Getting Things Right
Given that the 4th of July is here again, I figured that I’d take a few minutes to look at one of the big things that makes America America. That would be the Constitution, the guiding document that establishes who and what we are. For those who need to brush up on it, here’s a handy link from the US Government: https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/constitution .
Core to this is the first 10 Amendments, the Bill of Rights. These spell out what rights and privileges the general public has, what the individual states have, and what the federal government reserves for itself. Now, there’s been a lot of to-do over what the exact limits of these rights and privileges are; that is, who can do what, who can’t do what, and why or why not. For example, while we may have freedom of speech, things like “falsely defaming someone’s character” and “yelling ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater when there isn’t one” are generally held as being against the law because of the real or distinct potential harm that you cause others.
In the case of the latter, for example, the person is causing a needless panic. Folks will rush to the exits, leading to the chance that someone will stumble or even be trampled. The proprietor will lose business during the period in which the theater is evacuated. Valuable firefighting resources will be diverted to where they aren’t really needed, leaving them temporarily unavailable if a real fire does occur. And so on. Essentially, this person’s irresponsible actions have caused calamity for numerous individuals. In this case, there’s a legitimate reason why jurisdictions would like to crack down on such behavior.
That being said though, things do become murky at times. Is calling someone by the wrong personal pronoun truly worthy of being a criminal offense? Can public colleges really implement “speech codes” aimed at determining what people can and cannot say? Could a religious group seek to implement its own legal code for members to follow, and if so should the government take precedence in matters? Such matters are among many that are under debate today.
If you ask me though, much of what’s going on nowadays comes down to one thing: the moral obligation people have to use their rights with wisdom and respect.
On one hand, consider the usage of your own rights. You largely have the freedom to talk smack about your opponents. But wouldn’t it be better to cite facts and figures in order to counterpoint their arguments? You have the right to believe as you want to believe. But gentle conversation can do more to explain what you believe than shouting at someone. You have the right to demonstrate and protest in order to make your views known. But if you go to your event spoiling for a fight, it makes the other side look rational by comparison. And so on.
On the other hand, consider how you react to people who express their rights. A person can hurt another’s feelings through insults and mockery, but that doesn’t automatically mean that what they’re saying amounts to “hate” speech or is comparable to physical violence… or give you the right to do violence to them. A person can disagree with what a religious figure is saying, but if all the person is saying is “we believe this activity is not good”, do you really need to sic the lawyers after them?
And so on.
Just a little common sense folks. Just a little common sense in how we do things.