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The Difference Between Speaking Freely and Freely Speaking

7 Feb. 2018 Posted by aadams

Ralph Metzner, FEI Director of Product Management

At the University of Missouri School of Journalism, they taught us the First Amendment as if it were number 11 of the Ten Commandments.

We learned not only how the First Amendment was written, but how it had been interpreted, applied and defended. We learned the types of speech that were protected and those that were not. We read about the legal cases judged and enforced throughout the First Amendment’s
long existence.

Most important, we learned why the authors of the Bill of Rights felt so strongly about the right to free speech that, when it came time to amend the Constitution of the United States of America, it took the top spot. And we learned why prior restraint of free speech was considered so dangerous.

Arguments against the logic and wisdom of the First Amendment’s authors are hard to piece together. The Bill of Rights kept the republic whole and its citizens free for more than 200 years.

Yet, the authors of the First Amendment made two assumptions which today make it easy to wonder whether the Bill of Rights will be as sturdy a foundation for the next two centuries as it has been for the first two.

First, they assumed opinion would operate within the confines of truth – and that truth would act as an ethical imperative for all who exercised their right to speech. It is no coincidence that “reckless disregard for the truth” is the strict test for libel, the boundary of our right to speak.

Second, authors of the First Amendment assumed that when people spoke, even if words were heated, those words would be exchanged in a civil manner.

An ethical regard for the truth and basic civility are personal qualities. They are
personal choices.

As we consider the future of free speech – on television, social media, or in gatherings in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces – it is important to remember that it is ultimately a matter of the personal choices in speech each of us make that will determine whether free speech survives. It will decide if speech is to be truthful and civil, or divisive and drenched
in hate.

For those of us responsible for maintaining civility at work, serving the goal of an engaged and inclusive workplace, it may seem daunting to stem a tide of incivility in public discourse which appears, at times, overwhelming. Our experience has shown such tides can be reversed with even the smallest increments of awareness.

Training our workforces for inclusiveness and civility, demonstrating the importance of healthy relationships and resilience-building habits, will inevitably pay us back with people who continue to be their best.

For information about our services, including trainings on the interpersonal challenges facing organizations, please contact us today. To learn more about workplace civility and addressing the scope of free speech at work, read Civil Unrest and Employees: When Community Concerns Become Workplace Challenges.

Comments

Submitted by Doug Diefenbach (not verified) on Fri, 02/09/2018 - 08:27 #

Good stuff, Ralph!

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