We are fortunate to live in a county that has enshrined the notion of free speech both in our founding document and in our national consciousness. It is an often troublesome notion, particularly to those who would seek to control the thought and speech of others. But the import of the right to free speech is this: You can’t force me to fit your image of what I might be; nor can you force me to speak in any pre-conceived or pre-conscribed way that is untrue to any speech I may offer for myself.
That right to be oneself and speak one’s mind is deeply frightening to some because it resists control by a central authority. Politicians and advertisers spend millions trying to influence our minds and make us buy what they are selling, yet in the end, we have a right to say otherwise. True, not enough Americans avail themselves of the opportunity, and far too much of what we say is canned or clichéd, derived from language we have consumed from corporatized popular entertainment rather than thought for ourselves.
Ultimately, speech is not free: a price must be paid, and responsibility must be taken. The other half of the right to speak one’s mind freely is the obligation to allow others the same right, even more, to listen to what they have to say with respect and consideration. Right now we have many loud speakers bullying their views into the public media, including Twitter and Facebook, but precious few truth-tellers. Truth only emerges after taking time to think and evaluate, considering the needs and views of others who are as worthy as we in the forum of ideas.
Patriotism, like free speech, is not a static thing placed in a glass case to remind us of past glory. It is a process we live into and must fight for in every generation. Patriotism is not merely going to war to defend against attack from outside aggressors, though it can be that. Patriotism involves building up the country and its people on any number of levels—as teachers, forest rangers, doctors, construction engineers, historians, social workers, and many others who serve, often for substandard wages, the needs of the many.
And yes, those who speak freely for the good of us all—however unpopular or difficult to hear their messages may be—ultimately build up the country and serve the people. We have nearly lost the example of civil servants, those patriots who go beyond themselves in sacrifice for the common good. Many voices are talking, spouting off or displaying themselves or advancing their careers, but few are serving the community as they do so. That might appal but not surprise the Founding Generation, who understood that democracy is fragile and must be sacrificed for while maintaining a concern for civility and understanding the good of the people.
That right to free speech is one crucial piece of our larger democratic ideal, to allow all individuals to live in the New Society with liberty, dignity, and justice. I salute that vision.
Causes David Radavich Supports
Human rights world-wide, ecology/conservation, historic preservation