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The forgotten half

Jan 08,2022 - Last updated at Jan 08,2022

When we talk about freedom of expression, we remember one half of the matter and forget the other, which is of equal importance.

The half we remember is the right of individuals to express their opinions and air their views.

This is extremely important, of course, and established democracies enable and encourage individuals to speak out on matters of interest or concern to them: political, economic, social, legal, educational, etc.

Individuals speak about all matters pertaining to their society, their institutions and their state.

The fundamental premise here is that democracies do all in their power to allow their citizens to take an active interest in matters, form educated positions about them, articulate those positions, and lobby for their implementation.

Individuals in true democracies think freely, congregate freely, and act freely, on the basis of well-thought out ideas or programmes.

There is, however, one proviso or one catch here, if you like: freedom of expression is neither absolute nor unrestricted.

Democracies are law-privileging systems, and, therefore, no one or nothing is above the law, including freedom of expression.

What this means is that freedom of expression is in effect limited or restricted, by the governing laws.

In other words, in democracies individuals speak freely as long as they do not break any rules or laws.

This, then, is the story of the half we know, that people should be empowered to speak freely, but do so in the context of the law.

The second half, the one that is often forgotten in our society, pertains to the right of others, not just us, to speak freely as well and to be heard and respected.

And herein we have a problem.

In our society, most individuals care only about their right to speak, and pay little or no attention to the rights or opinions of others.

This creates an unhealthy situation in which dialogue, exchange of opinion, and mutual understanding are absent.

As a result of people getting accustomed to transmitting and never receiving, speaking and never or rarely listening; tension, misunderstanding, and disputes often prevail. Sometimes, individuals even fistfight.

The sad thing in our society is that we often feel that nobody is listening to anybody else.

The solution lies, one solution that is, in individuals being exposed, as of the early school years, to effective training in two-way communication skills.

Communication, among many other things, entails speaking but also listening, and listening in communication is as important as speaking.

This is precisely why the half that is forgotten in the matter of freedom of speech, i.e. listening to others and respecting what they say, needs to be not only remembered and recognised the hole time, but in fact prioritised.

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