What does the freedom of speech entitle? A lot, really, as such that every imaginable idea people wish to convey does get across and around the world. It is however not unlimited. The limit is not on the subject, but more on the manner it is conveyed. Every idea is met with criticism, with skepticism, with ridicule, not least the more established ones. In fact a good idea is one that has benefited from all those drills throughout its refinement process. We would not have arrived at this level of civilization had we not learned from various forms of freedom of speech.
The progress of science is an example where freedom of speech is practiced rather methodically, and it has successfully brought science to be the vehicle for development for humanity. Even in science, which is often considered as cold work, wherein human feeling is strictly excluded, the exchange of ideas, skepticism, and criticism, are done within a bracket of ethics. This bracket is not to restrict the substance or the amount of traffic of exchange. Instead it is there to ensure that all participants have a fair chance to express their ideas, which can only be achieved if a mutually respected manner of expression is in place.
Here is an illustration. During a conversation, there are instances where we question the other party’s judgment or statement, and it is perfectly fine and indeed it is the way to go to get the conversation developed. However, when we use sharper words or use derogatory expression in our question, or raise the tone of our voice when we ask the question, the other party will not only get the question but also perceive some negativity from our part. This negativity might get in the way, or even cloud the ideas being exchanged, as such that the conversation yields nothing good. What might have been a useful question or criticism goes down the drain because it is wrapped in poor manner. The freedom of speech here fails to serve as a powerful agent of progress. Worse still, it might create a trench between the parties that would stretch beyond the conversation. In short, peace is at stake.
Holding up the freedom of speech while disregarding various considerations is a form of self-righteousness. If freedom of speech entitles one to think that nothing is holy, and no establishment can escape a shake and upturn, then the very same idea might come back in full circle and hit the freedom of speech at the back of its neck. We should safeguard the freedom of speech by ensuring it is exercised with sincere respect to what we all human holds dear: personal dignity. But then what constitutes a personal dignity? I don’t know, but I suppose it is each person’s embodiment of what he/she perceives as the ultimate virtue. Yes, it is personal, it calls for some relativity, but isn’t it the point of freedom? Rings a bell?
A lot of things are funny, until it hits home. History keeps a long note on this subtle cruelty in human. I refuse to believe it, but I know I am being cornered and forced to waive the white flag.