There are a lot of people expressing themselves these days, and in many cases not in a dignified or admirable manner. I think a lot about school officials, board members, and really anyone in a position of authority–public or private sector–and about the burden they have right now as we head into the 19th month of the pandemic.
On top of all the other things that were difficult and important to manage before the pandemic, decision-makers and leaders are now having to make additional decisions–often unpopular–about the safety and welfare of the people in their charge. And they’re facing the backlash of people who often don’t fully understand the situation or are selfishly thinking of just themselves rather than what’s good for everyone.
Freedom of speech is arguably one of the most important cornerstones of our society. The problem today, akin to the debate over masks, vaccines, who won the election, and so on, is that there are unclear parameters about when and where one person’s right starts to impinge on another’s.
According to Michael Zuckert, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, “Free speech will always pose some type of risk–of hurting people, leading individuals to embrace false ideas, or any number of other harms.”
I don’t claim to have a solution, and I am pretty sure this problem has existed for a long time. Nonetheless, it seems at a heightened pitch these days and I wonder what it will take to ease the tension.
Growing up in the 80’s, we used to use the phrase “take a chill pill.” More likely, “take a chill pill dude.” And maybe it is that simple. What that phrase meant to me was to stop going on about something because it was likely making others uncomfortable, or worse, annoyed that I was trying to have my voice heard above all others.
Of course when I, or anyone in my circle didn’t heed the advice, others just left. They stopped listening. They stopped giving any energy to whomever the offending obnox (new word, just invented) was. After a while it usually worked.
I am not so naive to think that the people I’d like to take one of those pills today would actually listen to me. But it does feel better when I consciously think about saying that. I’ve mentally said it to the dreadlocks guy yelling at school board members about masks. Or the guy wearing horns and face paint screaming at the Capitol January 6th. I think you’ve seen them both. And I truly feel sorry for them for the choices they made. Extremes of any privilege or norm are dangerous, and using “free speech” as the justification to stomp over other people’s views is disrespectful and inconsiderate.
But even though I think it is futile to believe I can change others’ viewpoints–or even whether I should–I do think we all have a choice whether or not to feed them our energy. I am hopeful that more people in authority, and those who follow them, will mentally put the people who disrespectfully voice their opinions over all others’ in a time out.