Editorial: Free speech could benefit from a dose of real civility

Courtesy photo

Courtesy photo

This past week, a popular radio show host announced she will quit at the end of the year in the wake of an on-air conversation she had with a caller during which she used a word that many found offensive. The host apologized on her website, saying she was trying to make a philosophical point in using the term. And, she said on CNN's "Larry King Live" that she wanted to "regain her First Amendment rights and say what's on her mind."

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits "infringing on the freedom of speech." But, in our insistence in standing upon this right to say whatever comes to mind, is civility lost when we speak or act in a public venue? Do we think that just anything that rolls off our tongues is OK?

Most of us would probably say no that it's not all right to spew insults, verbal threats and name-calling. And, we see this behavior not only through our right to free speech but also acted out on the road, when someone crowds in front of us, lays on the horn, tailgates or waves obscene gestures.

How about at the grocery store when the person behind you at the checkout stand shoves you along before you have had a chance to finish paying for your groceries? How about the way our kids talk today? The language they use? How about the language that adults use, especially within earshot of children? How about blogs? Have bloggers really driven a point home when they call someone an idiot, a fool or a moron?

How about the rants on television and radio news channels? Do the debaters lose their punch when they scream and yell at each other, thereby distracting us from the points they are trying to make? Are civility, politeness and common courtesy becoming archaic?

British author Samuel Johnson of the 1700s said, "When once the forms of civility are violated, there remains little hope of return to kindness and decency."

Indiana Congressman Mike Pence said more recently, "We cannot do democracy without a heavy dose of civility."

Something to think about.