The Difference Between a Journey Being Difficult and Being Lost

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.  Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

Those are the words given to fictional President, Andrew Shepherd, by writer Aaron Sorkin, in the 1995 movie, American President.

I don’t totally disagree with everything Ann Coulter has to say; I would guess that I disagree with only 99% of it.  But I have to say, that I found the hubbub that ultimately led to the cancellation of her scheduled speech at UC Berkeley to be disheartening for two reasons.

First, if there is any place where people would not just acknowledge, but would welcome. “a person whose makes your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of their lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours,” it is a school campus.

If we only care about protecting the freedom of speech of just those people expressing a point of view with which we agree, then we cripple and impoverish our republic.

The second reason I find this disheartening is because it is not an isolated incident. I know that there are many episodes of a scheduled speaker’s engagement being cancelled because a critical mass of people so vehemently disagreed with that speaker’s point of view.  I also know that this practice is not confined to any one particular political point of view.

My dad, who was both an engineer and jazz musician, used to tell me, “If something happens once, it’s a fluke; if it happens twice, its a trend; and if it happens three times or more, it is a pattern.”  This lack of respect for the freedom of speech has become a pattern.

And my parents taught me two other lessons I think  pertinent here.  They taught me to, “Say what you mean; mean what you say; and don’t be mean when you say it;” in other words, the rules, in everyday person language, for respectful discourse.  They also taught me, “If you hope to persuade another person, you must first be open to persuasion yourself;” in other words, the rules, in everyday person language, for finding common ground.

I know that the experiment that is America is a journey, and I know that it is supposed to be difficult.  But there is a difference between a journey being arduous and being lost.


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