Victoria Ekstrand, my media law instructor, said something on the first day of class that really struck me: “We have a legal freedom to speak our minds, but no obligation to listen.” This is something that has never crossed my mind before — in a time where virtually all opinions have a digital platform to be expressed, we have a heightened responsibility to digest and understand perspectives unlike our own. The question becomes, then, if the law simply permits our words to be spoken, how can we assure that the world also hears them?
America alone provides a home for more than 328 million people as of Tuesday. That's 328 million different minds with 328 million different life experiences. Learning from each other is how we come to see the world with the widest eyes. The issue lies in the refusal to attempt to branch out in terms of opinion. There is a part of us as humans that is so desperate to impress, impact and affect others with our words that we forget to allow ourselves to be impressed, impacted and affected. Add social media to that innate desire, a platform virtually accessible to all, and we only see people screaming over one another — finally given a place to feel heard, with no intention of listening to others.
It is a truly wonderful thing, the ability to express ourselves to an infinite audience. However, before the 21st century, we could shelter the viewpoints we were exposed to; we could pick and choose who we surrounded ourselves with. We were not forced to listen to people we did not agree with if we truly did not wish to. That is not the case anymore. Social media forces a whole new level of open-mindedness — for every side of America is exposed, vulnerable and not afraid to speak their minds. Allow those opposing sides to fine-tune and mold your world-view into something more wonderful, instead of immediately shrugging off perspectives that challenge your own. Push through the initial defensive response and listen.
With this, I also ask you to listen to your own words, as well. Legally, we have the freedom to speak our minds to the fullest. That does not mean, though, that we are excused from the effects of those opinions, that our words are not capable of hurting others. Listen to the way your words impact the world — dig deeper than what should or should not offend a person, but to what should or should not unite us. Who cares if a PC world is one that sickens you if you use the first amendment as an excuse to blatantly hurt others and call it your right? You have a right to your words, but words have consequences. We have no legal obligation to try to understand each other, but the world would be a better place if we’d try.
Let's agree together, then, that with the freedom we are blessed with to speak our minds, we try our best to use our ears as well. For no matter where we come from, what we believe in and how we see the world, we could spare to learn a little from the rest of the world.