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Not That Hard

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Should freedom of speech ever be limited by legislative punishment? If so, how do we measure that limit? These are questions I have found myself debating about with different people during the past few weeks. I’ve heard people say that freedom of speech should be slightly limited with laws such as punishing the use of racial slurs— which, in theory, contradicts the “freedom” of speech. On the other hand, I’ve heard that freedom of speech should be in no way threatened by legislative punishments, and consequences that are already implemented should be removed so people are truly free to say whatever they wish. I fall in the middle of the spectrum. Some things such as death threats, for instance, should have a punishment, like they already do. At the same time, religious vocabulary, for example, which has a historical meaning and is a great source to learn from for members of present and future generations, should not be punished by the law. The limit between freedom of speech and censored speech should be measured when someone’s life or safety is compromised; everything else should be up to the speaker’s responsibility to be mindful of their speech.

 

Those that believe freedom of speech should be limited often come from a place of good intentions. Most believe that the use of offensive and hateful speech should be limited because of the social effect it has. Many that argue that the use of racial slurs or religious vocabulary should be punished, often don’t want people that may be offended to ever be put in a position in which they have to hear potential hate speech. While this is a good idea, it limits the use of the speech for educational purposes or simply by members of these communities, who often use them as a way to connect with each other. It is important to know where these kinds of speech came from in order to understand their meaning and their effect on society. If we are unaware of their history and background, we increase our chances of having future generations re-spark an uneducated interest in these speeches; this could then cause backfire because of their wrongful usage due to the lack of knowledge of their history and meaning.

 

Others that say free speech should not be limited at all,  have a different perspective. Some say it is because they believe people should have the right to express whatever they want to— even if they offend others. Others support this because they don’t want to carry the constant “burden” of having to “self-censor” themselves. In my opinion, both reasons are invalid. We have a moral obligation to be considerate of others; whether that’s thinking twice about what we say, or think twice about what we do. We cannot roam around life thinking that we don’t owe anyone the slightest bit of respect when we consider our actions, simply because we can say what we wish. We cannot possibly live life if the only thing we think about is ourselves, and how “self-censoring” ourselves is too much of a task from us; a “burden” for us to bare.

 

Free speech is something so important in our lives; it allows us to express our opinion without limitations, encourages a difference in opinions and diversifies our society with the various points of views. For me, it’s always been important to say what I think, but I believe it’s equally important to listen to others’ perspectives. We listen to others not to understand, but to reply and in a world full of problems and polarity of opinions, free speech is crucial to learn and grow from. Whether the topic at hand is political, just as it currently is in Brazil with the recent elections or cultural such as the acceptance of LGBTQ members in religiously influenced countries, it is important for both sides to say what they think and to think about what they say. Of course, like anybody else, I have said things I regret. Spoken out of ignorance, looked back at my mistakes and corrected myself; I believe everyone should go through this process in order to responsibly use our free speech.

 

The truth is, it’s a privilege to have freedom of speech. For citizens in Cuba or Libya, just to name a few, it’s impossible to say what one may truly think. We have become so used to be able to say what we think, that we do not care about the consequences; whether they are legislative or social. If we legally punish speech that could be offensive, we miss the opportunity to learn from their misuse and we take away a system of connection for many. If we have absolute freedom of speech, we lose our morality and become selfish people. We need to face the legislative consequences when our freedom of speech jeopardizes someone’s life or safety. Similarly, we need to face the social consequences when our chosen lack of consideration for others offends and upsets someone. It’s really not that hard to be mindful of our speech.

 

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Marina Senderos, POV writer

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