Photo: “Change or Die” of a creepy bar statue at Pauly Saal Cocktail Bar

What good is freedom of speech when no one can hear you?

It’s hard to hear people. To understand what they mean, even as they construe their meaning with inadequate, sparse, or excessive language (words). Worse yet, when others use words as weapons; speaking in jargon that only serves to alienate a listener. Effectively conveying meaning requires a speaker to adjust their language to the listener, just as the listener, well… you know, listens.

I consider myself a “compassionate intellectual”. This is a very broad term that has been bandied about recently to describe those that gravitate to the left of the political spectrum. This predisposes me to empathize with others, so I’m told. The compassionate side of me wants to believe that language is used by humans as a tool to exchange meaning. While the intellectual side believes that this exchange, or dialogue, is the ultimate progressive act. However, this act requires that both sides give each other the benefit of the doubt and not freak out when conflict arises or language gets in the way.

At some point, we learned the difference between ideology and pragmatism. Ideology seemed the higher calling: to hold beliefs so fervently and fight for truth. Pragmatism seemed tainted by comprimise and prone to human fallibility. Yet how stalemated a society, pervaded with idealogues, can be with no focus on actually getting something done. It seems better to have ideologies tempered by pragmatism and vice-versa. And I, for one, believe the idiom “you’re either growing [changing] or you’re dying”.

If you’re reading this, I likely have a lot in common with you and share a lot of your beliefs. However, these beliefs likely take on different meaning for me than they do for you. If you have a strong reaction to the next paragraph, do me a favor and ask yourself why you’re having that reaction.

I have recently noticed that there are key phrases that I need to avoid if I’m speaking to someone(s) that identify with a particular group (Pro-choice, Pro-life, Black lives, Blue lives, Gun control, Gun rights, Feminist, LGBTQ, Alt-right, Pro-Trump, Anti-Trump, Globalist, Nationalist). Sometimes I stumble into these phrases and I instantly lose the person(s) I’m conversing with. In some cases, I can tell that their whole perception of me is altered because I said the “wrong” thing in trying to exchange meaning about a touchy subject. And often they become very emotional. Dialogue ceases.

Without dialogue and a desire to keep our society moving, it seems, American democracy will fade. And something will take its place. “Alternative facts” are a real thing in a civil society that is predominantly composed of groups that are more interested in pushing ideologies, than engaging in dialogue. Dialogue leaves room for alternative truths, but not alternative facts.

3 thoughts on “Freedom of Self

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