Free Speech and Self Expression……How far are we prepared to go


Sheffield_town_hall_occupation“ I don’t like kids, and I think that school parties should be stopped coming here. If this carries on I’ll be taking my trade elsewhere”

This was the comment, made by a customer, was  relayed to my wife when she was working at a super market checkout; and it got me thinking

We all like the notion of freedom of speech and expression. We all believe that we have a right to express our views, and we applaud the early campaigners on this issue that has made us what and who we are today

Yet the pursuance of such ideals is not without its problems, for how far should we, as individuals or communally, be allowed to go

At first glance it sounds so easy. Most individuals would be disturbed in the presence of discriminatory language, or negative generalisations about certain sectors within the community, but what of the grey area that uncomfortably sits between such negativity, and positive inclusion and acceptance for all.

Where is such greyness? All around us I reckon, and the comment that opens this point is a wonderful example of what I mean

The children concerned were from a local primary school, and the aisles of the supermarket in question were unusually narrow, so, by the nature of children being children, the question of access to the aisles became a factor, if not a problem for all. Other shoppers were delayed in their selection of certain products, replenishment staff could not restock the shelves, and counter staff were delayed in the completion of their normal duties. Yet was the customer who spoke to my wife justified in such complaints, and, if the teachers who were with the children, had heard such a comment, would they in turn have  a right to complain

If the original customer had stated an objection based on the grounds of colour, race, or sexual orientation then it would have been a simple enough question, but her complaint was not about such things. She was, by her own admission, not as maternal as other women around her, her shopping experience had been partially spoilt be the children, and she certainly had the choice to take her custom elsewhere. So far so good, but what of her comment of:

I think that school parties should be stopped coming here

Many shoppers might commiserate with her, especially if their time was limited, and some others might point out she was only expressing a personal view, but what is such comments had repercussions far beyond the speakers mind? What if, for example, my wife had been in a position where she could not bear children, or what if a customer at a adjoining till had lost a child in an accident?

Under such circumstances extreme offence might be taken by both parties, and if so, being unaware of the history of the first speaker, should they have the right of reply? Children will be children, I hear some readers say, and how else are they to understand where the food they eat comes from, but, as I said before, the area is very grey, and, in my opinion, almost impossible to resolve.

Young carersAnother area of greyness is that of disability, or percieved disability. Very close to where I work there is  a special needs house and workshop that caters for those with mental “impairments”.

Please note the inverted commas with the word impairments. Such individuals might not see the world as other see it, but as we cannot enter their minds, their “impairment” may well be a blessing in disguise.

On an almost daily basis groups from the centre come into the store with their carers, and normally an enjoyable time is had by all. Sometimes though, problems arise.

  1. Their response time to requests for information is slower than other customers around them delays to customer and service staff can occur
  2. Some shoppers clearly feel uncomfortable when they see such parties
  3. Extra care has to be p-provided so that neither they, or others around them can come to any harm, especially if an emergency situation such a as afire, were to arise.

Looking at the above list, would an individual be justified in requesting that such individuals were denied access to the store, or even state an opinion that, in the more severe cases, that it would have been better if they had not been born at all?

One day a colleague of mine made such statements, but I was aware that they came from a concern about their long term support and care.

“What would happen if care and support within the community were withdrawn due to a lack of funds. Through no fault of their own they cannot live a full life by themselves, but the NHS is in crisis, social funding is being cut, so where does their future hold?”

My reply was to inform him of recent European history and the Nazi Action T4 programme, and of the fact that everybody thinks differently, therefore, as said before that impairment can be a blessing in disguise. Such points were taken aboard very seriously, and I was able to point him onwards areas of greater research, but even if his comments had been based on an instinctive dislike or fear of such individuals, would it be so wrong for him to have held and voiced such views?

He only spoke to me, and no-one else was in earshot, but again, what if I had  an association with someone who was affected by such an impairment? Would I have had the right to officially express concern about his views?

Looking back over this post I see I have asked a great many questions, and in accordance with tradition, I should now provide an answer to them all, but I cannot do so, as I fear there are no answers, and no resolutions, however well meant, that fit the bill.

If we stood back, and really looked at the world around us, I suspect that we would see that such grey areas surround us on all sides, but for now I’m going to sit on the fence and play the devil’s advocate, as regards this question. But where do you think the line in the sand should be drawn, and, if such a line can be drawn with any certainty, how long, in an ever changing society, should that line be allowed to stand.

Just a thought, and just a bit of devil’s advocacy, that’s all, but the next time you are in public, listen carefully to those around you, and listen to yourself as you expound your own views. I wonder if you’ll be changing your mind

I hope you enjoy the video below

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Categories: Devil's Advocacy, Just a thought

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