The Meaning of Free Speech

My writing has always been involved with freedom of speech. I have written many articles, trying to elucidate its importance and necessity in civil society. In fact, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was the very thing that I admired and inspired me to be a part of the unfolding destiny of this country. In my years of living in the US, I have seen assaults on and the enclosure of this fundamental right and my efforts to defend it led me into activism and moved my writing into a more a political dimension.

I remember what Mario Savio, the spokesperson of the Free Speech Movement once said about free speech. He reminded us how it is “something that represents the very dignity of what a human being is” and that this is “what marks us off from the stones and the stars … really the thing that marks us as just below the angels.”

Years later he is gone. Berkeley, the birth of the Free Speech Movement is once again becoming a center of free speech. Now, I am again thinking about what free speech really is. Aside from its political meaning, I realized how the root of speech is in listening and that the Western construct of ‘free speech’ lacks the understanding of this vital relationship between speech and listening. I now contemplate how maybe recovering this lost unison of speaking and listening was the essence of the FSM.

I ask, what have we lost in our speech that is divorced from listening? We must have forgotten our first word – our shared mother tongue. It is the taciturn heart – that silent knowing that gently holds multiple perspectives, without favoring any one view more than the other. Then, free speech comes to mean to ‘think with the heart’.

Mario (1994) said on the struggle for justice;

We have to be prepared on the basis of our moral insight to struggle even if we do not know that we are going to win. [It’s a weakness] to underestimate the importance of spiritual values. By spiritual values, I mean we as a community can feel something deeper than we are: not that we as a community feel God is on our side but some sense of looking down into the heart of things and being able to perceive which way is just, which way is not just. And that’s what we have to convey to people. Not everyone for himself, but all of us for the community.

Our struggle for free speech cannot win through political means alone. Perhaps, it calls for spiritual engagement. Our efforts require us to first liberate speech from the sphere of the head and inspire communities together to create a movement that speaks with the heart.

About

Nozomi Hayase, Ph.D. a native of Japan is a columnist and essayist, whose writing and social activism is dedicated to liberation of all people. She has been covering issues of free speech, transparency and the vital role of whistleblowers and cryptocurrencies in strengthening civil society.

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