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Freedom of Speech

I was asked to write about Freedom of Speech as a concept. I considered that ‘Freedom of Speech is the Freedom of Each’ as I began to vocalise my thoughts, then to put down on paper.

I wrote almost 3,000 words on this subject, but when I realised my writings had become a directionless rant, I stopped. I had been researching, looking for definitions, and searching through academic and philosophical viewpoints, and it came to be too much! Instead I replaced it with a few personal thoughts on subject areas I’d been requested to consider.

Swearing - I have no great desire to swear frequently. It doesn't particularly suit my character or my mode of speaking. I prefer alternative words, most of the time. However, I occasionally swear, just to keep my hand in, when the situation warrants it, and I use milder, more regional swear words with gay abandon - especially in my writing.

Honesty - A few weeks ago, I watched an elderly gentleman emerge from a coma into the world. A water infection had made him paranoid, nasty and accusatory. Everyone was a pillock, and worse. Nurses and doctors were trying to kill him. He turned against me, he insulted the clothing of a Muslim man, and laughed, demeaning the geometric haircut of a very stylish black nurse. I was understandably mortified, though the nurses explained ‘We have learned not to take this personally. This happens many times every day’.

I wondered though. Was this gentleman, for the first time in his life, allowing himself, through the mask of illness, to express his own usually buried thoughts? This shouting, angry person - was it the man that this post-coma patient was to become? Had he acquired a personality change via maturity-onset-Tourettes?

Thank goodness, every piece of nasty was, in the end, due to the illnesses, hallucinations, coma and medication. Just as the medical staff had predicted. He left hospital well, and very much the man who had entered it. Nevertheless, it made me think.

As a general rule, liberal middle class types don't generally blurt out racist, sexist or size-ist comments even if they come to mind. We push them away and try not to think them. We are ashamed and concerned that we should be allowing momentary head-space to stereotypes and irrational negativity. We do not articulate, and the feelings usually pass. Logic and decency educate them away.

But when you've an autistic family member, thoughts do tend to become speech. This can range from simple childish ignorance – ‘Women are nurses and men are doctors. There are no women doctors,’ to nasty and hurtful – ‘She's soooooo fat. Look at the size of her bottom. She's fat so she's horrible’. This is difficult to deal with.

My own speech is not free. I shy away from anger and conflict - that's just the way I am. It is because of this personality trait, rather than anything to do with freedom of speech, that I frequently choose to leave things unsaid. Leaving dangerous and dodgy thoughts inside my head to remain unarticulated is part of who I am.

I may not speak those thoughts out loud - but I have the right to think them, speak them and write them if I choose. I usually don’t. But that doesn’t mean I can’t. Or that I shouldn’t.

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