Cancel culture and the right to freedom of speech

I wrote this more than six years ago. I can only say with the current “cancel culture” things have only gotten worse. The movement against freedom of speech and censorship has expanded from college campuses to social media and beyond.

 

Cherry blossoms at the Quad University of Washington

My alma mater. Springtime at the University of Washington, Seattle.

I worry about my kids and the world we are leaving them. I especially worry about how their ideals are so different than mine, when I was their age.

For example, I wanted to have a successful career. I was interested in getting a job. Eventually get married, buy a home and raise a family. Not that I wanted that at age 19 or even 22, but it was in the back of my mind.

Frosh pond at the University of Washington.

Another view from the UW.

I was a journalism major. My internships were at local newspapers and I spent one quarter at the state capital as a legislative reporter. I valued the written word. As an avid reader and writer for most of my entire life, I value freedom of speech and believe we are one of the few fortunate country’s in the world to enjoy this right. We have friends who immigrated from Eastern Europe. They told us how books were illegal in their country. They would smuggle photographs of each page to read and share with friends.

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Washington State Capitol with Mt. Rainier.

Washington State Capitol Dome with Mt. Rainier

I’m so surprised that our kids do not appreciate this right.

Did you hear that? Freedom of speech, which is our first amendment right, is not a favorable thing to a growing number of our college students. There was a recent Pew Research poll that tracked opinions about freedom of speech. Forty percent of students believe that our first amendment is outdated and that the government should have the right to censor our speech if it’s offensive to minorities.

“Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Read more here about the document called the Bill of Rights. 

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I was a young child in the 60s when protestors were taking over college campuses, bombing buildings and burning flags. They were protesting the War. They believed in freedom of speech.

You don’t have to agree with the words being said. You don’t even have to like it. You can hate it and find it offensive. But, don’t censor or silence it. It seems that our college campuses have become microcosms of group think where no dissenting point of view is allowed. If someone speaks out with a contrary opinion, they are shouted down, silenced and excommunicated.

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It’s very scary to me that the foundations of our country are not respected or valued by our youth. I’m hoping they outgrow this attitude as they enter the world, get jobs and raise their families.

Red Scarf Girl bookcover

A must read in today’s world.

There’s a book I read when my kids were in grade school called Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang. It’s a true story and eerily reminds me of what’s going on today with our college students.

“In 1966, Ji-li Jiang was twelve years old. An outstanding student and leader in her school, she had everything: brains, ability, the admiration of her peers – and a shining future in Chairman Mao’s New China. But all that changed with the advent of the Cultural Revolution, when intelligence became a crime and a wealthy family background invited persecution or worse.”

It’s a well written book and the story is one we should think about today.

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Here’s a story from 12/9/2015 that brings up some of the issues on campuses I’ve been reading about: Importance of Free Speech on Campus .

Here’s an opinion piece from the LA Times that addresses the issue of freedom of speech with numbers.

Here’s a couple blog posts I’ve written on the subject:

Is Freedom of Speech Dead On American Campuses

Are the Right to Party and the Right to Free Speech at Odds at UCSB?

Is Civility a Lost Art and My Story of Being Yelled at By a Total Stranger

imagesI think we are on the verge of losing an important piece of our society. The art of civility and decency. In my humble opinion, the virtual world has a lot to do with this. Look at the comment section of any news site or political page and what you’ll read will turn your face red. Name calling, cursing along with disgusting references to body parts. Their mothers and grandparents must be so proud!

It’s so easy to comment and be rude when you’re not face to face with another person and you’re hiding behind your keyboard. As a former board member of my kids’ swim team for a million years, I was often surprised when someone that I had enjoyed talking with on the pool deck sent me a scathing email. I guess it was easier for them to vent over the keyboard rather then express their opinion to me in person.

Olive in an uncivil mood.

Olive in an uncivil mood.

What happens when this “no-holds-barred” behavior moves from behind the screen to the real world? Think about that for a few minutes. If every person you encountered in a day had to let loose with a verbal attack. (What does that expression mean anyway? From Merriam-webster online: free of restrictions or hampering conventions <a no–holds–barred contest> This expression was first used in wrestling matches allowing all types of holds.)

I was sitting at our local Street Fair this week, volunteering five hours of my time to register voters. Most people were very friendly and polite. It wasn’t a busy night for our “register to vote booth” because there’s no big election coming up in the next few months. I smiled at people as they walked by. It’s fun to see them smile in return. I was enjoying that.

Then one woman stopped in the middle of the street and yelled at me.

“Why did you give us that look?”

I said, “Huh? Excuse me?” I had never seen this person in my life. I had not seen her walk by.

“You smiled at those people,” she pointed. “But you gave me a dirty look! What was that about?” she shouted at me.

“You’re mistaken, I wasn’t looking at anyone.” Indeed I was lost in my thoughts. I had a brief moment of missing my kids who are away at college.

“You’re very rude! Typical for someone in your party!” the woman yelled at me.

I was a little shaken. Wondering what gave her the right to yell at me — someone she’d never met before. I thought this was a prime example about our loss of civility.

We tell our kids to be kind to other people and we teach the Golden Rule. We punish them if they get in a fight and we are horrified if they are mean to anyone. But, seriously? They learn more from our actions then we care to believe. I have an idea. let’s try to be examples to our kids. Let’s try to be someone worthy of our kids adoration and someone we’d like them to respect. Be kind to one another. And if you can’t be kind, at least be decent.

My daughter and lifetime friends, enjoying life on their swim team.

My daughter and lifetime friends enjoying life on their swim team.

“Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none.”

– Benjamin Franklin