Menanteau Serfontein – 11 February 2022
The citizens of most of the genuine democracies of the world, enjoy certain constitutionally enshrined freedoms and rights. Typical rights include, amongst others, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression (and speech), right to life, freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment, right to liberty and security, respect for your private and family life, freedom of thought, belief and religion and freedom of assembly and association. In most cases these rights and freedoms are not unlimited and not without boundaries and commensurate responsibilities.
Let’s look at the example of “freedom of expression” which gives you the right to hold your own beliefs and opinions and to express them freely (verbally and in writing). Although you have the right to freedom of expression, you also have a duty to behave responsibly and to respect other people’s rights. Public authorities may restrict this right (to freedom of expression) under certain circumstances, provided the restriction is necessary, lawful and proportionate.
A mandated authority has the right (and duty) to restrict your freedom of expression if, for example, you express views that encourage racial or religious hatred.
Article 10 of the European Court of Human Rights states inter alia the following about Freedom of Expression: “The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”
It is a privilege to have rights of this nature that are constitutionally and/or legally protected. Compare this right to many authoritarian regimes where such rights do not exist and where the expression of opinions that deviate from what citizens are expected to believe, say and do, are ruthlessly suppressed.
Freedom of Expression
Regrettably, in some democracies, where liberal rights to freedom of expression exist, there is a growing number of instances of people exercising their rights inappropriately. Interactions seem to become increasingly polarised, not only in respect of moral and ethical issues, social justice and politics, but even with regard to normal daily issues of life. In many instances, restraint and decorum are abandoned and rights to freedom of expression are abused by using various platforms including speeches, interviews and various other media, especially social media, to maliciously bully, insult, humiliate, ridicule, defame, degrade, threaten and harm others in cruel, insensitive and inhumane ways that in many instances can be classified as a crime.
Sadly, there appears to be a growing trend where many people are dealing with others in ways that display a gross absence of respect and a lack of honouring the dignity of others. This happens not only amongst ordinary people, but also in business, sports and politics (to mention just a few), where people are openly referred to in humiliating and derogatory terms of the worst kind – the substance and merit of someone’s views on a given issue is underplayed and the individual is unfairly attacked and insulted as a person.
There is also a growing tendency to deliberately disseminate untruths, fake news and conspiracy theories about someone or something under the guise of freedom of expression which is unacceptable. (Read: “Conspiracy Theories and Fake News”).
Another noticeable trend is where an individual or an organisation aggressively promotes a particular viewpoint or cause (which they virtually regard as a virtue, even though it isn’t) in terms of their right to freedom of expression. However, if anyone dares to disagree with them, they would “label” the “offender” and do their utmost to besmirch the so-called offender’s name. Many of us are even aware of instances where people with an informed opinion on something based on objectively verifiable evidence, have received death threats, because their viewpoint contradicts the opinions of the person who issued the threat.
The reasons for these tendencies are complex. However, whatever the reasons might be to prompt someone to lower themselves to this level, I find it utterly unnecessary and unacceptable. Such behaviour does not belong in the modern era. We have advanced exponentially in terms of technology, but seem to have regressed to primeval/prehistoric times when it comes to the treatment of our fellow-men.
One of the possible factors that plays a role here could be the growing pre-occupation with “ME” and the erroneous impression that “the world revolves around ME”, because “I am so special”. Of course everyone is special in their own unique way, but don’t think that you are more special than the next person.
In my opinion, one of the core causes of this concerning state of affairs, is the fact that people in many societies no longer have a common/shared set of fundamental values, principles, norms and standards about morality and behaviour. In his Book “The Abolition of Man”, C.S. Lewis points out that certain traditional (universal) values (contained in what C.S. Lewis refers to as the “Tao”), have applied in various civilizations over the ages. Lewis rightly maintains that there are specific principles, standards of morality, values and a clear distinction between what is “good and bad” and “right and wrong”, that have universally existed across most religions, faith movements and societies. (Read: “Men Without Chests”.)
It appears that in various parts of the world, the extreme emphasis on individual liberties and rights is out of balance with the “common good” and the needs of society as a whole.
I believe that a growing number of people either don’t know about the time-tested values, principles, norms and standards of traditional humanity, or perhaps they do know about such values and principles, but don’t agree with it.
Whatever the causes might be, I strongly believe that it is not necessary for us to accept the status quo. I believe that individuals and entities at all levels throughout society should be doing substantially more to inculcate sound values and principles across the board. This will help to ensure that people do not end up with world-class knowledge and skills about subject matter, but lacking the knowledge and skills to successfully manage their personal lives.
No wonder that so many brilliant academics, business people, sports stars, movie stars, etc who excel in their area of expertise, are stunted in their personal and spiritual lives, resulting in them often struggling to make the right ethical choices and applying appropriate wisdom in certain areas of their lives such as relationships, integrity, honesty, humility, self-control, finances, addictions,honouring commitments, taking personal responsibility, respect, honour and dignity, kindness, emotional intelligence (EQ), mental health, etc.
I agree with Theodore Roosevelt who said: “To educate a person in the mind but not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”
All of us have a role to play to actively guard the essence and true meaning and purpose of the right to freedom of expression within the required boundaries/limits as well as the responsibilities associated with it.
I do realise that the ideal that is proposed here will be extremely difficult to achieve in a large society that is becoming increasingly diverse and heterogeneous, however the option of sitting back and doing nothing would be a dereliction of duty.
It is suggested that you read the article on the Website entitled “Men Without Chests” which deals with the importance of educating people about time-tested values and principles.
You are also encouraged to read the article entitled “Respect, Honour and Dignity” which deals with the concern about the widespread disrespect and lack of dignity that exists in society and how to deal with it.
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