when free speech ain’t free

This past Wednesday, February 1, Milos Yiannopoulos, the editor of Brietbart, a conservative news and opinion network, which some describe as trafficking in right-wing propagandist and, equally purposefully, incendiary misogynistic, racist, and xenophobic rhetoric, was scheduled to speak at the University of California Berkeley. Demonstrators gathered to protest his appearance. Outside agitators unaffiliated with the university committed acts of violence. A number of people were hurt and multiple thousands of dollars of damage done to buildings and grounds. University administrators, citing the concern for public safety, cancelled the event.

Speaking always and only for myself…

For nearly 65 years (and, blessedly, day by day, I continue to count!) I have slogged through the twilight and, at times, illumined trenches of my thinking, the fetid and, at times, fecund furrows of my feelings. I (in addition to being unabashedly alliterative!) am a theological existentialist and a socio-political progressive with dyed-in-the-wool-of-my-soul-and-spirit pluralist and inclusive leanings. In all this, I recognize, indeed, respect “the other”; all those who think and feel differently. In this, I believe in the freedom of speech, even when it offends my sensibilities and sensitivities.[1] I believe in the free exchange of ideas, even those that provoke my anger. I believe in granting others, through the courtesy of civility, a hearing, even when I disagree and, perhaps especially, when I disagree strongly.


Because I live to seek truth; that which I consider “real” that allows me to make meaning for my life, to make sense of my existence. And my quest for my truth is constant. And, as I cannot think and feel all things and as I share this planet with countless folk who think and feel differently, I strive, sometimes with ease, sometimes with difficulty, to remain open to what I might, indeed, can learn from others with other worldviews, and

Because, though I constitutionally do not agree, verily, viscerally cannot agree with Mr. Yiannopoulos, to prevent him from giving air to his views eventually, inevitably restricts the right of free speech for all. For to deny any one the occasion for expression, at whatever time and for whatever purpose or cause, is to promote an atmosphere where another at another time for another purpose or cause can be denied that opportunity, and

Because I think that an environment characterized by fierce animus toward “the (whoever and whatever) other” encourages the identification of persons chiefly by their perspectives or positions on issues, which, in turn, nearly inexorably leads to the denial, dismissal of their essential humanness, and

Because I feel, I fear that in this fractious time in the history of a fractured America a climate of the demonization of “the other”, especially those who dwell on the far reaches of either side of the philosophical-political continuum, will compel moderate voices to withdraw from the public arena of engagement and debate, thus impoverishing our civic discourse, and

Because, then, freedom of speech won’t be free…

But perhaps it never is. Freedom of speech bears the cost of the sacrifice of those in ages past who offered it as bequest to their heirs of future generations and of those in this day and time. Again, speaking always and only for myself, freedom of speech bears the cost of my sacrifice of the security, even sanctity of my worldview by having occasion to listen to those whose words do not substantiate or justify my truth.



[1] I also recognize that freedom of speech (indeed, any freedom) is not absolute. And though there are historically, legally accepted limits on human expression (e.g., libel, slander, obscenity, and sedition), my taking offense is not one of them!

11 thoughts on “when free speech ain’t free

  1. So much very hard and hard-won wisdom in what you say, Paul. Would that every person with ears, a tongue, a pen, or their equivalents had your grasp of what “free speech” means, requires, and offers. As was said of Jesus, “Hard sayings.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, my goodness, yes, my beloved sister Karen, this is hard stuff! And only o’er the past 10-11 years have I come to embrace “the other” with a daily and conscious commitment. That embrace compels me to be and to remain open, which calls me to engage and wrestle with viewpoints from the wondrously sublime to the excruciatingly discomfiting, and to be with those whose company I enjoy and whose ways of being, believing, and behaving consternate me no end…

      One other thing I’ve learned… I have discovered, encountered, and continue to engage and relate to my inner “other”; the shadow elements of my humanness that I despise. What I have come to know and continue to discern is that even on my worst day I wouldn’t live any other way.

      Much love, dearest Karen


  2. I love that you included in your response not only those OTHERS who consternate you (my new favorite verb!), but the shadow parts of yourself that do the same. What a holy and taxing daily exercise – to deal with both inner and outer OTHERS with hospitality and love! I have to ask, since I am becoming more and more aware of this phenomenon in myself: Do you often find that the inner and outer OTHERS you are encountering resemble each other in amazing and uncanny ways? As in, are the people who drive you completely around the bend the ones who exhibit the characteristics that you struggle most fiercely to hide from in yourself? God does have a wicked sense of humor, don’t you think? : )



    Liked by 1 person

    • Verily, Karen, God DOES have a wicked sense of humor OR, sometimes I wonder may be wicked, too! For, yes, what oft drives me ’round the bend of my sanity with others are the very traits I find within myself that I most abhor.

