Speech Therapy

In a blogpost I wrote in November of last year I brainstormed about all the different shapes and forms that freedom comes in. I dedicated a segment on freedom of speech, as I tried to make sense of the desire many people seemed to have to use this “freedom” to make other people feel like shit.

Rowan

In a speech from 2012 that only came to my attention in recent days, British actor and living legend Rowan Atkinson defended free speech in a way that gave the little wheels in my mind a spin. His appeal was a response to a British law at the time, that caused ridiculous arrests and offered too much room for interpretation and misuse.

Rowan Atkinson’s full speech from 2012 on the repeal of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986

Insult legalized

A conclusion that the British government was coming to was “that language or behaviour that is merely insulting should never be criminalized.” The fact that this statement needed to be made signals that up until then, insulting an officer (or his horse, apparently) was in fact something you could get arrested for.

In his speech Rowan Atkinson pointed out that “the clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is easily construed as insult by certain parties. Ridicule is easily construed as insult. Sarcasm, unfavourable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy can be interpreted as insult. And because so many things can be interpreted as insult, it is hardly surprising that so many things have been.”

Barack

Atkinson proceeded with a proposal: “For me, the best way to increase society’s resistance to insulting or offensive speech is to allow a lot more of it. As with childhood diseases, you can better resist those germs to which you have been exposed.” He emphasized these words by referring to Barack Obama’s 2012 UN speech, in which the former president said: “We [defend freedom of speech] because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities. (…) The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.”

The message these two men are trying to bring across is clear. They both stress that, when faced with intolerance and hatefulness the solution lies in more communication and more freedom, rather than the opposite. It may lead to more insults, but it will also lead to more compliments, more debate, more questions and more answers. In Atkinson’s words: “If we want a robust society, we need more robust dialogue”.

Makes sense, right?

Sacred principle

The motivation behind Rowan Atkinson and Barack Obama’s defense of freedom of speech is one I applaud. It is a sacred principle that characterizes any civilized society. Encouraging and protecting that freedom implies that insults can and will happen. And we need to learn to be OK with that.

Mr Atkinson addresses snowflakeism by bringing up the influence of social media on the way we communicate and our ability to take a joke: “The storms that surround Twitter and Facebook comment have raised some fascinating issues about free speech, which we haven’t really yet come to terms with. Firstly, that we all have to take responsibility for what we say, which is quite a good lesson to learn. But secondly, we’ve learnt how appallingly prickly and intolerant society has become of even the mildest adverse comment.”

Rowan Atkinson: “Feel free to insult me”

Clearly bothered by the rise of this phenomenon, Rowan Atkinson spoke his commentary on the troublesome British law with two banners beside him reading “Feel free to insult me”. This type of freedom is essential for comedians, as their craft lies in seeking out truths in the realm of the absurd (or absurdities within the realm of truth). Aren’t the best jokes the ones that bring a smile to your face and a slight sting to your conscience?

Bullies

Not only comedians hold freedom of speech in high regard. It is highly appreciated and respected right here within the blogger community as well, as it is pretty much what it is all about. It grants everybody equal amount of time at the microphone and once there, it ensures that every individual can speak their truth fully and fearlessly.

But in the defense of free speech, people on the receiving end of bullying, hate speech and threats are told to adopt every elementary school’s mantra “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. So we all cultivated some hard leathery skin to protect our souls from the ugly byproducts of freedom of expression.

However, what Atkinson doesn’t mention -because we never thought it would be necessary to do so-, is that even though speaking your mind can be felt as an insult to some, inflicting pain should never become a goal in itself. The tragic train wreck that was Barrack Obama’s successor demonstrated what that looks and sounds like. Also, it showed us what abuse of this sacred right can lead to.

That the solution for this cruel tendency is actually “more speech” still rings true in spite of all of this. Something I have found to be especially challenging in upholding this ideal is that those individuals that insist freedom of speech must be utilized to verbally crush their self-appointed opponents seem to have only limited patience with communication. They sling their intolerant words into the world like children send anonymous spitballs flying around from the back of a classroom. Further communication about the matter is never really possible.

