Freedom of speech. I can say whatever I want because it’s a free country and I have freedom of speech. I can say anything. We have differing opinions, but because I don’t know how to properly express myself and eloquently state my argument, I’m going to say that you’re ugly and that I hope you die and I hope that I’m the one who kills you. I hope you die. I know it’s not very nice, but I’m just saying what I think. Free speech and all.
This is one of the most common justifications for harassment these days. I have the right to say whatever I want. I’ll say whatever I want. FREE SPEECH, PEOPLE!
To all who use this as an out for their bad behaviour, let me ask you this: are you really that childish? Are you really so small and so immature that you think you don’t have to take responsibility for what you do — and not just some of what you do, but all of it? Are you really so obtuse that you don’t understand the difference between stating a difference of opinion and harassment? Or, failing that, do you truly think that you are so utterly important that you feel that anything you can say should be said?
Well, you know what? Freedom of speech isn’t good enough.
I grow weary of this childish sense of entitlement. We are not entitled to say whatever we wish without consequences. That is not freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is not for the weak-minded. It is not for those who think that they are so important that they should be entitled to say anything without any repercussions. Freedom of speech is a right, but it is also — and pay close attention here — a responsibility. You cannot have power without responsibility. Free speech is power. The responsibility comes with being accountable for what you say.
If you cannot be accountable for what you say, you should not say it. Period. If you cannot handle being told that your words are deplorable and cause real damage to others, you cannot handle the responsibility of free speech. If you cannot handle being told that you are harassing someone with your words after you have flung insults, uttered threats, and psychologically beaten a person to a pulp — then words are not for you.
Oh, I am not debating that you have the right to say that you hate someone, or hate someone’s work. You have the right to say anything, and that also gives you (unfortunately) the freedom to harass someone. Yes, you have the freedom (that is, more accurately, the choice) to harass someone.
But don’t expect your excuses to be acceptable to decent people. Don’t expect them to understand your cry of, “free speech!” Don’t expect them to excuse you, just because you exercised your right. You also made a choice when exercising that right. Having the freedom to do something does not mean you ought to do it. That is something a child is learning. And if you think that because of free speech, you are entitled to harass someone — you are a child. And you deserve to be treated like one; you are a child who has misbehaved and does not really understand the responsibility you have when you open your mouth, and therefore, you cannot be trusted to use your words wisely. Do not expect people to take you seriously when your only argument and defence is that you have the right to say whatever you wish.
Expect people to call your actions cruel and insensitive. Expect people to tell you that what you have said is inexcusable. Expect there to be consequences for what you say — and in some cases of threats and harassment, that may mean legal consequences too, and so it should. Do not expect the world to feel sorry for you because you have been martyred in the name of free speech. The truth is, you are probably a privileged person living in a privileged part of the world, and you take every bit of your freedom for granted. The truth is, you have little idea of what it’s actually like to live in a place without free speech, and so you protest with your argument of free speech, not realizing or understanding that it is because of freedom of speech that you are even able to utter your ridiculous rationalization in the first place.
Freedom of speech isn’t good enough. You can say whatever you want, sure, but it’s not a guarantee that anything you say will be worth anything at all. If what you say is worthless, then your freedom of speech means little. There is no value in saying something completely worthless. There is no value in words which personally harm others on a deep level. There is no value in a total lack of compassion. There is only cruelty.
In your private thoughts, you are certainly entitled to any opinion of anything you wish. However, here in the outside world with other people, you are not entitled to your opinion. You must earn one. You must make a case for it. You must have a reason for any opinion. You cannot just say, “that’s just what I think!” and expect to get credit for your lazy, incompetent, sloppy thinking. Free speech isn’t good enough. You have to make your speech worth something. And if your speech is just vitriol, it’s worthless.
Freedom of speech isn’t good enough. It never has been.