On July Fourth, we celebrate our country’s basic human freedoms – one of which is Freedom of Expression. We live in sensitive times, however, where words can inflame or incite reactions from others who take deference to those words.
That’s why I write fiction, where …
… names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or locales is entirely coincidental.
It’s a cop-out, but it keeps the litigation worms from getting into the creative literary food bin. Of course, there are times when someone might ask – “what was really on your mind when you wrote this?” Um – sounded like a good idea at the time?
I revisited an article I posted five years ago, titled: The Fourth of Fantastic, where I wrote about the imperfection of our freedom of expression.
Right versus left, up versus down, it is enough to make your head spin. That’s what makes it great. People voicing opinions, standing up and saying what for. Democracy is chaotic, inclusive, confusing, open-minded, batty, and downright fantastic. Like all large families, a potpourri of multi-generational next of kin comes with large doses of squabbling and that crazy uncle we whisper about. And man, do we love to bicker.
Just for the record, I’m that crazy uncle they whisper about.
I didn’t shy away from espousing opinions in my younger years. It’s the passion of youth. Winston Churchill never actually said it, but I like the quote: “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.” I like to think of myself as having one foot in, one foot out. Guess that means I have half a brain.
As an older man, I tend to avoid espousing my opinion in public forums. It’s not healthy for a writer beginning to emerge like me. Why piss off a potential reader? I don’t want to be one of those curmudgeons who grouse at a newspaper article, then proselytize my differing opinion to anyone who happens to walk by. I save all that for my long-suffering wife, who has learned to shake her head and follow-up with, “did you cut the lawn yet?”
Another quote I liked from an unknown author used to be pinned on my desk.
Speak with good intention. Remember your goal is to communicate, not just be heard.
I didn’t live up to it as I’d hoped. I was too busy waiting to spout something clever or funny, and not listening. It’s still a work in process.
I’ve historically been one of the loud ones, as if talking in a very loud voice ensured I’d be heard. Years ago, during a transfer to a new position, a colleague presented me a phone with a noise suppression device. Subtle. Loud didn’t work with the kids either. They’d often blink a lot when I got on a roll; their way of semaphoring a message, “Hey Dad, turn it down a notch”, followed by a negative post debate review. Too many years passed before I realized that which is spoken loudly does not equate to truth.
I sort of miss the days of flaming editorials limited to one newspaper and three TV channels. Today, it’s instant access to thousands of media “information” sites whether I want it or not, with more truer than fiction facts than the number of fleas on a herd of bison. As a responsible citizen, it’s up to me to sift for accuracy, some of which is more fiction than fact. When I add in opinions on social media platforms, one can get a migraine from all the freedom of expression.
My contribution to the world of social media opinionating is to avoid it (see curmudgeon on the porch comment above). Anything I contribute tends to be pictures of the grand-boys, family gatherings, something I just cooked, clever quotes, concept art, self-deprecating jokes, vacation pics, or a rare glorious sunset in a locale I’ve come to label as Wet-sylvania. We have plenty of podium prophets out there without my input.
What, you don’t stand for anything? Of course I do. When the time comes, I exercise that other American right.
Happy Fourth of July to you all. Wrap yourself in the symbol of our country that allows freedom of expression. I just ask you do it with good intention, strive to not be hurtful, and look the other in the eye to ensure you’ve heard their side as well.
My thanks again to the talented photographers of Unsplash.com for allowing use of their work, in order of appearance.