Saturday, July 20, 2019

Eagle Butte

Maybe we need a free speech protocol

This week has me grappling with freedom of speech.

We all have the right to say what we want until we don’t have the right to say what we want.

I am not convinced that the answer to my dilemma will be decided in this column, but I have been hearing myslef talk and reading what I have written about different situations, and I am discovering that I do have a very strong opinion about what is OK and when it is OK to speak ones mind.

Quite frankly, my ideas about free speech cannot be spelled out in clear cut guidelines. 

I can hear the opposition rising in reaction before the press even rolls, but I will put this perspective out there and let you, dear reader, chew it up and either digest it or spit it out.

People have the right to speak their minds and share their perspectives; however, with that right comes a responsibility to do so with respect for others.

To show respect, we must refrain from making derogatory remarks to and about people who disagree with us.

We must also learn to listen and consider that the facts that contradict our own ideas of truth may mean we will need to revise our initial perspective.

In addition, when we do come across a situation in which we change a person’s perspective, we have a responsibility to show appreciation for that change so that the person who has shifted his or her mindset is not ridiculed for the shift.

When we present information to support a perspective, we have a responsibility to ensure that the information is indeed factual, and that it does not exclude context or equally valid information that may contradict what we have set out as our argument.

This process requires us to do more than just read what supports our personal views. It also requires us to consider what information is valid and what information is not.

Just because someone says he or she is an expert on a subject, does not me he or she is an expert.

Our nation is governed by laws, and our politicians make those laws. Our society is governed by those same laws and by the cultures and social entities we create.

We are either spiritual, religious or we are not, but still we all participate in this American society in one way or another.

Schools are the safest place for us to share diverse opinions and perspectives, where we can learn to communicate and disagree without tearing each other down.

There are too many people who believe that classrooms  are meant only to share the facts or basic inforamtion, and learning to think abotu and discuss that information should take place elsewhere.

But how can our youth function in this very diverse and increasingly hostile environment if we do not teach them how to talk about tough issues and work through them — even if they get heated — to a compromise or other form of agreement?

As a parent, I have encouraged my children to express their opinions, perspectives and arguments, and coached them on the best possible ways of presenting their views for a given audience. I do the same as a teacher.

Our divisiveness today is — I think — in part a result of avoidance: too many people avoiding the discomfort of disagreement, and too many other people resorting to name calling and derogatory, condescending statements when others disagree with their positions.

We need a protocol we can agree on, and we need to teach that to each other and our children, and hold eachother accountable to it.

My suggested protocol may not be perfect, but it is a start. If we do not figure something out, I fear our words will turn to blows and regret.