Monday, January 31, 2011

Violent Speech

Should we indulge our feelings and use "violent speech" or are there real risks attached to what we say in general. The recent shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 6 others who were shot dead in Tucson, Arizona has raised the debate yet again about "free speech" and "independent acts" of violence.

If you would take the time to read a statement made during a campaign speech in Milwaukee, Wis., October, 14, 1912, you can see what Colonal Theodore Roosevelt felt was the cause of his misery. From the beginning of this speech you will realize that Roosevelt was remarkable. The things he said were not merely a reaction to being shot in the chest, but well thought out. He said, "Now, I do not know who he was or what he represented. He was a coward. He stood in the darkness in the crowd around the automobile and when they cheered me, and I got up to bow, he stepped forward and shot me in the darkness."

Then Roosevelt added, "Now, friends, of course, I do not know, as I say, anything about him; but it is a very natural thing that weak and vicious minds should be inflamed to acts of violence by the kind of awful mendacity and abuse that have been heaped upon me for the last three months by the papers in the interest of not only Mr. Debs but of Mr. Wilson and Mr. Taft."

There is much discussion still about "free speech" and our rights to say things because we believe that they are true. But, because we live in a world that has a wide variety of us living in it, perhaps we should take more time to consider the possible outcomes of what we advocate. Stirring the pot may very well produce far more than we had anticipated.

In addition, when we think violent thoughts, a bulk of the time we have enough control to avoid acting on those thoughts. But, I think it is only reasonable to examine ourselves and what has caused us to even think those violent thoughts in the first place. I certainly isn't our job to set free ideas that "we hope" will catch fire in some other person's mind so that the outcome is what we hoped and we don't find ourselves punished. Free expression is better used to solve the problems we face in the least harmful way possible.

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, through his character Mark Antony he demonstrates what words can do deliberately, while appearing to do something quite different. Being clever is difficult, but being clever while doing no harm may be far more difficult.

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