The Need For Ju­di­cious Use Of Free Speech

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - OPINION - David Wilson Learn­ing Every Day

There is widespread agree­ment in the United States that in­di­vid­u­als have a right to speak their mind. Some ex­tend that right to be­ing de­fi­ant, stag­ing a protest, or ex­press­ing civil dis­obe­di­ence in what­ever form deemed nec­es­sary.

But no mat­ter how far a per­son takes it, there is at the very least a le­gal right to speak freely or to express a sen­ti­ment.

It’s called the First Amend­ment, and it should be ap­pre­ci­ated and cher­ished.

But it should not be abused. It is un­for­tu­nate, but it seems there are lit­er­ally mil­lions of peo­ple who speak of the First Amend­ment to­day who likely do not un­der­stand the in­ten­tion be­hind it.

Nor do they un­der­stand how to uti­lize it re­spect­fully and re­spon­si­bly.

Some do not un­der­stand that when per­son A says or does what­ever he or she wants in the name of the First Amend­ment, that per­sons B, C, D, E, and F are free to con­clude what­ever they want about per­son A.

B, C, D, E, or F may de­cide that per­son A is a lu­natic, or a trou­ble-maker, or a hate­ful in­di­vid­ual.

No the truth is, a per­son does in­deed have the right to say what he wants. But he needs to have the in­tel­li­gence to know when to ab­stain from say­ing it.

Free­dom of speech cou­pled with stu­pid­ity can cause prob­lems. Free­dom of speech cou­pled with an in­con­sid­er­ate de­meanor can cause prob­lems as well. And so can free­dom of speech cou­pled with ha­tred or dis­re­spect.

It may bring about prob­lems for the speaker, or it may bring about prob­lems for those who have to en­dure the reck­less dis­course.

To put it an­other way, we re­ally don’t need more free speech. We need more ju­di­cious use of free speech.

One time a teacher (and I’ll not say who and I’ll not say where) con­tacted a school board member and said the prin­ci­pal of the school was abus­ing funds and that the books were in dis­ar­ray. The teacher sug­gested that the board member come and look through the ad­min­is­tra­tor’s of­fice while she was gone. Therein, the teacher said, would be the ev­i­dence of im­pro­pri­ety.

Well, I’m not sure who was the most toxic in­di­vid­ual on the cam­pus—the teacher who fab­ri­cated some in­for­ma­tion to try to call the dogs out against her su­per­vi­sor—or the board member who was a will­ing dupe who went and pil­fered through the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice.

When the teacher in this story was con­fronted about the is­sue, and was asked why she told the board member that funds were be­ing mis­han­dled, she sim­ply replied, “I was just us­ing my First Amend­ment rights in say­ing what I did.”

The con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ued, with her su­per­vi­sors try­ing to ex­plain to her the con­cept of loy­alty and that cer­tain con­cerns must go through cer­tain chan­nels.

But the self-ap­pointed cham­pion of the First Amend­ment re­mained adamant that her quest was jus­ti­fied and per­fectly within the pa­ram­e­ters of ac­cept­able con­duct. (Never mind the fact that there was no mis­ap­pro­pri­a­tion of funds, nor any ev­i­dence of foul play).

The su­per­vi­sors tried to ex­plain that her ac­tions are grounds for dis­missal in most places of work.

But all of the dis­cus­sion was fruit­less.

My guess is that the teacher in ques­tion is con­vinced, to this very day, that she was do­ing the right thing, even though most peo­ple would con­sider her ac­tions to be un­der­handed, dis­hon­est, or in­sub­or­di­nate.

The point here is twofold. First, the United States is a won­der­ful coun­try, and one of the rea­sons is be­cause of the free­doms enu­mer­ated in the First Amend­ment. Se­condly, not everyone that cites the First Amend­ment is on a no­ble crusade. Some of them, quite frankly, can be poi­sonous to a free so­ci­ety.

So while every sin­gle one of us has free­dom of speech, free­dom to as­sem­ble, free­dom of the press, the right to pe­ti­tion, and free­dom of re­li­gion, it’s never right to use our free­doms to bad­ger, blud­geon, ha­rass, slan­der, or of­fend our fel­low ci­ti­zens.

Some things are right, and some things aren’t.

And as long as we have peo­ple who don’t know the dif­fer­ence, we will run into is­sues that have the po­ten­tial to cre­ate tur­moil.

But even with those po­ten­tial pit­falls, I’ll sign up to live in a free repub­lic every time.

Our coun­try is great be­cause every per­son — even the mis­guided, the dis­re­spect­ful, the most dis­grun­tled, and the most toxic — can speak out.

And in the spirit of free­dom, we should sort through the var­i­ous voices and de­ter­mine what is good and hon­est and just. And then we can go for­ward from there. DAVID WILSON, EDD, OF SPRING­DALE, IS A FOR­MER HIGH SCHOOL PRIN­CI­PAL AND IS THE COM­MU­NI­CA­TIONS DI­REC­TOR FOR THE TRAN­SIT AND PARK­ING DE­PART­MENT AT THE UNIVER­SITY OF ARKANSAS. HE IS ON­LINE AT DWILSONNOTES. COM. YOU MAY E-MAIL HIM AT DWNOTES@HOT­MAIL.COM. THE OPIN­IONS EX­PRESSED ARE THOSE OF THE AU­THOR.

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