Freedom Of Speech
What we’re paying attention to is the real issue
We’ve all heard the phrase, "In the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes." Along with radio, television and the growing affordability (and accessibility) to Internet technology, combined with our instinctive appetite for the urgent and dramatic, there are now billions who have the opportunity to seek the attention of billions of others. But for most of us, it’s more about the attention we’re giving others (e.g., what they said, what they did, etc.), rather than seeking from others.
Unfortunately, many times it’s the whiny, rude, selfish, defiant and violent to whom we give our most attention. Does any one really care, for example, about what a Fresno State English professor said recently following Barbara Bush’s passing, when she called Mrs. Bush an “amazing racist” who “raised a war criminal” and that she was “happy the witch is dead”?
Does it really matter that millions pay attention when Jim Carrey tweets about White House Press Secretary Sara Sanders that her “only purpose in life is to lie for the wicked”? Or when Rosie O’Donnell says that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is going “straight to hell”?
Or how about when Jimmy Kimmel makes fun of Melania Trump’s accent when she speaks? Or when Joe Biden says, “Republicans don't want black folks voting”? Or when Joy Behar says on national television that hearing from Jesus is actually called “mental illness”?
Yes, in fact, this does matter. A lot. And it’s because freedom of speech, or free speech, is the single biggest influence on our society, and it is guaranteed to each one of us, regardless of our gender, sex, religion, race, nationality or any other identifying factor – regardless of how ridiculous, illogical, hypocritical, vile or plain stupid-sounding your speech may be (there are exceptions, of course – present company excepted).
Well, at least that’s the current popular opinion in our society. That may be changing, though. A study just last year says only 59 percent of Americans believe that you or I should be allowed to express unpopular opinions in public, even those that are deeply offensive to other people.”
But for anyone wondering why socalled offensive speech should be free, the first question you should ask yourself is who gets to decide what’s offensive? You see, free speech enables the truth to emerge from diverse opinions, even if those offering those opinions are insatiably seeking their own “15 minutes” of fame, whether on social media or on national television. And having the government decide the “truth” of any matter is censorship, plain and simple. And as George Washington once said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” Who’s got time for that?
The real issue isn’t as much what others say, but what we’re paying attention to instead.
Consider the disruptive behavior of school children who repeatedly leave their seats without good reason. Typically, the teacher interrupts the lesson to reprimand them. But researchers found reprimanding often increases the frequency of wandering, and that when the teacher ignored children who wandered and “paid attention to those who worked hard, the frequency of the problem behavior usually fell sharply.”
In other words, threats and criticism seemingly reward bad behavior, but when children got attention by behaving well, they did.
But as adults, we can’t help ourselves. We are far more likely be attracted to annoying behaviors than the desirable ones, especially if you’re a “problem solver-type.” In fact, adults typically ignore 90 percent or more of the good things children do, but then pay lots of attention when children are behaving badly.
Perhaps the most recent generation of parents can’t help it, though, because they have been raised in a culture that only paid attention to them as young children when they were complaining, and then were made to feel better by blaming someone else, becoming a victim and giving them a trophy for just participating.
This is more than just anecdotal evidence to make a point. You see, our misplaced adult attention may be creating the next generation of whiny, rude, selfish, defiant and violent personalities because this is what we have taught them we pay attention to. It’s like the old saying, “Tell me to what you pay attention, and I will tell you who you are.”
The bigger question going forward is this: “Is what you pay attention to consistent with who you want to be?”
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman, attorney and author of “Bright Spots, Big Country, What Makes America Great.” He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at louisavallone@mac. com, and on American Ground Radio at 101.7FM and 710 AM, weeknights from 6 - 7 p.m., and streaming live on keelnews.com.