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Monday, June 1, 2020

It’s A Free Country

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What happened to agreeing to disagree?

You hardly hear folks say anymore, “It’s a free a country!”

Yet growing up, for most of us, saying, “It’s a free country” was the standard response someone would make about something they refused to tolerate, or if they did something that someone else didn’t like. It was often followed or preceded by “So sue me.”

But ever notice how seldom you hear it now? I’ve noticed.

Actually, I don’t remember the last time I actually heard someone say, “It’s a free country.”

Whether it’s conservative speakers getting bullied off college campuses or social media “fact-checking” the opinions of ordinary Americans, “It’s a free country” doesn’t seem to have the stopping power it once had.

Don’t like the message on my T-shirt or hat? Or maybe you don’t like my loud music when I pull up alongside you at the red light? Don’t like how I’m raising my children or what I’m teaching them? Or what candidate I support for president or to the local school board? Maybe you don’t like the kind of car I drive because you say I’m “destroying the planet.”

Or perhaps you think opening up our economy and going back to work before a vaccine is available means I am in favor of putting dollars before people’s lives? And that if I’m not as fearful of the coronavirus as you are, then that means I don’t believe in science?

That’s all fine. You do you. You’re entitled to your opinion.

But when was the last time someone reminded you, “It’s a free country”?

Now, that doesn’t mean that things should go unregulated or function willy-nilly, but once we start drawing subjective lines around free speech or free expression, where does it end? For too many in our country, though, they confuse the freedom of speech as being the same as the freedom from disagreement.

No, you see, in a free country, we’re going to disagree on a number of issues. And just because we disagree doesn’t mean one of us is a heartless, no-good, so-and-so – or that your First Amendment right has been infringed upon because there’s not some law that would otherwise infringe upon mine.

What happened to agreeing to disagree? And whether you call them debates or spirited discussions, or arguments, or differences of opinion, they happen all the time. It’s part of life. As Pastor Rick Warren said, “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

Consider the disagreements faced by Abraham Lincoln (who stood firm that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”) or by Martin Luther King Jr. (who sought a nation where his children would not be “judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”). Consider the countless speeches and debates that these men endured to convince so many that their vision for this country was worth pursuing.

Yet today, rather than persuading others with facts and figures, too many are simply shaming those with whom they disagree – and silencing them in the process. If you’ve ever struggled to find a voice or bit your tongue in polite conversation, afraid you would be called a racist or an elitist, a liberal or a conservative, a sexist or an antienvironmentalist, you know exactly how that feels.

So, why shaming? Because shaming works, and it’s easy to do, especially when you have no message or facts or analysis that might otherwise persuade someone to vote for your candidate, support your cause or change their behavior. Take what Joe Biden said recently: “If you have a problem figuring out if you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”

This is the textbook definition of shaming. He is expressing his disgust with the millions of black Americans exercising their God-given, constitutionally protected right to vote – but who may not be voting for him.

Even Biden knows we’re all “wired” to connect to, and to seek acceptance from others. So by separating out any black Americans not voting for him and labeling them unworthy (of being black), Biden is using this deeply ingrained need for connection to control (not persuade) the black vote in this country.

It’s the same when folks on social media are shaming businesses for opening up before there is a coronavirus vaccine available, or tattling on those who aren’t wearing masks in public, and rushing to tell the world all the details in the process.

You see, shaming is attractive to many because it makes you feel superior to others. You are letting others know you wish they were different when you say, “shame on you.” And you can do it all from behind a computer screen, without having to have a face-to-face conversation and without taking responsibility for what you’ve said.

This isn’t good for the country, but if you have no message, no vision, and shaming others is all you’ve got, then go for it.

After all, it’s still a free country.

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 318 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.

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