For many, free speech is the freedom to say what we want to say. “I can say what I want. This is a free country.” “Everyone has the right to free speech.” What is free speech really? Here in America, we pride ourselves on free speech; it is enshrined in the First Amendment. Of course, there are reasonable restrictions, as the famous example of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre indicates. But what I am concerned with here is a deeper kind of freedom of speech. For instance, political correctness of all kinds remains entrenched in our society. Even in the privacy of our homes, we are watching our language so as not to offend anyone. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, anything that upset anyone was removed from view. Exactly how are we policing our speech? How do we reconcile free speech and inoffensive speech?
People are up in arms when someone offends someone else, or hurts that person’s self esteem. We are working to protect the individual from anything that may make them feel bad. Well, maybe there are times when we should feel bad. Maybe there are times when we need to be offended. There are also times when we should risk offending. If, for instance, we are unwilling to offend someone who desperately needs to be called out, we are only setting them up for disaster; we become accomplices. And there ought to be times, when those things are said, when we “own up” and receive them, saying, “You know, though this hurts, you’re right. And thank you for being honest with me. Thank you for respecting me enough to say something that in fact is just meant to wake me up.”
If we are all about being able to say whatever we want, no matter what, then we must be ready to face the consequences. Free speech is a two-edged sword. We must be prepared for someone to respond in kind. In The Art of War we are to know ourselves, know the terrain and know our opponent. When we speak up we must first know ourselves. What is our real motivation? Are we ready to do this? Are we able to face what comes? Then we must know our terrain. Is it safe to say what we want? What are the ways to do that? And are we able to maneuver the terrain? And finally, we must know our opponent. Do we know how they may respond? Can we handle their response appropriately?
|Free speech||Policed Speech|
|Unchecked ego||Restrained ego|
With Free speech comes responsibility. This responsibility requires us to speak up and keep quiet as appropriate for the situation. We are not to be too timid if the occasion calls for up-front communication. We need to examine what is the purpose of free speech. Are we communicating to confuse or delude? Or is our motivation to speak for the betterment of all involved?
Free speech from the small self starts with being deluded by one’s own individual voice. Small self free speech is empty chatter believing itself authentic and profound. The small self is fascinated listening to itself, and assumes everyone else will be fascinated, too. Its communication is usually boring, often hurtful, and maybe destructive, depending on the motivation. Small selves tell themselves that they are kind and good when this is not true at all.
Small self free speech is not universal. The belief that one’s individual expression is priceless and unique is wrong understanding. “I don’t want to be universal”, the small self says. “I want to be unique”. We are all too apparently confined within the small self when we “speak our truth”, which is really opinion, without knowledge or discernment. The internet, along with texting, creates an illusion of connectedness, but too often encourages us to feel insulated in our individuality. The internet is a zoo of small self free speech; it encourages us either to remain in rajas (agitation and incitement) or tamas (numbness and inertia). Outbursts of excitement, outrage, and sentimentality turn up everywhere, all under the guise of authentic expressiveness.
Truly free speech comes from an inner place of nonattachment. It is clear, clean, and honest both inwardly and outwardly. Its motivation is selfless, and it is never merely partisan. It works for the betterment of all. It is heard by all—though small selves are repelled by it—because it comes from Love for All. It goes beyond politics, culture, and religion. It encourages us to move from rajas to sattva (clarity and calm). Real free speech will inspire us.
We all need to work toward a right understanding of truly free speech. The state of the world calls for it. Thanks to technology, nearly everyone in the world inhabits the same “now”. Culture and language no longer insulate us. “Safe” and “unsafe” no longer exist as distinctly as we would like. There is no escape at this point. So we have to be responsible, and contribute genuinely free speech. Removing our wrong understanding by constantly focusing our attention in the Heart, where we actually reside, is the way to this freedom. Rather than remain in the prison of the small self and its delusion of freedom, we must liberate ourselves in Truth, from within. Then all our speech will truly be free.
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