Freedom of expression: A fine line of ‘rights’
by RICK NORTON, Associate Editor
Jul 21, 2013 | 1066 views | 0 0 comments | 44 44 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rick Norton
Rick Norton
“A wise man is superior to any insults which can be put upon him, and the best reply to unseemly behavior is patience and moderation.”

— Jean Baptiste Poquelin

(Stage name: Moliere)

French playwright and actor



Just when a newspaper editor is stumped for an idea for his next weekly column, somebody goes and does something or says something or writes something that stirs his tired mind — but not always in a refreshing way.

Mythical hero Forrest Gump — a silver screen legend who depicted the epitome of perseverance, unconditional love and hope — had an apt description for these types of people. He called it, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Admittedly, I’ve borrowed the phrase myself a few times since viewing this 1994 American epic. Many of you out there in readerland probably have as well.

I’m sure I’ll use it again. So will you.

It’s not a glowing attribute and it truly is an unhappy commentary on how some people express themselves. It accents the negative in human nature, and frankly, negativity is a transgression I’ve tried to avoid for years. That’s why I pondered long and hard about whether to even write this. But, for the better or worse, I did.

Here’s my story, sad but true.

The other day our newspaper received a bluntly worded email in our general news account. It wasn’t sent to a particular editor, writer or employee. It just came to the paper.

As is the case with most such letters or messages from the community, the email was forwarded to me by the editor who monitors the news account.

Because of the profanity, I can’t quote from much of it. So let’s just say, for the record, the writer was miffed at an action our publication had taken. It was a decision I had made, one that involved no one else. The email sender obviously reads our newspaper because he knew enough to know that we had not reported on a particular incident; at least, not yet. This could change depending on the future actions of others.

It is not a news event we have ignored; in fact, just the opposite. We have played close attention. We simply haven’t dedicated any news space to it ... so far ... because we — or maybe I should say “I” — are not convinced of its legitimacy. That’s because, in my opinion, one of the key players lacks credibility due to his own negativity.

But one of his buddies disagrees. So he expressed himself in last week’s message.

One sentence from his email read, “Friends like you we need no enemies.” Another offered, “The day you close will be the best day for Cleveland.” The messenger ended his opinion piece with “ ... worthless rag.” These are just the lines I can print.

It included a four-letter expletive, one that left no doubt about his disappointment.

In just four sentences, he attacked local government leaders, a perceived lack of citizens’ rights and what he believes to be abuses of the First Amendment as granted in the United States Constitution; that is, freedom of religion, of speech, of peaceable assembly and of the press. For those who don’t have the date handy, the First Amendment was adopted Dec. 15, 1791. It is one of 10 amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights.

So that means it’s pretty heavy stuff, the meat and potatoes of Americana that newspapers and their media brethren take seriously, as well as millions of other U.S. citizens who have been endowed those same rights by the sacrifices of our veterans.

Although the outspoken fellow was unnecessarily raw in his wording, his sentiments are understandable. He feels abused, unprotected and perhaps unloved. And, he’s angry. Whether it started with the National Security Agency, Obamacare, drones or taxation, I cannot say. But the man is fuming. To quote from yet another Hollywood Classic — “Network” — the guy is, “... Mad as ____ and I’m not gonna take it any more!”

Point taken.

Now, to my point.

Anger is OK, when properly channeled. Often, it is justified. But when communicating it to others — especially to people you’ve never met — a spoonful of self-discipline and an ounce of tolerance will lead to greater credibility.

People who fly off the handle too quickly lose theirs in the eyes of strangers.

People who oppose anything and everything will gain very little attention in the grand scheme of life.

People who thrive on negativity will positively lose their listeners, as well as the respect, of others.

People who argue just for the sake of hearing their own voices are doomed to one day discover the sun truly does rise in the east and sets in the west in spite of any beliefs otherwise.

As for the fellow who emailed us the “how-to” lesson in vulgarity, this is not a blatant condemnation. He had the right. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights say so.

But was it the right thing to do? No. His words were too filled with hate and he wrote them without a full understanding of the facts.

The way people treat people says a lot about a society. This person’s email says ours has much to learn.