Sometimes an F-bomb is the only appropriate response. I’ve learned this over time as my parents never cursed or associated with people who swore. I am not sure whether we Americans curse more than we used to, or whether it has become more common to hear and read in the media. In any case, the F-bomb ensures that we still have freedom of speech. The problem is when it is all we have to say.
Language is the way to vent pent up frustration. We may not be the most educated nation, but we sure know how to share our words. In other countries, a public F-bomb is frowned upon. It still is here in certain company and places, but not as much as years prior. And we can F-bomb the president or just about anyone. In other countries, cursing at the leader is illegal and can be hazardous to your long-term health.
The United States is the world’s freedom of speech capital. With free speech, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. What is offensive or disrespectful to some is glorious to others. Yes, there are a few things like screaming fire in a crowded building or bicycling naked around town that are not considered legal forms of free speech. For the most part, everything and anything is allowed and can be equally pleasant or offensive. Which is why the recent episode in our nation’s capital of the teenager standing his ground against the Native American was offensive to some and something else to others. It is important to note that nothing that happened between the two was illegal.
This episode highlights how we teach our kids to use their freedoms, and how we as adults use ours. While wearing a Make America Great Again (MAGA) hat is legal, there are many Americans who find a teenager wearing such a hat and representing a Christian school and standing nose to nose with a senior both disrespectful and delusional. The Black Hebrew Israelites, a fringe group of Americans who were cursing and threatening everyone they came into contact with were also self-serving in their barrage of hateful rhetoric and I think questionably legal with their public display.
There are all kinds of freedoms of speech that some of us view as necessary and others see as a problem. Taking a knee or holding a fist in the air during our national anthem or not standing for the pledge of allegiance are both legal and sometimes necessary to awaken a distracted public. Whistle-blower laws and even WikiLeaks exists because freedom of speech is many times the only thing that can check abuse of powers. The list can go on and on because freedom of speech is an absolute necessity for every other freedom we take for granted. Salman Rushdie, the prize-winning author with the fatwa issued against his life by religious zealots, had it right. He would rather the free speech of his haters and enemies be heard in the bright light of public opinion and condemnation.
It’s not the MAGA wearing teens, the Native American, the Black Hebrews, or even Colin Kaepernick that are the problem. Our responses are the real barometer of the health of our nation. We can force people to act a certain way in public, or we can set standards and expectations as the adults. Every form of freedom of speech has some message whether or not we choose to listen. There is a huge difference in a society that encourages individuals to think for themselves and that encourages a singular way to think. A healthy democracy is never static. I would rather see a bit of obnoxious behavior in public and know we still have diversity and still have work to do.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will be at My Favorite Books on Saturday, Feb 9th 11 am -1 pm with some of his books for sale.