Freedom of Expression Isn’t Absolute But Some Is Essential

I’ve always been amazed by the number of people who think they’re totally free to do and say whatever they want, without repercussion. Permit me to be blunt on this point, Vera: don’t be an idiot when it comes to your understanding of freedom.

There are constraints on the freedom that all of us enjoy. Sometimes, those constraints are rooted in laws or regulations. Often, they’re rooted in social norms.

This issue came to the fore again as some of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville last weekend are finding out they’re now unemployed. Their employers don’t want such people on the payroll.

It’s possible, although I have no way of knowing, that some of the counter-protestors have lost their jobs, too.

This comes on the heels of an employee of Google being fired for expressing views that were out of step with the company’s policies and values.

Public protests aren’t the only thing that can get you canned, of course. Employers and clients can refuse to hire you, or decide to fire you, pretty much for any reason or no reason at all. They can’t do it for illegal reasons — for instance, because of your race, sex or age — but, of course, that happens all the time. Doing something unlawful and being held accountable for it are different things entirely. Many employers unlawfully discriminate with impunity on a regular basis.

Expressing yourself through your appearance can have repercussions, too. Visible tattoos are a show stopper for many employers. Hair, dress, drug use, language, names and hygiene are biggies as well.

Employers routinely check Facebook and other social media sites for postings or photos they might consider offensive or objectionable. Colleges check, too. I’m amazed by the stuff some people post and then by their surprise when doors fail to open.

I suppose it would be nice to be able to say or do anything you wanted to say or do without repercussion, but that’s a fantasy of course. For better or for worse, that’s not how the real world works.

Some people decide to stay well clear of saying or doing anything that could elicit an adverse reaction. Others don’t seem to care and pretty much say and do what they want. They usually pay the price. Others take a more nuanced approach, venturing as much individuality as they deem safe. Sometimes they miscalculate.

Sometimes fear keeps people in place. You see that with corporate CEOs today. Some of them go along with our president because they fear his wrath. His immediate and harsh reaction to the three CEOs who resigned from his Manufacturing Council the past couple of days is illustrative. If only he reacted to Nazis as quickly and harshly.

If you’ve read my earlier posts, Vera, you know that I place a lot of value on financial independence. One of the reasons is the freedom it brings. Simply put, you don’t have to be as concerned with what other people think, and you don’t have to worry about kissing up to some boss, client or committee. You can choose to work only with people you respect and trust.

Without financial freedom, most of us have to be ever mindful of who butters our bread. We have to be careful not to bite the hand that feeds us. Alright, enough with the clichés! You get the point.

I can’t decide what approach might be best for you. I wouldn’t even try. But I would caution you to be careful not to allow yourself to get into a position where someone effectively owns you — that is, in a position where your values must be subservient to those of some company, congregation, board, boss or trustee.

Whether you exercise it or not, there’s a certain sense of freedom in being able to walk out the door (as I did once, albeit not abruptly or rudely). There’s a certain freedom that comes from not having to work for assholes.

Indeed, there’s a certain freedom — and joy — in being able to do the right thing, consequences be damned.

In certain times and places, doing the right thing can get you killed. We’re lucky: that’s not likely here, although it can and does happen sometimes.

Usually, however, it’s not a matter of losing your life. Rather, it’s a matter of losing your self-respect and soul. Or feeling trapped.

It’s fantasy to think our freedom is or need be unconstrained. Absolutes are not what the world is about.

However, it’s just as fanciful to think we’re free if we have become subservient with respect to the most important things in life. We may delude ourselves and think we’re free. But we’re not.

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