When freedom is not free

The right to freedom of expression is recognised as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but subject to certain restrictions

The right to freedom of expression is recognised as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but subject to certain restrictions

Blessing Musariri Shelling the Nuts

Dare you take a position that goes against what is currently trending on the global bandwagon and watch how you will get flayed, see the names you will be called.

My aunts tell me that when I was a child, every time they started up a conversation they would have to check to see where I was.

Apparently I was fully convinced of the necessity of my input into every discussion.

I would pepper their conversations with questions and opinions making it impossible for them to talk their adult stories.

Also, I was prone to act as a recording device with an uncontrollable playback switch.

Because they were my mother’s sisters and therefore also my mothers, my mother left them to deal with me and they tended to indulge me.

I only adhered to being seen and not heard under the speaking eye of my mother, in polite company.

This was the eye that warned of dire consequences should I prove foolhardy enough to believe any of my opinions needed to be heard in a setting where we had been trained to say “hello, how are you” and promptly go about our business somewhere else.

There was an age at which the freedom to say whatever I felt like saying, began to be affected by limitation in all cases — polite company or not.

That was the point at which I knew I was no longer considered cute and funny.

That was the point at which I began to realise that I was now going to be held responsible for the words that came out of my mouth, that not everybody wanted to hear my opinion all the time and that sometimes what I had to say was considered offensive and inappropriate even if I felt strongly about it and knew it to be true.

Of course, this realisation did not stop me from frequently causing offence and becoming involved in altercations and various other fallouts as a result of failing to temper my speech, what it did, however, was leave me with the responsibility for repairing the peace I had broken and the understanding that sometimes it was not worth it to express myself.

The older I got, things were not so easy to fix as they had been with parental prompting and sometimes, the peace could not be repaired.

So be it. In more recent years, with the onerous task of navigating the big bad world as a fully-fledged adult and professional being the scope of self-expression limitation has widened and now encompasses the epic and often confusing battle between freedom of expression and political correctness.

Throw in technology and social media and the battle instantly becomes more brutal and infinitely bloodier.

The right to freedom of expression is recognised as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.

Article 19 additionally states that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “[f]or respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “[f]or the protection of national security or of public order (order public), or of public health or morals”.

Aha! “Subject to certain restrictions.” Herein lies the root of all the problems. Is it still a freedom, if it is restricted? I do believe that calling such a thing, a “freedom” is where all the heartache lies.

People take it as a given that the word freedom means they are allowed, by everyone else to say what they honestly think and feel, and much worse now, they feel the need to share these thoughts and feelings on their social media pages for all the world to say and what happens? Digital lynching.

Does freedom of expression/freedom of speech work in the world in which we now find ourselves living? A world where you cannot say boo to a ghost without someone overhearing and recording, reposting, retweeting, repeating a million times over and calling you irresponsible, insensitive, bigoted or otherwise. What does this mean?

The requirement for appropriate and culturally and professionally sensitive speech and behaviour has reached new levels of high, I’m talking mega stratosphere.

Dare you take a position that goes against what is currently trending on the global bandwagon and watch how you will get flayed, see the names you will be called.

We have entered an age of intolerance of the intolerance of intolerance — yes, three deep — of anything and we are leading each other on a merry dance.

Sometimes I begin to think that in a galaxy far away there is some far more intelligent life form that has set the cat amongst the pigeons amongst the humans on earth via the tool of social media and they are sitting back and watching us cannibalise each other.

We are on an intergalactic version of The Truman Show or Big Brother Earth.

Freedom of expression as it stands today seems to mean that whatever it is you choose to express must be either acceptable to the majority of the people who receive it or it must be indisputable and of a positive and/or constructive nature (according to the masses), otherwise, keep it to yourself or share it and suffer the consequences.

This is the age of political correctness, there are new more acceptable ways of saying everything, new and ever-evolving ways of labelling people and things so that life is better for everyone (sometimes more and more complicated) and if you object to anything, then you had better find a way to do it that appeases and is respectful everyone. A tall order. Sure, we are all at some point going to have opinions that the next person is not going to like and at some point we are going to express them, this is life, unfortunately now, it comes with instant feedback.

Some people have opinions that cause offence to large groups of people at a time and, of course, this is far from desirable and is usually met with great outcry.

I can assure you that even if it is a lone voice out there, they are not the only ones thinking what one has had the stupidity (or bravery, depending on where you stand) to say in public.

Does one person being flayed for what maybe a million others are feeling and or thinking, mean that the problem is solved?

Or does it just mean that everyone else is now deterred from saying out loud what they really think and feel and are now merely hiding behind political correctness.

Will it help us to “heal the world” as Michael Jackson appealed?

What good does political correctness serve if it is merely the mask we put on to walk the gauntlet of public opinion.

We can all learn the correct thing to say but sooner or later if it’s not what we truly believe, we will trip up and be hung for a sheep as for a sheep.

Is political correctness preventing us from discovering what truly lies beneath the facades so it can be dealt with?

Or is a step in the right direction in the manner of practice makes perfect, that is, if we say the right things long enough perhaps eventually we will believe them.

Actions speak louder than words do they not?

Should we not let it all out and hash it out until some natural place of peace can be found or will we spontaneously combust once every opinion meets every other opinion on a level playing field.

What if one day, everyone could say how they really feel without impunity?

Is it possible many of us would find ourselves forced to actively confront our prejudices and maybe learn something that will help us grow into better people?

Is the instant and furious backlash against our individual thoughts and opinions the way in which we are being forced to learn?

It’s difficult to say, but we need to start somewhere.

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