Before delving into the topic of mental health and freedom of speech, please be aware that regular readers of this blog know that those with healthy mental health hold basic beliefs that are closely aligned with inbornintentions*. Equally important, readers also know that most thoughts, feelings and behaviors reflect one’s mental health, good or poor.
Keep in mind: healthy mental health is far more than simply the absence of mental illness; no one has perfect mental health and anyone can improve their mental health.
Problematic Freedom of Speech: Two Examples
In late November 2014, Sony Pictures was preparing to release “The Interview”, a film that involved the planned assassination of North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. Before the actual release, Sony was subjected to a massive hacking attack with the subsequent publication of confidential information of employees and business associates. The cyber-attack was personally devastating for Sony employees whose right to privacy was compromised. Sony’s business operations were seriously impaired. The governments of both the United States and North Korea became embroiled.
Another example: The French newspaper Charlie Hebdo was attacked by terrorists on January 7, 2015 after publishing cartoons offensive to followers of Muhammad. Twelve people were killed and others wounded.
What Are the Mental Health Issues?
Both Sony and Charlie Hebdo were exercising their legal freedom of speech rights and the intentionally destructive responses were clearly illegal. So what’s the mental health concern?
These events involve a conflict of values. One party values the exercise of freedom of speech and the other values the expectation of respect for their beliefs. Which of these legitimate values should take precedence? Or should both values be respected? Is it mentally healthy to condone freedom of speech? Is it mentally healthy to ignore or disrespect the beliefs of others?
Understanding Mental Health Issues
Let’s sort this out using the concept of optimum mental health. The mentally healthy mind holds basic beliefs that result in behaviors that respect all four inbornintentions, especially human dignity*.
Taking the life of 12 newspaper employees was the ultimate insult to their human dignity and as such was an example of extremely poor mental health. Hacking into Sony computers and publishing confidential information (an ironic instance of freedom of speech, by the way!) insulted the human dignity of those exposed by embarrassing them and holding them up to ridicule, compromised their freedom of choice* to maintain the privacy of their own information and impaired Sony’s corporate sense of accomplishment* by interrupting their business operations. All evidences of poor mental health on the part of the terrorists and hackers.
On the other hand, making a movie or publishing cartoons that insult, threaten, demeans, ridicules or belittles the human dignity of a political or religious leader revered by millions also reflects poor mental health. Insulting the human dignity of any individual would be an example of poor mental health; the consequences do not need to reverberate worldwide.
Although freedom of speech is legal, it is not always mentally healthy to exercise that right, nor does having the power to exact revenge make it mentally healthy to do so.
Let’s Get Personal
At a personal level, we all have the right to freedom of speech and are free to do so within our sphere of influence. The suggestion here is to speak only in ways that are mentally healthy. Unhealthy speech would be any that insults, belittles, compromises or holds up to ridicule the human dignity, freedom of choice, sense of accomplishment or love in others.
Consider your response to the speech of others. First, think about why you find certain speech agreeable. If you agree with or support speech that is hateful, derogatory, demeaning, racist, homophobic or is otherwise contrary to an inbornintention, perhaps it’s time to look at your own mental health.
When you find your blood pressure rising in response to the speech of others, act assertively but not aggressively. Speak out. Write a letter to the editor. Call your elected representative. Speak privately with the offender. Express yourself. It is not mentally healthy to ignore grievous offenses.
Oppressive legal restrictions to freedom of speech would be contrary to democratic principles. However, the exercise of that right can best be done in an atmosphere of respect.
Questions, comments, concerns? Express your freedom of speech below!
Definition and References
*Inbornintentions: four intrinsic and innate behavioral goals toward which all individuals would gravitate were it not for their contrary basic beliefs. The behavioral goals are human dignity, freedom of choice, sense of accomplishment and love.
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