free speech

Free Speech

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It’s a bit complicated…..

Peace sure isn’t easy, some people say we need to fight for peace and that is a dilemma in itself. Fight? For peace? Sounds like a contradiction. Finding a path to peaceful connections is something that has been ongoing for me for a long time, probably since my Religious Studies class at SJSU. In turtle like fashion I have stuck my head out and then pulled it back in regularly over my adult life. In college, at work, in family discussions I would practice peace, and sometimes I have fallen off the path into ‘bitchiness’. Sorry. For those who may look at my words and deeds over the years I may have more or less successful depending on who you ask. I am sure I have been a trial to my family and close friends but I can’t stop in my pursuit of balance. I am determined to figure it out. The following is a composite conversation that I have had with several distinct people over the past 3 years, it is the fusion of about 4-6 actual people in my life that I know very well and who know me fairly well. I am NOT advocating censorship.

“Look, I felt the need to meet you in person to try to express more succinctly why I am so insistent on civil and rational conversations and discussions. I have tried to tell you in phone calls, PM’s, in meetings, texts, in emails and through my website, yet I feel that I am failing. My hope is that this face to face dialogue might be a better way for you to understand me and what I am trying to achieve, so here’s the thing…… or things, that I hope I am able to convey in a way that will make you say, “Ok, I get it. I understand why you do what you do, say what you say and act like you act.” You may still disagree with me and that’s ok, I just want for us to at least be able to say. “I understand you.” (And, we can stop arguing with each other). I am NOT advocating censorship.

First and foremost, I find confrontation abhorrent. Really, I really cannot handle fighting, not even in fiction. You’re kind of laughing and I’m sure you want to say out loud to me, “Geez, woman, get a grip, you’re 58 for heaven’s sake. Life is all about confrontation.”

So, let’s start with that thought. You are right- there has always been confrontation in life, individually and culturally. Certainly in all of recorded history. BUT what do we know about the winners of battles? They erase the loser’s history. An abusive man wipes out his wife’s correspondence. Dissenters have their writings (and sometimes their bodies) burned. Countries wipe out and burn history books. Currently we have seen ISIS destroy ancient art and writings and sculptures. When we say, “There have always been wars." I think we need to really say, ‘according to written history’ there have always been wars.” Did you know there have been non-warring cultures? There have been, at least 74 documented cultures, and who knows how many more there may have been if their stories had been kept and not erased. 

Alright maybe I am getting too abstract, so allow me to bring it in a little closer. Why am I insisting that our group have civil discussions? Why am I persisting that our correspondence in writing be respectful? Because fighting is exhausting, don’t you think? And it’s a little addicting, have you noticed that it feels good for a little while but after a while it isn’t satisfying, just like a drug. When we insult each other it makes it harder to face each other in the next meeting. Fighting kind of forces us to take sides when we need to be one unit. Like what just happened over the past couple of years, some of us wanted one person to be the leader and others wanted another person to be the leader. We divided ourselves over a person. Why couldn’t we have discussed it in a casual meeting? I really don’t understand why we didn’t do that. We had a war of words about whether or not we should have a discussion! We argued about whether we should talk to each other, how crazy was that?! Now, we have some members who refuse to speak to other members. And I am one of those members. I know, it seems ridiculous for me to plea for peaceful discourse and at the same time refuse to speak to other members. I am not claiming to be perfect. I am NOT advocating censorship.

Hopefully I can explain that dichotomy. It comes from a distaste for conflict. If I cannot converse calmly and rationally with you, if all of my entreaties for positive debate are returned with derision, insult, disdain, mockery, or condescension, can you see how I may not want to continue? When I make repeated attempts at trying to work out a mutually respectful exchange and am met with more of the same, well, I am going to look for solutions in other places. You may say that is cowardice or quitting. Perhaps it is. Or possibly it is cutting my losses- sometimes one has to know when one is fighting a lost cause. And there are lost causes. That’s where I am with you, I have conceded that nothing will be gained by further interchange. If you are looking for me I am going to be over there- there, in that group that is working. The group that is writing, calling, walking, compromising, and negotiating towards an equitable solution. I am NOT advocating censorship.

