies, because she was offended. Apparently, she was also ignorant that it was April Fool’s Day and does not recognize satire. Maybe the article was in bad taste, maybe not. I didn’t read it. But being offended by a satirical piece is a choice, keeping in mine that satire is supposed to be offensive. That’s the whole point. When did America become a place where we have to edit everything we say and write so as to not offend anyone? By the way, that’s impossible. I eat meat. The vegans are livid. I don’t drink coffee. Starbucks just lost their minds.
There is no constitutional right to not be offended. Being a blonde, female, mother, I could be offended by dumb-blonde comments. I could be offended by bad women driver posts. I could be offended by Yo Momma jokes. Being a survivor of abuse, I could be offended by people sticking up for the perpetrator in the recent Duggar scandal, but it’s a waste of my time and energy to allow myself to be offended by someone’s opinion. Some topics such as race, politics, religion, etc. run deeper than hair color or driving habits, but it’s still a waste of your time to be offended by someone’s comment, article, blog, joke, satire, or Facebook post. You have to learn to recognize the difference between opinions, trolls, ignorance, hate speech, and plain ole bad taste.
The silent majority
On the side of simply having a difference of opinion, how many of us remain silent in the face of ignorance or bad taste because we know we’ll be pummeled by nasty remarks from the other side. Are we intentionally and willingly giving up our right to free speech out of fear? What are we afraid of? I’ll tell you what we’re afraid of—there is no longer civil conversation in this country, no debate, no respect. Our problem isn’t speech, it’s lack of respect. How far can disagreements spiral downwards? Arguments, throwing fists, death threats? Why can’t we listen? Why can’t we agree to disagree?
Two distinct issues
I think there are two distinct issues here. The first is the illusion that you have a right to not be offended. There is no such right. If you’re offended, it’s your choice. I play an adult burlesque-ish dueling piano show. I always tell my audience that our job is to offend everyone throughout the night and if they haven’t been properly offended by the end of the show, come talk to one of us in person and we’ll be happy to offend them face-to-face. I’ve never had anyone leave the show or talk to us afterwards. They laugh. They don’t take offense. It’s their choice.
The second issue is the lack of respectful discussion in our culture. Many would rather be right than be nice, and many of us would rather unfriend you than offer our opinions and spark your rage. Is that a problem of lack of respect or of fear or both? Do I allow my fear of your anger to squash my right to free speech? Is it okay that I give you that power? Does your lack of respect give you more rights than me?
The same answer applies to both issues…be respectful.
From a communication standpoint: Speak, write, show the slightest bit of taste and respect in your ideas. There is a difference between trying to instigate anger and insulting people when they disagree and creating a thoughtful open dialog with respectful and honest communication.
From a receptive standpoint: Be open to other’s thoughts; perhaps you can learn something. Stop labeling and judging, and certainly don’t slam people when they represent an alternative idea. When did we start labeling groups with the sole intent on squashing them? When did our culture shift from meaningful debate to us vs. them? There is no us or them, and we are all members of the same group…human.