      And, regarding myself, I oft wish I could treat myself with the love I strive to show others. For frequently I cannot and do not let myself off the proverbial “hook”! My capacity to castigate myself is mighty! Still, I have learned that the one person I cannot escape, save God, is me.



  3. Paul,

    As you and Karen pointed out this is hard stuff!! But as you say, even though it’s hard to hear what some people have to say, they do have the right to say it even if it hurts others. I’ll share a personal example that I’ve only shared with one other person (aside from those who witnessed it). I had to ride the subway a month ago to get to an appointment at the Pentagon. At one point the train became crowded and people were standing. I did was I was taught as a child and got up and offered my seat to an elderly white women. She looked me right in my eyes and said “no thank you honey, you sit back down and enjoy that seat cause Trumps gonna send you back to Africa soon!” You know me well enough to know I’m rarely speechless but I was, and hurt. An uproar started around me people started to yell at the woman calling her all kinds of names and a few wanted to hit her and implored me to. As humiliated as I felt I just sat back down and reminded the upset folks on the train that she has a right to say what she wants. I had to get myself together to “sell myself” to the trainers at the Pentagon so I could do a presentation there! I did so but think back often to the woman’s stinging words. I also thought about all the things I could have said back to her but didn’t. I did feel good about not stooping to her level and saying something terrible back. When I read your post my mind instantly went back to that subway ride. I’m glad that no violence erupted on the train over words directed at me and that no one harmed the little old woman who looked as nice as she can be. It still hurts when I think about it.

    Thanks for your words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loretta,
      I am so, so sorry you were forced to endure that terrible encounter on the subway, particularly after having made a compassionate and gracious offer to the woman. It is astonishing to me when people are ignorant and heartless, but particularly so when they throw such behavior into the face of love. I am glad others supported you, but their support sounds as frightening as it was comforting. I have to believe your example still lives in that woman and in all who witnessed your gesture and your response to her hatefulness. You planted a seed that day, Loretta, and it is growing somewhere now whether you are aware of it or not, and it will produce fruit. As I said to Paul some months ago, if my seventy years of living have taught me anything, it is that NOTHING IS EVER WASTED. The Universe, God, whatever we call the force that creates and energizes everything, makes use of everything that exists and everything that happens. I think we can rely on that. I know so well that you and the life you live are rich sources of good and of love in this world. No one’s hatred or ignorance can change that. Keep on being the wonderful Loretta you are.

      Thank you for sharing that story. Once again, I’m so sorry it happened to you.



      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you sooooo much Karen!!! It’s still hard to even write about but I’m glad I shared it because your words are very comforting!! I hadn’t thought that I may have been planting a seed for the woman and the others who had heard. I was proud of the fact that I hadn’t retaliated even with words. She did look surprised that I didn’t respond.

        Thanks again Karen!!! I really appreciate your compliments about me too!! You’re awesome!!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Loretta, my goodness gracious! What an encounter of confrontation and hurt and pain and anger.

      Your sharing of this anguishing experience stirs within me a sense of reality to which I arrived some time ago and to which I hold, verily, clutch close to my heart. When someone says something to me that is, on its face (and perhaps in the person’s intent) demeaning and humiliating, I say to myself: “You are not AND cannot be talking about me, for you do not know me. You are speaking out of your reality, which is yours and not mine.”

      NOW, this said, do the words hurt? Yes. BUT, again, they are words unassociated with me. Hence, I let them go.

      Still, this said, I grieve for you and your pain. I pray your healing, for you ARE more than wonderful!

      Love you

      Liked by 1 person

      • Great advice you give me Paul!! I’ll hold on to your quote for the next time I encounter this type of situation. I say next time because in this “new era” people now say out loud what they only used to think to themselves. Your quote will help me tremendously!! I owe you!!

        Now, do you have a quote for someone who does know you, even if they don’t know you well?? Those people seem to be getting more bold too!!

        Thanks for your prayers of healing too. I feel better. I had intended to tell you while at Clevedale when you asked me how it went at the Pentagon but it still hurt too much then. But reading this post today made me realize it was ok to share now.

        Love you too!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, baby, this calls for a long conversation with a glass (doubtless, several glasses) of wine! ‘Til then, when someone who knows me, but not very well, but thinks s/he does (Loretta think: a typical St. Mark’s Sunday morning in-passing encounter), I say: “Hmmm, I am not sure of your meaning. Please enlighten me that I may respond in an informed way worthy of you interest.” (Please feel free to amend or shorten as suits the moment!) Love

        Liked by 1 person

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