And maybe sometimes there are just going to be people we don’t like. That’s where I don’t really have a good answer. The Dalai Lama offers this: “Silence is sometimes the best answer.”   My decision to not engage with members who attack, insult, condescend or behave badly is my choice to not encourage further bad behavior. If I respond to you with an answer you don’t like and you insult me, then do not expect me to participate further. You have let me know your character and I am letting you know that I am going elsewhere. If I reach out with a reasonable request and you slap me verbally then I won’t ask again. I will seek a resolution elsewhere. I am NOT advocating censorship.

We need to stop excusing bad conduct. It is appropriate to call people out when they are behaving rudely, in fact, it is an obligation in a group or culture at large. If we do not call attention to inappropriate manners we become chaotic and with a world as large as ours we need protocols. There are even ‘rules’ for conduct in war (The Geneva Convention). We should certainly have them in times of peace. You ask, “Who gets to decide what is acceptable?” WE do. WE, the people, in the group and the city and the state and the country. It is called civilization. If we have no code of conduct then we have anarchy.   You may be willing to accept, “He doesn’t mean it. Her heart is the right place. Well, they give to charity. Her bark is worse than her bite. He just says what’s on his mind.” I am not going to accept that anymore. I am NOT advocating censorship.

By accepting excuses for bad, insulting, demeaning, rude, and condescending behavior we keep the door open for other behaviors. This is how we have ended up with a #METOO movement. By tolerating and ignoring awful actions we make it ok for the next step. If it’s ok to call a woman a bitch in public it then becomes easier to touch a woman in public. When it becomes easier to touch a woman in public it then becomes easier to touch a woman in private. As anyone who has parented can tell you, you have to draw serious boundaries and stay committed to them because a child will push those boundaries. Children are just small humans. When we allow a small misstep with zero commentary, the next step becomes easier and bigger. I am NOT advocating censorship.

I am going to stick my turtle neck out further. Our culture has been dominated by men for too long. Certainly, most of the men in our group are respectful and considerate, I suggest that they have made a conscious decision to not behave as males in the past have, like the males that come from our long history of male dominance where they made the rules and women were expected to be subservient. My hope for the future is not that women will become like men of the past or that men will become feminized, but that the influx of women into equivalent positions in our culture will change the narrative. That by introducing women into equal roles we will change our conflict ridden society. I am suggesting that we change our narrative of conflict. When we allow the wall separating good and bad behavior to erode in favor of “Free Speech” we are allowing for misunderstanding to escalate. I am NOT advocating censorship.

Free speech is NOT the government allowing you to say whatever nasty thing comes to mind. The 1st Amendment is a law that prevents the government from silencing the citizens. It does not mean that anyone can say whatever they want, wherever they want. Try joking and yelling, “HE”S GOT A GUN!” in a crowded mall. Try calling a school and saying, “THERE”S A BOMB!” so you can get a free day off from school. Freedom of Speech comes with responsibility of speech. I am NOT advocating censorship.

What I dream of is a time when we don’t raise our children so that they are tough in a tougher world but that we raise our children to be thoughtful and fair. And that is why I have such an issue with some of the people in our group who are nasty, condescending and bullying…. Because I am tired of it. I am so very, very tired of it. It takes my energy away from the real work of trying to make a fair community. Can we stop being hamsters on a conflict wheel? It’s not getting us anywhere, is it? I mean look around- the disparity between the haves and have-nots is comparable to feudal and aristocratic times. Do we really have to have another revolution? Couldn’t we just all try a bit harder this time to avoid that? Is it really too damn much to ask that people talk civilly to each other? Is being polite and respectful a bad thing? Polite doesn’t mean being a door mat. It means: “marked by an appearance of consideration, tact, or courtesy”. Respectful means: “an act of giving particular attention”. In neither definition does it mean weak, cowardly, timid or spineless. We can be strong AND respectful. We can be assertive AND polite. We can be fair without giving up our values. I am NOT advocating censorship.

I fully accept that I am not perfect, that I am still very much a work in progress. I am not asking anything of you that I am not willing to do myself. I want to be VERY, VERY clear: I am not suggesting censorship. I am suggesting that we understand, “it isn’t WHAT you say, it’s how you say it”. I am NOT advocating censorship.

I have been having this one sided conversation with YOU. You, the person reading these words right now. Feel free to respond how you want.

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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