Free speech

Roseanne Barr and the End of Free Speech

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Yes, I am on my island in Alaska, but I know about it too.

That heinous tweet. The apology and explanation, that it was a 2 am Ambien-fueled blast. The cancellation of her show. The internet exploding with words and tweets and speeches about words and tweets.

This site is a place for goodness and beauty and peace. But I also try to take a swing at truth along the way. Here’s my swing:

It’s time we faced the truth. There is no free speech in this country. Nor should there be.

Freedom of speech is protected in our Constitution; it’s in our national DNA. And now we’re lousy with it. With social media, anyone low on sleep, high on racism, anyone from the ditch digger to the president with any sort of rant, rage, or lie can shoot their words into the vast wide world with just the cost of a reasonable computer and three seconds of their time.

It’s so easy. And that little verbal fling hits the news. Then the news shoots out their headline—which becomes a tweet. Facebook and twitter light up with first, second and third responders to the headlines and to each other about the initial utterance, picking up heat, steam and accusation along the way, until we’re all mired in gossip, outrage, innuendo, slander, and accusation.

 

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None of this is free. The more we speak, the more it costs us all.

It costs the speaker too. Barr paid a high price for her words. Mel Gibson’s drunken rant against Jews a few years ago cost him. And we all know of the long string of politicians and celebrities who have fallen from great heights because of politically incorrect verbiage, either through rants or even minor tongue trips and slips.

Yes, sometimes the PC language police are over zealous, but  more, we’ve been duped. We’ve been lured into the lair and the lies of social media:  

*That all the world is holding its breath until it hears from me.

*That my words are worthy and precious just because I wrote them.

*That my need to express myself is greater and more important than anyone else’s needs.

Beneath this, I believe that we value free speech more than we value truth. And that we value our own desire to speak more than we value the good of our listeners.

If we don’t “love our neighbors” first, free speech is more likely to curse rather than bless.

We’re wasting and misusing the most powerful and precious resource we have: language.

 

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God’s words lit the cosmic swirl of night to brilliant noon. God’s words knit our bodies from dust. Jesus’ “Peace! Be still!” stopped a storm.  Jesus breathed out, “It is finished” in his final words, sealing our redemption.

The battle between God and the destroyer was a battle over words. (Did God really say?)

Words are not merely sounds and letters. As Frederick Beuchner has so wisely noted,

. In Hebrew, the word dabar means both word and also deed. A word doesn't merely say something, it does something. It brings something into being. It makes something happen. . . . 

 If there is poison in the words, you are poisoned; if there is nourishment, you are nourished; if there is beauty, you are made a little more beautiful.

 

Here’s my plea. What if we all slowed down, spoke less, listened more? What if we sent out into the world only the costliest words---not the words that cost our listeners, but words that cost us, the speakers and writers? Words that we labored over, that we cried over, that we prayed over. Words that cost us sleep and days and even years to find. Words that did their shaping purifying work in our hearts first.

What if we waited and sent out only these words into the world? Imagine the world our words would create!

And here, what have I done? I have stayed up until today became tomorrow, adding my own poor voice to the clamor of millions. But I write slow. Long. Seeking. Listening. Hoping.

If these words bring a moment of good to even one reader, how rich I will be! 

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