Guiding Light: The freedom of speech

-- Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati

Much is spoken of about the ‘right to speech’ and the abuse of that freedom - from debates in social media to cases filed in the Supreme Court. Freedom of speech is not only a constitutional guarantee it is also God-given. While I can open my mouth to say anything I want it has to be balanced with a sense of responsibility. Sure, I have the freedom to express my opinion but do I have the freedom to abuse you, to provoke, to run down everything that you hold sacred? You might say, ‘Yes’.

But how would you like to be on the receiving end of the same thing? Nobody wants to be abused. Nobody wants to be unnecessarily provoked. Why should I do that? Can I not speak to the others like how I would like to be spoken to? Some people in the media are seen to say,’ I don’t mind being provoked’. If they can and want to do it, let them do it.

This is like saying ‘Right is might’. That’s not how a civilized society is. Even people who say they don’t mind being provoked get all hot and bothered, abusive, hurt and upset, the moment you touch a raw nerve. Therefore is important to recognise that freedom is not freedom unless there is a possibility of abuse. One has to use that freedom without abusing it because if we keep abusing freedom, we will find that freedom is lost or taken away by the other people. Therefore let us temper our freedom of speech with a sense of responsibility.

Let us speak the truth that is beneficial to people. If I know that someone is a fool, I don’t need to tell him, ‘you are a fool’. It is not beneficial. Even if one has to say an unpalatable truth let us say it in a palatable manner, such that the other person can listen to it. Sure, there is place for a hard confrontation. It only proves the rule that in general we are caring and responsible in the way we express ourselves.

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