I write a blog five days a week and sometimes I wonder if anyone other than my friends, Linda, Adriana and Paula are reading my thoughts. It often feels as though I am simply exercising my long held fantasy of being a writer for an audience of practically no one. One might argue that that my public journalling has become a vain obsession, but perhaps what is more important about my literary efforts than the number of readers that I attract or my reasons for writing is that I am allowed to voice my views freely. There is something more remarkable about having such a basic right than earning a viral following.
I read a great deal, observe continually, and watch historical documentaries in my quest for blog topics. From those efforts I have learned about the many parts of the world in which I would either be restricted in my comments or banned entirely. My freedom of speech is something that I admittedly all too often take for granted, but it is in fact one of my most precious gifts because I am someone who has a difficult time sitting silently in the background. I truly believe that I have a story to tell and a point of view to share that may not be particularly important or even wise, but that illustrates the resilience of the human spirit.
I’ve watched almost seventy years of history unfolding and some of it was ugly and tainted with violence and hatred. Most of the time, however the horrific behavior that I have noted was more of a societal aberration than a true reckoning of who we are as people. Time and again I have watched the goodness of human beings ultimately win the day, often in imperfect but well intentioned ways. Like President Barrack Obama I believe in the idea that the arc of history bending toward justice is more that just a platitude. It is our reality. Unfortunately our evolution toward perfection is slow and even jerky at times as we lurch back and forth between our better natures and our more selfish tendencies. We are often reticent to speak out or fight for what is good and right until the pain of witnessing injustice becomes overwhelming. We tend to want to be left alone, but we are unwilling to let evil fester indefinitely.
When I was young I used to think that I would one day see a time much like that described in Dr. Martin Luther King’s most famous speech, a moment when we would all be judged only by the content of our individual character. Perhaps I was a bit premature in believing that we were on the brink of achieving an almost idyllic world. Still, I do think that we are moving in that direction even though at times our progress is imperceptible. My experience with people has taught me that generally everyone possesses a sincere wish to be loving and heroic, but sometimes circumstances make it difficult to be our best.
We are a society of rules and that is as it should be. I have never been in any situation that worked out well without some form of guidelines. Rubrics and laws help us to set parameters, but we have to be careful not to become so driven by regulations that our most basic freedoms are curtailed. I suspect that we all want to be able to think, speak and act in our own manner as long as what we are doing does no harm. Of late, however, we have tended as a society to turn our backs in profound judgement on those with whom we disagree. This trend has created schisms in families and among friends. We are broken on both a personal and a worldwide level, filled with suspicions and immutable opinions. Exercising our free speech has become a means of formally bending arms rather than a vehicle of persuasion. We are being distracted by propaganda and revolutions rather than hearing quiet but often compelling viewpoints filled with reason.
We have unwittingly allowed our freedom to speak to be dominated by the passions of the fringe, the outliers on a normal curve. While those of us who are more moderate have been busy performing the tasks of living, those with louder voices and unyielding opinions have managed to assume that they represent the rest of us. While we toil to survive, they are busy choosing the candidates and the platforms from which we will have to choose at the polling places. We are busy or perhaps too reserved and unwilling to foment disagreement to concern ourselves with the raucous until we find ourselves in front of a ballot filled with the names of individuals with whom we disagree, powerless to do more than choose the lesser of two evils. We watch in dismay from the sidelines as the opposing sides of the many issues that worry us tear each other apart when we actually want them to set aside their differences and come to a fruitful conclusion. We know that we are members of a silent majority that is the glue that is so tentatively holding our nation and our world together even as it appears to be falling apart.
Most of us have been taught to be respectful. We learned from our elders that speaking of religion and politics in public is bad form, taboo. We don’t wish to rock the boat, so we walk away from disagreements. We avoid mentioning topics that may lead to arguments. We tip toe around any discussions that might provide knowledge that makes us uncomfortable or challenges our thoughts. We worry that what we say will be ridiculed or misunderstood. We tell ourselves that nobody really cares what we have to say, and so we leave the speeches and the commentaries to strangers who are leading us away from what we actually believe. We know that we want to do something to change our current situation, but we have no idea how to even begin. The answer lies in the very freedom that we all too often neglect to exercise.
A shockingly low percentage of those eligible to vote take the time to go to the polls. Even fewer voice their beliefs to those who have been elected and are supposed to be serving all of the people. It takes only a few minutes to send an email or compose a letter to a representative. We waste our time on Facebook and Twitter, but when enough of us flood the offices of the President and Congress with our opinions we have the power of collectively making a difference. We have glorious rights that we have become too lazy or cynical to use. Instead of battling with friends and family in circular arguments, we should be contacting the very people who are supposed to be working for us.
I write because I am free to do so. I will please some and enrage others. The facts of my demographics do not serve as impediments to my rights as they might in so many corners of the world. I celebrate my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness with my words. It is a glorious feeling to be able to do so, and I will continue as long as it is my right.