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 Forty percent of students believe that our first amendment is outdated and that the government should have the right to censor our speech if it’s offensive to minorities.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?

How prejudice changed in a few generations

Dr. Sammy Lee sitting on diving tower
Dr. Sammy Lee, gold medalist and doctor, on a diving tower.

It’s unbelievable how our world has changed. I’m not talking about the pandemic. I’m talking about how far we’ve travelled away from prejudice and racism in my generation and my parents.

I was working on a story about a swimmer, Paul Jeffers, who grew up in Southern California in the 50’s and 60’s. He swam with a swim school called the Sammy Lee Swim School. He’s working with a friend and fellow swimmer, Bill Brown, who graduated from USC in Cinema on a documentary about the life of Dr. Sammy Lee.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Dr. Sammy Lee, Olympic Gold Medalist and Doctor:

Dr. Lee overcame years of racial prejudice with a positive attitude and hard work. As a young diver aspiring to be an Olympian, he was only allowed to practice diving Wednesdays at the Pasadena’s Brookside Park segregated public pool on “International Day.” The pool was drained after International Day and white children swam the other six days a week. His coach at the time, dug a hole and filled it with sand so Sammy Lee could practice the rest of the week. He believed diving into sand made his legs stronger and was helpful to his Olympic aspirations.

He attended Occidental College where he was able to dive each day in a pool with teammates and pursue his Olympic dreams. His parents, who sacrificed to come to America and start a small business, pressured Sammy to become a doctor. He was able to do both.

Although Dr. Sammy Lee served in the Army during the Korean War, was an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist — and an Olympic Gold Medalist — he encountered more prejudice. He was blocked from buying a home in Orange County.

Simply amazing to me that such an accomplished man would face such prejudice, and it was not that long ago. What’s also remarkable is how he kept positive and succeeded with hard work and grace.

Sammy Lee at the pool with divers Dr. Sammy Lee with other divers.

Do you have any stories to share about how our country has changed for the better in the last five or six decades?

 

Living With Uber Outrage in a Hyper Sensitive World

Olive in an uncivil mood.

Olive in an uncivil mood.

I’m trying very hard to not get caught up in all the over-reacting that’s floating around. Have you noticed a lot of intolerance and anger lately? People seem to get upset and outraged over the littlest things. Like Halloween costumes. Waiting in line. Political opinions. Slow drivers.

Read about how I got yelled at by a total stranger here

How we handle little things and disappointments in life in a positive way can help us become better role models for our kids. It can also change our outlook and make a frustrating day, a better one.

imgres-4I think email, texting, twitter and social media in general can lead to misunderstandings and hard feelings. First of all, by emailing rather than having a conversation, a person can unload in ways they wouldn’t in person. He or she isn’t picking up on verbal and non-verbal cues. The conversation is totally one-sided without any give or take. We don’t have to bother with a discussion or to hear another person’s side of the story.

Online, have you read comment sections on a news or political story? If people can leave comments anonymously, look out! A snarky comment looks like an attaboy compared to the filth and nastiness you’ll read. People don’t tolerate differences of opinions and resort to name calling rather than debate issues. The anonymity of hiding behind a computer rather than facing someone is unleashing hostility and words that quite frankly are better left unsaid

imgres-3Have you ever texted someone or sent an email you didn’t mean to? Or, it went to the wrong person? How about thinking you hung up the iPhone, and you didn’t or pocket dialed the person, and they can hear your subsequent conversation?

It’s hard enough when you’re the one committing the faux pas and even harder when you’re on the receiving end.  Yikes. If this happens to you, take a minute and breathe. Realize you have a choice—how to react. You could get upset. You could make a big deal out of it and be confrontational.  Or, make the choice that it was mistake and no ill will was intended. 

I believe it’s a choice we can make on a daily basis. Take a deep breath when you’re behind a slow driver. When you’re waiting behind an elderly person trying to work the ATM or checking out at the grocery store. Don’t automatically jump on the uber outrage. We don’t have a choice on what is happening, but we do have a choice on how we react.

Baby Olive.

Baby Olive.

I think the best choice is to be “merciful.” This word popped up on my iPad yesterday. It’s not a word we hear spoken out loud these days—unless we’re sitting in a pew. In the everyday world it’s sounds old fashioned and is not practiced much.

I wasn’t quite sure of the exact meaning so I looked it up online at Merriam Webster:

treating people with kindness and forgiveness : not cruel or harsh : having or showing mercy: giving relief from suffering

I’m going to incorporate it in my everyday life when I feel the adrenalin or upset feelings start. I think if a lot more of us practiced mercy, our world would be a whole lot better.

We also need to keep in mind that our kids learn from our behavior. How we react to stress is most likely how they will deal with situations as they grow up.