face the facts

Je suis aware of the impact of our words

As Americans, we regularly exercise the right to speak what’s on our minds. While it’s fine, and even encouraged, to be expressive and make our opinions known, we often forget to consider the effects of our words. It is imperative that we know exactly the ideas we wish to convey so that we may take responsibility for our words and actions.

Our First Amendment right allows us to freely discuss anything and everything, but we should not take our freedoms for granted by defending every offensive thought with the line “I have the right to express myself.” Words have power—they can sway public opinion, provide innovative ideas and boost morale. And with this power comes great responsibility that we ought not to ignore. No words or actions come without consequence, so we must be aware of ourselves because we will be held accountable for what we say and do.

Take, for instance, the recent Charlie Hebdo incident. The French satirical magazine, which boasts insensitive material against a variety of people groups, published a controversial cartoon of the prophet Muhammad that provoked a shooting at the magazine’s headquarters, leaving 12 people dead, including five cartoonists, on Jan. 7. Having undergone attacks in the past, the people at the headquarters knew of the possible retaliations.

Though the decision to publish the cartoon ended in tragedy, the magazine continued by featuring another picture of Muhammad on its front cover, determined to show that its members would not shy away from their freedom of expression. Whether the decision is right or wrong, the magazine takes advantage of its irreverence and is conscious of its effect.

Just as you reserve the right to be offensive, you reserve the right to be inoffensive. It’s possible to predict the severity of the consequences based on what you say and do, and having this kind of foresight is useful in making decisions on what to self-censor. While it may seem like the fear of affronting others limits us from true freedom of expression, maintaining respect for your audience is oftentimes more responsible than dismissing the values of that audience.

However you choose to express yourself, it is important to understand how your choices can be held against you. The freedom of expression does not protect us from consequences, so we cannot be careless with what we say. To make the most of our right of free speech, we need to use it, not abuse it.

By Gabrielle Manuit, Copy editor


There are no comments

Add yours