Speech impairment

So, let me stress again that I really, totally, full heartedly encourage and support more dialogue within our societies and especially between people with opposing opinions. However…. It is not enough. Instead of teaching people on the receiving end of hate speech to toughen up, we also need to start asking the mudslingers WTF is wrong with them.

Not by going back to throwing bullies in jail for their assholery, like that former British law did.

What I would suggest is helping these verbal thugs to find other ways to express themselves. And by that I don’t mean they should just yell into a pillow every time they feel their inner douchebag playing up. I mean they should actually look into why they feel so uncontrollably angry, sad, afraid or threatened in the first place.

And yes, refraining from calling them thugs, degenerates, douchebags (or any of the words I may have used in this blog to refer to these people) would also be helpful…

Psychobabble

We are complex beings with incredible brains (and souls, I guess, if you believe in that). We are capable of thinking such deeply perplexing thoughts that we don’t know what to do with them ourselves sometimes. On top of that, the times we live in and the technology that dictates our every day lives, let’s us feel all the feels all the time!

Do you want to wallow in the pain of heartbreak? Spotify has playlists at the ready for you. Are you in a cute and cuddly mood? The Dodo channel on Youtube has an endless source of videos to match that! Angry and destructive? I’m sure Steven Seagal is still making films in some dark corner of the internet to quench that thirst.

Anyway… What I am trying to say is… Our brains need a break sometimes. Also, we need to learn talk about our feelings. For many that also means learning new words to verbalize all the things we can feel. There are so many ways to express one’s feelings!

Encouragement of expression

A thought that has been going through my mind ever since that Rowan Atkinson vid appeared on my screen is that it’s not “freedom of speech” that we should be promoting and protecting per se. Or, I mean yes, we should also be protecting that, but “speech” is just the bare minimum of what we need to master.

“Freedom of expression” comes closer, because yes, there are more ways one can express themselves than with speech!

But how about not only granting people freedom of expression but actually encouraging people to use it. How? I’m not sure how to fix the current generation of people with a “freedom of speech impairment” but maybe we can start offering lessons at elementary and secondary schools to make sure kids acquire a vocabulary to express their feelings? And let’s not forget empathy lessons, so we can use our fancy feely words to help and comfort others that are struggling to do so.

This idea is (obviously) a work in progress and I can use some help. Who’s with me?

Mind Cleanup 2021

My 2020 plan to bring some structure and continuity in my blogging seems to have backfired on me. Instead of posting one blog a week as I had in mind, I ended up not posting anything for a year. Woopsie!

At first I thought I was just struggling with finding a topic that coincided with the letter G, in accordance with my own personal A-to-Z challenge. But then again, I had set aside my alphabet theme before when more interesting topics came by, just to pick it up again at a later point. So the letter G is off the hook.

For a while I thought it was just the fact that it was winter. My inner couch potato does always seem to be a bit more dominant when temperatures drop and the sun makes itself scarce. Then I thought it had to do with my desk, or my internet, or some deadline at work.

I think it was only recently that I realized I was simply exhausted. Not physically per se, all though my stamina had definitely seen better days. Not even mentally either, I was functioning perfectly fine in every sense. If I would have to describe it I would say I was worn out on a deeply spiritual level, or as a certain hobbit once put it: sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.

If writing would have been my profession or if someone (other than myself) was actually awaiting my next blogpost, I’m sure I would have been able to produce something. But, as I mention on my blog’s homepage, first and foremost blogging is something I do for myself.

In hindsight I realize that I probably would have benefited from a ‘mind cleanup’ or two along the way. However, the idea of sitting at my desk after a long day at work, just wasn’t appealing to me. So I didn’t. At all.

But what DID I do?

January 2021

My mom’s chemos and immunotherapy, that started in October 2020, continued well into 2021. The treatment weakened her to the brink of her existence. There was very little I could do. I prepared her food that she didn’t want and brought her newspapers and magazines that she couldn’t read.

