On freedom of speech

While talking with my Russian teacher today about the “Innocence of Muslims” video, I said that in the US we generally have a very expansive view of freedom of speech (in principle, if not always in practice). While few people think it’s a good thing to deliberately offend religious people, even so most of us support the right to say critical and even stupid things.

My teacher said that might be unwise, that she believed some sacred things perhaps should be off-limits. She offered two sayings in explanation:

Предугадать нам не дано, как наше слово отзовется. (It wasn’t given to us to predict how our word will resound.)

Слово–не воробей, вылетит–не поймаешь. (A word is not a sparrow, once it flies away you can’t catch it.)

Note the emphasis here–on the power of the word. Her critical stance toward free speech didn’t mean she thinks it unimportant, or that she believes censorship is great. Rather, knowing that speech is very powerful, but that its effects may be unpredictable and uncontrollable, she suggests that as a society, we should be more cautious and respectful. Just allowing anyone to say anything, all the time–that’s chaos, not freedom.

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