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Integral to Humanity

January7

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With the sad and shocking news of the shootings in the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, I cannot help but feel distressed because something as precious as freedom of speech is once again being threatened. In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding Sony Pictures’ ‘The Interview’ and now with this unbearably tragic incident, I am beginning to question whether freedom of speech is being valued in the way that it should – and the way that it must. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are integral to humanity and to the progression of society.

We are all familiar with the excitement of a parent when their baby finally utters their first word – even if it’s as weird and unusual as ‘gleba’ (for all my fellow ‘Friends’ lovers, Ross’ face when he proclaims that Emma is “going to be a scientist!” is immortal in its hilariousness). This first word is so special because this moment marks the point when a unique individual, whose singular genetic make-up will never grace the earth again, develops the ability to make one’s self known to the world. Our ideas, our thoughts and our opinions shape the person we are as soon as they are birthed in our minds but they begin to shape the world when they are spoken. Although human beings are fairly sociable creatures, we are still relatively insular; there are some things that we do not share or rather, cannot share with others simply because words cannot express everything. They do not fathom that moment of insurmountable sorrow nor comprehend that ethereal moment of joy. They cannot evince that sound, that sight, that sense.

Free speech to me, however, goes beyond words that are spoken out of my mouth. Freedom of speech finds fulfilment in writing, in music, in art and in whatever form we choose to express ourselves. The world is a big place and in it is a plethora of views and opinions, some I find inspiring, others merely terrifying but without this diversity, the world would be awfully dull. I am not neglecting the fact that some beliefs are indeed dangerous and could end up causing harm if allowed to linger and to perpetuate. I personally do not agree with or care for many of the illustrations produced by Charlie Hebdo; I find it disheartening that people abuse the right to free speech by deliberately causing offence. But if we were only ever presented with one perspective on everything, our minds would never evolve, never dare to think outside the box: we would completely stifle our intellectual curiosity. The song of the world would indeed be increasingly pleasing to our ears if we got to alter its lyrics and the sentiments they represent to our liking but ultimately, it would be incomplete and surprisingly out of tune. If I see or hear something that I do not agree with, it cements what I do agree with. If I hear something that incites hate, it provokes my yearning to see love, if I see something that incites war, it fuels me in my fight for peace and when words of oppression are merely whispered, it urges me to shout all the louder for justice.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to develop a deep sense of gratitude for life in itself and for the underestimated beauty that each day holds. Valuing and cherishing my freedom of speech will be the first step towards achieving this goal. I will harness this power that has been afforded us and I will use it for the good.

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