Updated: Jan 16, 2021
Now more than ever, we are in this together. I don't know about you, but I'm really tired of hearing those words in my daily routine. They are so overplayed and overused in our media and culture; it makes me want to scream when I hear them. Whether it is placed in a melodramatic commercial for a new car or in a news story about how the world is spinning off its axis. I only want to hear those words again in a John Mellencamp song.
But those words are very, very important. And people have the right to use them to convey how they feel, regardless of how I feel about hearing them.
The English language is comprised of words that help structure and describe situations between two or more parties. It provides a basis to articulate factual patterns of events and persons and things involved; these are referred to as nouns and verbs. It also contains a more fanciful attribution of words that describe and enhance the facts; adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions, to name a few.
When we read or hear messages, we accept the fact patterns, and we are entertained by the fanciful. We learn and are influenced by what we read and hear.
In all forms of media, opinions are conveyed by the fanciful words intermingled with the facts. Various sides of the same news story can seem unrelated. Consider a gripping story on an innocuous result of a coin toss. One media outlet can assert that the "fascist" coin landed on its "sinister" tail. At the same time, another can report that the "patriotic" coin landed on the opposite side of its "unselfish" head: same coin and same outcome. The descriptors paint an unnecessary and biased picture in the outcome of a simple toss of a coin.
The extraneous information does not change the facts but colors the landscape in a meaningful way, so much so that the bias inserted by the adjectives often overshadow the outcome of the coin toss. Exactly, what does a "perfect phone call" mean, and what is the efficacy of a "beautiful vaccine"? It all sounds stupid and misleading, like a carnival barker trying to get our attention on a midway. We all know it does.
A dear friend and business colleague once offered me an insight that "the best adjective is an accurate number." Instead of saying that something will be "huge," tell me that it is expected to grow by a compounded annual rate of 53.7%. His analytical mind understands numbers and the precision that they carry, but most people don't grasp those concepts, even though they generally are much more accurate descriptors.
Our freedom of speech principles in the United States echoes back to the same concepts introduced into society by the ancient Greeks dating back to the 5th century B.C. When the First Amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, it was put in place to protect everyone. Its inclusion in the Bill of Rights was not just to protect smart people's opinions in our country. It was not designed to protect the ideas of the political parties that hold power. It was not written into law to only protect the press and the media. It was not designed to give more leverage to conservatives or liberals.
It was put in place so that every one of us could use all of the factual and fanciful words that we know in the English language to describe what we think and how we feel. It was designed for us to communicate our hopes and fears without consequence or retribution. It was designed to create a "more perfect union."
It also presumed that the words, or expressions, could and would be interpreted by society in various and sometimes dangerous ways. What the Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court has held up, sometimes to a fault, is that the need for censorship to protect what people hear and see does not rise above the freedom of expression.
Let's face it; what we are starting to see with big tech companies like Twitter and Facebook is a pure and simple offense to free speech principles. We all know that censorship is wrong. These huge media outlets should not be judge and jury in First Amendment activities. They obviously feel a responsibility because their platforms are enablers of bad behaviors, and they don't want to participate in the accessory of the vile and malevolent. Nonetheless, we should have other effective and legal measures in place rather than censorship.
But let us remember that they exist as media platforms and have been protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which basically provides amnesty to such platforms that host user-generated or user-uploaded content. Put differently; these platforms are not being held liable for the views expressed by their users. In reality, these big technology and media companies express their political views inappropriately in an ultimate form of censorship. Their views are protected even when they are censoring others. It's shameful.
I am loath to defend the political positions of conservatives or liberals. I don't believe we have been working to unify our country, even though we know better and could do much better. We need to bring our fractured society back together by listening to the words and ideas to understand better those with which we may openly and peaceably disagree. We need to learn to compromise with our friends and family members who do not share the same adjectives. Please bring it back to the middle, from both sides. We are better from the middle.
We need to allow the clownish midway barkers to express their opinions, no matter how biased or flawed. But in doing so, we must also recognize that we need to learn how to identify implicit or explicit biases and filter them. We must not be led astray to act on misleading and false information provided by outlets that we know introduce these fracturing biases.
Take the day to identify and parse the factual words from the fanciful words in the messages you are exposed to, regardless of your political or broadcast affiliations. These words do matter—your words, their words, our words.
Truly, now more than ever. Ugh...