The tragedy in Charlottesville Virginia highlights a dichotomy that exists between constitutional and moral rights. Fortunately, the dichotomy can be addressed in peaceful, respectful ways.
The first amendment to the constitution recognizes our right to free speech. At the same time, the vast majority of us abhor hate speech.
The question on so many minds today is “How do we reconcile these two elements, rights and beliefs, in a way that promotes respect while enabling us to remain true to our values?”
Reconciling rights and beliefs
We remain true to our values by living them. That doesn’t include trying to impose our values on others. There’s a huge difference between sharing your beliefs and expecting others to embrace them.
Implicit in our right to our beliefs is the right of others to theirs. If I were to try to limit others’ right to their beliefs or to express their beliefs, I would open the door for others to limit mine. That’s not a tradeoff I’m willing to make.
Respect and tolerance
While I despise the messages that hate groups spew, I respect their right to state their beliefs…as long as they don’t try to impose them on others.
In other words, I’ll never attend their gatherings because I don’t believe what they believe, but I will tolerate their language as long as it remains language. If they try to impose their beliefs on others, I’ll oppose what they’re doing.
Strategies and outcomes
As long as their efforts are limited to expressing their beliefs, I’ll counter by living according to my values of inclusiveness, mutual respect and concern for the welfare of others. If, indeed, the vast majority of us believe in love and act accordingly then there’s little risk that hate advocates will prevail.
That’s a distinctly different outcome than if I were to protest their marches. My protest would give legitimacy to their beliefs and give them a reason to escalate the frequency and intensity of their actions.
Conversely, acknowledging their rights to free speech and to assemble for the purpose of free speech, removes resistance to the rights they possess, and takes away the very thing they desire…a reason to push their ideas more forcefully. Here’s an everyday example to illustrate this point.
Someone you love dearly is really ticked at you. While they rail at you for a perceived slight, you remain calm and let them vent. What happens?
They quickly exhaust themselves. When there’s no resistance, there’s nothing to fight. When there’s nothing to fight, the only alternative they have is to calm down.
The balanced approach I outlined above in the strategies and outcomes section is the same as that employed in the example…with the same result.
We can avoid this senseless violence if only we’ll respect each other’s right to our beliefs…so long as there’s no attempt to impose those beliefs on others.
For our kids
Teach your kids this simple approach to tolerance and mutual respect and they’ll enjoy a future with much less violence than we’re experiencing today.