When it’s free speech, when it’s honesty, and when it’s just wrong
In these confusing times of fluid meanings (“figuratively” as an approved definition for “literally,” for example), it’s no surprise that our ability to correctly categorize the nature of our personal opinions or preferences has become muddied.
Offensive observations once considered insults are now defended as “just being honest,” “telling it like it is,” or “speaking my truth.” Discriminatory language is mislabeled “freedom of speech/religious expression.”
I like to assume in a glass-half-full kind of way that much of today’s casual nastiness is unintentional, the product of ignorance — “Seriously, I’m just being honest. Why is that bad?” If that assumption is correct, then there’s reason to hope that knowing the difference between free speech, honesty, and being flat wrong — definitions and examples listed below — will encourage careful consideration before the sharing of unsolicited opinions, as well as how to share opinions in a way that will invite frank and open discussion and cause the least possible harm (while hopefully inspiring the active pursuit of a more accepting, understanding, and empathetic outlook).
- Note: This isn’t a legal guide, nor is it pretending to be. It’s a plea that we all try harder to 1. treat one another with basic civility, and 2. recognize the point at which our opinions become an undue nuisance — even a harmful burden — to others.
Freedom of speech/expression
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. — First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
2. a : fairness and straightforwardness of conduct
-calling for honesty in politics
b : adherence to the facts : sincerity
-doubted the honesty of the witness — Merriam-Webster
immoral, or unethical; especially : principles, practices, or conduct contrary to justice, goodness, equity, or law — Merriam-Webster
- YALE UNIVERSITY’S COMMON AREA
Freedom of speech: I have been raised to believe, and therefore do believe, that anyone who doesn’t share my skin color — such as the person with dark skin sleeping in this public space — is not like me. I believe the color of my flesh and my lineage (three generations back; four, tops) make me superior.
Honesty: I prefer people who look like me, and the person sleeping in this public space does not look like me. It irritates me/makes me uncomfortable to see this person.
Wrong: I should call the police to have her forcibly removed.
Why this is wrong: We can’t call the police, who should be focused on preventing harm against people or property, because we don’t like someone’s appearance unless it’s, “This person sneaking around in a mask and carrying a crowbar appears to be premeditating a crime.”
Not a crime: Having organs and bones encased in skin that isn’t peachwhite.
…new findings show that our automatic processes (including our implicit biases) are not unchangeable, and that we can learn new behaviors that can become second nature.
2. THE COLORADO BAKERY
Freedom of speech: As a devoutly religious person who takes the Bible at its literal word as I so interpret it, I believe same-sex romantic or sexual relationships are morally wrong, and I firmly disagree with same-sex marriage.
Honesty: It makes me uncomfortable to bake a cake for people whose relationship I personally find offensive. I do not support their union.
Wrong: I’ll just refuse to sell them a cake.
Why this is wrong, legally and otherwise: “Colorado’s law prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, and sexual orientation in the same way,” writes Suzanne B. Goldberg, Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law, Columbia Law School, in What the Colorado Baker Who Refused to Sell to a Gay Couple Gets Wrong.
[The baker’s lawyer] argued, with great passion, that if the baker, Jack Phillips, was required to sell his cakes to gay couples on the same basis as he sells cakes to non-gay couples, then African-American bakers would have to sell cakes to members of the Ku Klux Klan.
But that’s not really true. Bakers, whether African-American or not, must sell to people of all races equally because the law forbids discrimination based on race. That is, the law says the baker cannot treat customers, including Klan members, differently based on race.
If the Klan customer asked for a custom-designed cake with a cross to celebrate white supremacy, a baker can refuse, if she wants. Why? Because the state does not prohibit discrimination based on political or social opinion. Just like Phillips isn’t violating the law when he refuses to sell cakes that celebrate Halloween.
“That you are gay does not matter. God made you like that and he loves you like that.” — Pope Francis
3. THE COFFEE SHOP
Freedom of speech: I subscribe to my religion alone and deem all other religions to be false.
Honesty: I don’t like that the woman in line behind me is wearing a niqab. Muslims make me nervous. I only know a little bit about their religion, but what I do know scares me half to death. I’m sure it’s possible that the less anyone knows about anything the more likely they are to feel threatened by it, but that doesn’t change how I feel in this moment.
Wrong: I’ll be like, “Hey, you going to a Halloween party?” Something like that. Maybe I’ll call her some names.
Why this is wrong: Generally speaking, it’s rude to offer unsolicited opinions, particularly those that are mean-spirited, to innocent strangers about anything — their hairstyle, their physique, their children (or lack thereof), their clothes, their Jesus-on-a-cross necklace…anything. That’s preschool behavior common in children who are only just developing empathy, and in preschool is where that behavior should be left behind.
