Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Perils of Always Speaking Your Mind

Nowadays a segment of the American public seems so enamored with allegedly straight-talking politicians who simply blurt out whatever happens to be on their minds.  The sheer act of “saying what’s on your mind” is praiseworthy, regardless of the quality of the words that are thereby unleashed.  Whole swaths of the populace are sick-and-tired of well-modulated, thoughtfully- measured discourse—often labeling that as “politically correct language.”

There are still good reasons for not always “speaking your mind.” Most of us possess internal editors that shape what we say and veto our tendency to give voice to every stray thought that rattles around inside our heads.   For example:

    1.      Many of our thoughts reflect immediate visceral reactions—not seasoned, reasoned reflections.   The first thing that pops into our heads about something is rarely the last or best thought we’re going to have on that topic.  Lightning-quick reactions feel real at the time, but “counting to ten” gives us time to think more deeply. 

    2.      “Always speaking your mind” short-circuits the opportunity to check out what we’re thinking with other people.    We can become so monological—listening only to the echo chamber inside our own heads—that we miss out on the chance to discuss ideas with others whom we respect and whose opinions we value.  

    3.      Quite a few of our thoughts--if hastily spoken—will simply offend others and tear at the fabric of society.   Our internal editors serve the common good by preventing us from spewing forth words that are patently disrespectful, bigoted, or abusive.

    4.      Our minds are the playgrounds both for our better angels and our darker demons.   Much of what simply pops into my head represents that part of my personality that is captive to sin and cannot free itself.   (“Where did that come from?” I frequently ask myself.)  My internal editor, though not flawless, rescues me from regularly putting my sinful self on public display.

My goal is neither to protest freedom of speech nor plead for hyper-self-censorship.  It's not about refusing to rock the boat or risk disagreeing with others.  There is a time and a place for speaking up and speaking out.   And there is such a thing as contrived, confining, supercilious “politically correct speech” that simply obfuscates reality.

But too much of what is mislabeled “politically correct speech” nowadays is something else.  It is precisely the kind of speech we need more of:
    ·        Speech that is fact-based
    ·        Speech that reflects both heartfelt emotion and rigorous reasoning
    ·        Speech that arises out of deep conversation with others, including those with whom we disagree
    ·        Speech that serves the common good and builds up society 

  • Speech that illuminates, never attacks, those with whom we speak.

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