HAS YOUR PARTNER ever asked for an opinion that is difficult, if not dangerous to respond to honestly? Questions about how that new dress looks, or what you think about the moustache that was supposed to go at the end of Movember; those kinds of questions, the ones requiring a fair degree of tact.
They are, as experience has taught us, not the harmless, off-handed questions they might appear to be. Yet, if you want to cross that bridge of tactless responses, you can and do so knowing that our Charter of Rights has your back.
Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees your right to think anything you want, believe in anything that catches your fancy and express an opinion, even an opinion about that dress or that beard.
However, there is an implicit understanding that is not covered in the Charter. It is called consequences and many an argument about having the right to say anything you want, omits this crucial accountability piece to the equation.
Let’s suppose for a moment that you believe your boss and the entire management team couldn’t lead a walk around the block, let alone a company. You express your opinion at the monthly team meeting with something like: “You people, with your fancy MBA’s know nothing. It’s your kind that are giving this company a bad name!”
The likelihood of you making it to the next monthly team meeting is at best slim. Hopefully, though, with all this unexpected and newly acquired spare time, you’ll be able to get a better understanding of the relationship between your rights and your consequences.
Speaking one’s mind may be momentarily satisfying but the results may outlive that brief sense of satisfaction.
Don Cherry is a recent example of ignoring consequences. Yes, he had the right to say what he did but sometimes it is best to engage one’s brain before one’s mouth. He didn’t and like those before him, he paid the price.
In the abstract, one can debate the age-old question: is it okay to (falsely) yell FIRE in a crowded theatre? However, I think the real-world, personal interactions we face every day are a more honest opportunity to discuss what freedom of expression is really about.
When do hurtful words and the right to say them supersede decency, tact and common sense? Why is there a need to replace diplomacy and constructive dialogue with hate disguised as a freedom?
When we exercise our freedom of expression, we are not granted immunity from the consequences of those words or our actions. And holding the Charter out as one’s license to say those words is not justification. It does not make bad words righteous or a shallow and callous phrase virtuous. Held up to the light of day, they are still nothing more than a lame and implausible attempt to justify the inexcusable.
The ideals behind freedom of expression and the wars that have been fought to maintain that right, were sacrifices made for a higher ideal than gutter talk.
Bill McQuarrie is a former magazine publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org