Also, I worked. My employer was amazingly accommodating and I was given a lot of flexibility to fill in my own time. The more freedom they gave me, the more I felt obligated to put in the hours. I’m weird that way, I guess.

February 2021

In February I started an online course on vegetable gardening and permaculture. It was inspiring and fun and I fully intend to submerse myself in more of that. I do admit that if the pandemic had not forced the course to offer an online version, I would not have had the time or headspace to see it through.

A memorable moment during my mother’s illness, was when her eyes (or rather her eyelids) starting to bleed. Her eyes had been irritated ever since she lost her eyelashes, causing a rash. Of course, the crying didn’t help either. The fact that she looked liked something out of a horror movie is something we can laugh about now… but… no… wasn’t actually funny at the time…

To complicate things further, my father in law was admitted to the hospital (on the other side of the country) a day after my mother was. He had suffered a perforated gut aside from the chronic case of stubbornness. My boyfriend and I did our best to be there for each other and show honest interest in the unique situations our parents were facing. Luckily, our foundations are strong and we don’t always need a lot of words.

March 2021

March was the month in which my mom underwent surgery to remove the tumor from her breast. It went well. Also, the fact that it meant the chemo phase of her treatment was over, was an enormous relief. I have never hated a cure for a disease more. That stuff is horrible.

March was also the month that our country held parlementary elections. As we are speaking, that is nine months later, we still do not have a new government. Don’t ask me why. I guess its complicated.

April 2021

In April one of my best friends was suddenly abandoned by her husband. All though the administrative process surrounding the divorce went relatively smoothly, she was left in absolute shambles emotionally. We spoke about it a lot. We also went for long walks without really speaking much about it at all. She’s not there yet, but she is starting to regain some belief in her ability to survive…

This was also the month that I officially quit my job. That is, I put in my three month notice and announced I would be leaving the company. It made me sad, without ever doubting it was what I needed to do.

May 2021

In May I was vaccinated. Pfizer. Sore arm, but that was it.

June 2021

June was my last month with my employer of six years. It’s the longest I have ever worked for any company. I did my best to document everything I knew and did, even though I knew my method of working was a thing of the past and the company would be moving on quickly after my departure.

July 2021

July was my first month of unemployment.

Also, it was the month that my mother finally got her invitation for the hip replacement surgery she had been craving for for years. Her painful hip was actually the reason she went to the doctor in the first place, more so than the lump she felt in her breast.

August 2021

This summer month felt like a necessary breather. My mother was healing well and I gradually learned to let go as well and let her do things on her own again.

September 2021

The death of a friend’s mother gave September a strange mixture of feelings (gratitude, grief, guilt, joy, love). Her mother was diagnosed with cancer a few months before mine. While my mother was making plans to travel and cook again, her mother was deciding how she wanted her funeral to go.

It was also this month that my father stepped into the spotlight during a week long exhibition of his paintings in a local art gallery. I have never seen him prouder. He sold several paintings and received more compliments than he had imagined he would. He needed that! And for my sweet short haired mother, it was her first time out in public without her wig.

October 2021

In October I started to feel restless. Even though I had not exactly put my heart into the job hunting process (can you ever really?), I really began to miss feeling useful. I did participate in a 5km race and did OK.

My brother let me know that he was ready to seek help for his alcohol addiction. He changed his mind about this at least a hundred times after that, but the wheels had been set in motion…

November 2021

My brother finally went to the rehab clinic in the second week of November and is still there now. I hope to see him in February, after the program is finished. I’m tremendously proud of him!

December 2021

And now it is December. I can’t quite summarize this month just yet, but I can tell you that I got a new job that I will be starting in January. Exciting!

I once again have plans and aspirations for my blog for 2022 and am looking forward to getting started on those in the upcoming weeks. I hope all of you in the WP community have a wonderful last few weeks. Whatever you do, stay gentle.