Thursday, November 01, 2007

Freedom of Speech

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1941 address to Congress reminded those listening of four freedoms he felt basic to humanity. The President of the United States began his speech with these words: “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression -- everywhere in the world.” Much has happened over the intervening 66 years, but the truth of those words remains. We say of life “Use it or lose it.” Certainly that applies to the freedom of speech. Mostly in the recent past we have taken that to mean that I can say anything I like because I have freedom of speech. That is true of course, but much more importantly, we have the reason to prepare ourselves to be able to use the freedom of speech to create a more perfect world. That implies a great deal.

We need to prepare ourselves to say things that will improve our lives and the lives of those around us. That means we will be aware of issues facing us all and having thought about those issues be prepared to speak to audiences of all sizes about those issues. The freedom of speech isn’t to protect those who prefer to jabber about nonsense alone, but also the those who are willing to take the risks necessary to point out basic needs facing us all.

In addition to making constant and intelligent use of the freedom of speech we need to defend vigorously the rights of others to the same freedom. That would mean we do not attempt to silence those who disagree with us. That would apply on the job, in board rooms and from the highest office in the land. Free and open discussion provides a wealth of information from many points of view to all of us.

When any group or nation follows this kind of process their freedoms are more likely to survive in the long run. It also will prod all organizations that we create or are part of to do the same thing. That will assure us of a more useful and effective media. By gathering and reporting on the intelligent and important discussions, addresses and forums going on around us all the time, the media increase the likelihood that even more of us will be aware of the content.

If all we are interested in is “bread and circuses” then we are repeating what the Roman poet Juvenal said was the basic problem facing the Roman Empire. It is for certain that we are busy, but it may not be as productive as we need. We have enough food and drink and maybe Juvenal's observation applies to us today. We have enough activities and food that we see no real need to protect our rights and our own future.

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