During the evil, bleak and racist 1800s, Frederick Douglass called free speech "the great moral renovator of society and government." I don't think I ever realized the great value and power of free speech until I recently re-read that quote. I think about the many horrors and terrifying experiences he lived through and I'm completely paralyzed with my thoughts and reasoning. I have no choice but to choose his words as my entire landscape for the rest of my life. Here's why I think you should too:
What does that even mean today? I think it starts with belief, but that is also where it ends.
For instance, we could all share the idea of belief, but most likely we won't share the same belief system. In fact, it could be argued that no two people share a common belief system because technically (if, for example, we were all hypothetically Christian believers) we believe we were all created in the image of God. Therefore, we are all individually unique. Our fingerprints also scientifically prove this. No two people are alike: this is a genetic fact.
Here lies the problem with trying to figure out what moral renovation means in the 21st century. "Black and white" morality was clear as day in Douglass' time. Today, not so much. For every "believer", morality is both objective and subjective, and it's ultimate power depends entirely on your personal point of view.
Here comes another problem, one I casually identified a few Sundays ago after adult Sunday School: it is a very slippery slope between making excuses and creating justifications. Although one is slightly prettier, they are cousins and are both tools for the incompetent. When I say "incompetent", I don't necessarily mean it in a bad way, I more so mean it as a way to describe someone who is ignorant especially in their own self-awareness. I'm basically describing myself, and anyone else who can identify, more power to you.
We create justifications about our values and our own morality to the point where we are unaware that they are simply cleverly disguised excuses.
Fancy and dressed up, covered by the impeccable power of shallow rationale. This is the greatest place where our freedom is challenged, and when I say "freedom", I am referring to free will, given to us all equally.
We are most challenged in terms of what we choose to decide for ourselves in life's grand game of "Whose Morality is it Anyway?"
We are all essentially playing the same improv game, except with real life consequences that vary from individual to individual.
In today's society, this also comes with the fact that your ideas and decisions will be admitted on your permanent record, left by a digital trail keeping track of "scores" and following you to infinity and beyond via updated software technology.
I see now that free speech is not only a tool, it is the only tool.
The only tool we have left to fight for our own sense of morality. This is a private weapon and one that will never be justified by anyone other than ourselves. This is why it is so important that it remains free and open, even if the speech is language that is damningly hateful or evil.
Let the markets decide what is authentically valuable in the ways of the two critical currencies left in our time: money and truth.
You will begin to see that one is far more dependent on the other. Then you might also begin to open your mind's eye to see that free speech operates so that we may correctly and accurately decipher truth for ourselves.
I have noticed lately, that those who may feel as though "truth" may jeopardize their money might have a higher stake in this free speech game; they find themselves more inclined to fight the plight of "moral renovation", words first spoken by arguably the most oppressed man of the 19th Century. But we should always lend our ears to Frederick Douglass' incredibly important and timely statement.
Sadly, to some, distributing freedom of speech to everyone, fairly and equally, is actually the greatest threat towards a morally renovated society.
Four time All-American, WNBA Champion, Edutainer and Coach