Tuesday, 07 July 2020 11:23

COLUMN: Free speech comes with a cost

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Freedom of speech ≠ Freedom from backlash.

Cause and effect is still real.

Social consequences are still real.

This whole idea of "I can't say anything nowadays ..." is simply not true.

You can say whatever you want.

You just have to be willing to own the risks that come along with what you say.

Is it true that some people will misunderstand you or mislabel you when you use your voice? Absolutely.

This has always been true. There has always been a social cost for publicly declaring your beliefs — especially if those beliefs have anything to do with philosophy, politics, religion, or race.

Heck, I've been hated on for using my voice to tell people to follow their dreams. It comes with the territory.

For some people, however, this is just the first time they've experimented with the process of sharing their beliefs about polemic topics in a space where they're likely to be challenged or criticized.

For some people, it's a new and shocking experience to have to face the harsh realities of uncharitable interpretation, emotionally charged disagreements, or statements like "you're out of your mind for saying that."

But fair or unfair, these are social realities that must be contended with for anyone who chooses to use their voice. These realities force us to be honest with ourselves about what's worth saying and what we're willing to fight for.

When you see your favorite political pundit or thought leader making provocative claims, it can be easy to think "that's a fun way to talk," but it's important to remember that many of those people have weighed the cost for what they choose to say.

You can’t just copy their words without copying their costs.

Have you weighed the cost of what you choose to say?

Don't just ask "What do I want to say?"

Also ask "What price am I willing to pay?"

And if you choose to be silent because you're not willing to pay the price for what you wish to say, it's important to be honest with yourself about your true priorities and your current level of readiness.

Many people who say "I am being silenced," really mean "Speaking up scares the heck out of me, so I'm just going to shut up and blame it on society for not allowing me to get a word in."

If you choose not to use your voice, that's your choice ...

But ...

Own it as a choice ...

Because one day, you might decide that it's time to speak.

And that day will never come unless you learn to see yourself as a person with agency who has the power to choose.

I believe the world is a better place when we all choose to share our thoughts, but we have to be brutally honest with ourselves about what we can handle and what we're willing to sacrifice in the name of making a point.

These realities are not going to magically disappear after the next news cycle or the next election. The most important conversations will always be the most risky conversations.

T.K. Coleman is director of entrepreneurial education at the Foundation for Economic Education and co-founder of Praxis.