The wisdom of ‘Free Speech’

October 31, 2015

We live in an overcommunicated world. The prevailing culture insists we reply to all text messages within 10 minutes, be mindful of the mountain of emails building up in our inbox, and religiously return random ‘missed calls’ on our phones. Don’t forget to regularly post something witty on Facebook, follow your best friends on twitter and utilise all the free airtime minutes on your contract! It is, after all, good to talk. But what is the net result of this web of exchange? Does it foster a greater sense of relationship and community? Is it a case of more connected, but further apart?

Silence, it’s said, is the art of conversation. You may have noticed how we struggle with a quiet moment. When it does arise, most will instinctively grab their smartphone in a desperate attempt to engage their mind. Think about the last time you saw someone, under the age of 30, sitting down and doing absolutely nothing. Rare indeed! Even more unusual is to be with another person and not utter a word. It feels awkward and uneasy. Alien and unnerving. Yet silence is imperative – it forces us to understand, assimilate, reflect and think deeply about what is actually going on. Often times, however, in order to frantically fill those vacant moments, we end up generating substandard content to share with the world: meaningless, inconsiderate and shoddy communication.

Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely room for chitchat, niceties, and light-hearted exchange between humans. It would be unnatural to jump to the other extreme of strictly regulating our every word. The Bhagavad-gita, however, offers the over-arching model to guide speech. Words, Krishna recommends, should be truthful, pleasing and beneficial. How much of our written and verbal communication would make it through this filter? Along with freedom of speech, it may be worthwhile to remind people of their longstanding right to freedom of thought. Think once before you act, twice before you speak, and three times before you post something on facebook.

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something – Plato

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