Opinion: You and I, at this very moment, are engaging in one of the most sacred privileges afforded by freedom. From the beginning of recorded history, the vast majority of people who have inhabited this planet never had the privilege of experiencing freedom of speech, freedom of expression, or the freedom to assemble.
Many of us who live in a free society take for granted the privilege of expressing our thoughts and gathering with others to engage in debate, discourse, or dissension. I am grateful to hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and online publications around the world who provide me this platform each week to express my thoughts, feelings, and opinions.
I believe, to the greatest extent possible, civil rights should be enjoyed and protected in a civil manner. The ability to disagree without being disagreeable is a gift that we can give to all free people. We can disagree with someone’s words, thoughts, or opinions without diminishing them as a person.
Tolerance is a bridge between people of different viewpoints. If we blow up the bridge simply because we disagree with a position held by another, we cut off all communication and eliminate the possibility of creating consensus. I believe it is far better to fully communicate, and when necessary, agree to disagree on a particular issue while seeking common ground and finding topics where we can agree, support one another, and work together.
This type of conscious consensus happens best in a crisis. If you consider the allied forces during World War II, you will realize that a united coalition of people from different countries and of diverse race, religion, and political persuasion all came together to defend and preserve freedom around the world.
At the end of World War II, the differences among the allies surfaced once again, and a cold war emerged. While there were many differences, discussions, and disagreements, hostility was avoided, and the lines of communication remained open to the greatest extent possible.
That struggle culminated in the immortal words felt in the hearts of all advocates of freedom but spoken by Ronald Reagan. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” As you know, after Mr. Reagan said it, Mr. Gorbachev did it, and the Berlin wall remains a distant memory but potent reminder that things that separate and divide us can, eventually, be overcome as long as dialogue and diverse feelings are exchanged.
Freedom of speech, by its very definition, must extend to speech with which we disagree. This is what makes liberty an ongoing effort in understanding and tolerance. When you use this hard-won freedom of speech given to us by our ancestors as a weapon to attack someone’s personhood instead of their position or political persuasion, you dishonor the sacrifice that made freedom of speech possible.
If you can exercise your civil rights civilly and deploy your freedom of speech respectfully, you will often discover that beyond an argument or debate there is a fellow lover of freedom willing to sacrifice to insure your freedom.
As you go through your day today, debate policy and love people.
Today’s the day!