Free Speech Doesn’t Exist

Bills. I hate them. If I had realized what a drag paying bills would be when I was younger I would have… well, I would have enjoyed the lack of responsibility more, I guess. Since no one has found a way to reverse aging or time, I am continuing on the inevitability train further into adulthood. And, again, I figured people at my age, and certainly older had things all put together. The older I get the more I realize no one has any idea what’s going on and some people are much better at faking it than others.

A couple of days have passed since the first 2016 Presidential debate and I have been puzzling over the debate itself (of which I watched only 20 minutes before vomiting a little in my mouth and switching it off) and the resulting flurry of analyses – oh and the Facebook posts and tweets, let’s not forget them. People feel as though free speech has been under fire now for several years, what with “political correctness” (whatever that actually means, now) and different movements pushing for understanding, justice, and inclusive language. Speech has never been free, nor will it ever be free.

Don’t tune out. This isn’t going where you think it’s going. You’re expecting me to launch into how men and women have fought and died for your ability to say what you think and feel. And I am happy to shortchange that expectation. You know that already, none of us need that lecture again.

No, so few of us consider the cost of our words. Jesus pointed out, rightly, that we will have to answer for every careless word we say. Our words interact with a kind of budget, and eventually we will have to have a divine audit to see what we did with our budget. I say cost in that whatever we say takes or gives. Consider that we are capable of saying whatever we want, but not everything is helpful, productive, or worthwhile. (Everything is permissible, but not all things are beneficial, to be Biblical about it.)

When we carelessly, or intentionally, say hurtful things we pay a cost in two ways. One, we carve off a bit of our own humanity to pay for that comment. Causing pain to others is not how God designed humanity, and when we go against that design, we remove, little by little, those things which make us most human. With each hurtful phrase we carve off compassion, mercy, empathy, understanding, and we become less. Secondly, when we say hurtful things, we also carve off a bit of the person we hurt to pay for our words. We carve off bits that make them human as well: dignity, self-worth, identity. As my family has always said, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Meaning, no matter if it seems free, someone had to pay or work to make that free-ness possible. This is what Jesus is talking about when he talks about contempt in Matthew 5:21-22, contempt doesn’t just damage the abused, it also damages the abuser.

On a more positive note, though, we can make investments. in others, and ourselves, by using language that is uplifting, helpful, and thought-through. There is so much venom and hatred being spewed out like some nasty sci-fi monster on the internet today, why add to it or share it? Instead, why not pray for one another, use kind language, and listen to others when they speak? When we listen, understand, and think through our words, we give ourselves and others the dignity they deserve as images of God.

And here’s the kicker… and the scary part. If humans are made in the image of God, any abuse or violence, physical or verbal, directed toward them is also directed toward God. Just sit with that for a moment and let it sink in.

What words do your kids hear you use to describe others? Do your children see you listening and using understanding, or leaping to conclusions? How can you better model a Jesus-like example of using constructive, beneficial language?

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