While it’s true that “under the First Amendment, individuals do have a right to speech that the listener disagrees with and to speech that is offensive and hateful,” legal shouldn’t be confused with right. It’s legal for someone to stand on the street corner and sneer religious slurs at every parishioner walking to church for Sunday mass, but is it right?
If the Bible is your guide, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. […] Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” (Ephesians 4:29, 31).
If you’re a fan of the Golden Rule, don’t accost people if you wouldn’t enjoy being similarly accosted. (If you do enjoy being accosted, please recognize that not everyone does. Actually, it’s probably safest to assume they don’t.)
And if you’d agree that “how others feel about you is none of your business,” then it’s also true that how you feel about others is none of their business.
4. THE INTERNET FORUM
Freedom of speech: I have the right to identify as a member of a subculture of men who feel unloved, unlovable, and/or rejected in one way or another by women. I also have the right to identify as a member of a subculture of men — same subculture, different clique— who believe women are like nice cars, and that any man who’s a real man deserves a nice car (and nice cars are meant to be “driven,” if you grok my wink).
- Its not even funny the amount of flaws I have. I dont have a single thing going for me. On the rare occassions I take a picture of myself all I see is a disgusting subhuman that looks like its on the verge of death
- When I think about my looks, I only see flaws. I never really realized them until I started taking a look into lookism and inceldom. There’s not one thing that is good about my looks, I only have flaws.
- I live with my brother so I can’t really get a anime pillow or sex doll unless I just give up trying to act normal and he already bullies me anyway so I may as well but for now I just hug and kiss my regular pillow to sleep every night.
- Dear Lord, please let me be dead in 20 years.
*Actual quotes from incel.me
“If we hold ourselves to impossible standards, if we never give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, chances are we will have trouble doing so for others. And thinking about others’ feelings and giving others breaks are key skills for developing solid relationships.”
- The only true validation [from a woman] is when she spreads her legs or sucks your penis.
- I think the only safe place for men is in a country like Saudi Arabia where they just import brides from Morocco. This may change as woman are starting to get their way in Saudi Arabia, but eventually the radical muslims will hopefully put an end to it.
- Islam has polygamy. I think judaism was perfect tbh. You could still stone cheating whores and have enforced monogamy.
- Gym whores deserve to get sliced up.
- Bitches should be banned from everything and chained to the beds in their homes. That said, whyyyyyy don’t you want me?
*All but the last sentence also actual quotes.
Why this is wrong: A few reasons, the first of which is the celebration of violence against and subjugation of women.
It should go without saying that women aren’t carnival prizes to be won. But just like with lots of things that should go without saying, it needs to be said, as there still seems to be some debate as to whether women are autonomous humans with the right to give as much or as little of themselves to people as they want. It should go without saying that there’s no outside arbiter of who “deserves” which woman, or of what one “deserves” to receive from a woman, because women get to decide for themselves. Indeed, it should go without saying, and yet…(The Guardian)
Second, because these comments are made in a public forum accessible to anyone, it’s possible the violent imagery and seething vitriol will reach not only the young and impressionable, but also act as a sort of Pied Piper song luring all of the emotionally vulnerable down a path that leads only to resentment, rage, and isolation.
Warren Spielberg, a psychologist and expert on the problems of boys and men, compared incel sites to gangs, which also offer a sense of belonging to vulnerable youth. … Society teaches boys that they must lose their virginity and attract women to be real men, he explained. When they fail to do so, he said, they are flooded with shame, which is sometimes transmuted into rage.
Whatever the motivation behind joining such groups, the frightening truth is that within them exist some of the factors contributing to sexual violence. According to a study cited by the University of Michigan, “individual factors that have been found to lead to increased rape proclivity among men include high sexual arousal to rape depiction or sexual violence, pornography consumption, desire to have power over women, increased levels of hostile sexism, and increased gender stereotyped attitudes toward women,” all of which feature prominently in the “incel” community.
Being raised a certain way, being socialized to believe certain things, or being in pain can make changing how we think a difficult, timely process. But in our daily lives and interactions, we can at least all try harder to not be wrong.
“Hatred is a feeling which leads to the extinction of values.” — Jose Ortega y Gasset
_________________________ helpful resources________________________
Help, I’m a Racist and I Don’t Want to Be (via The Root)
What Does the Bible Say about Homosexuality? (via Human Rights Campaign)
How to Respect and be Open to All Beliefs (via WikiHow)
Dealing with Depression: A Resource Guide (via The Recovery Village)
Kristen Tsetsi is the author of THE AGE OF THE CHILD: Katherine, who has never wanted children, is pregnant and desperate to avoid parenthood in a time of criminalized birth control (including abortion, and those miscarriages deemed “suspicious”); one generation later, Millie is determined to impregnate even though the parent licensing bureau is unlikely to approve her for parenthood— and punishment for cheating the system is severe.