Freedom of Speech
Sometimes my life seems to have very separate compartments, and you can divide them up quite neatly. There is my life in the foreign service: as an employee of the State Department, and the wife of a diplomat. Then there is my home life: as a wife to my husband, and mother to my children. Then I suppose there is the side where I write and advocate. Most often I wrote about my children. Sometimes I write about autism and special needs. Other times life in the foreign service. But this is wrong, because I’m always writing about all of those things at the same time. If they are my experiences, they are a unique blend of my past and my present, personal history and present geography. In moments of clarity, I understand that the world isn’t black and white, but several shades of grey (not fifty though- get your minds out of the gutter)!
On R&R in England, foreign service life seemed far away. We visited Durham Cathedral on September 11th, and I showed the kids how we light a candle for those who can’t be with us. Our children are too young to understand much, but I told them that when things are dark, we have to light the way.
That same day, four of our colleagues were murdered in Libya. Over the next few days there were violent protests directed at other US embassies and consulates. It was a strange disconnect, being away from our foreign service community at that time, but seeing images, and reading friends’ status updates on Facebook as the action took place around them.
My brain wants things to be black and white. It makes things easier to understand if there are sides and good guys and bad guys. This is how Cubby likes things to be. He needs to know who is good and bad, who is right and wrong. But it is more complicated than that. It is wrong to make provocative movies, deliberately dubbed to offend religions and communities, to destroy the peaceful efforts and relationship-building that Ambassador Stevens and others lived for; then died for. And yet without freedom of speech, what do we have? Every time I post a blog, I exercise a right that many in this world don’t have, may never have.
So too, do those who are hurt or offended have a right to protest. It isn’t wrong to protest- it is a democratic right. Another kind of freedom of speech. But violence against innocents is wrong, even if done in protest against abuses. When protests came last week to our consulate, I thought more about the fear and potential threat- the dark- than the light of living in a society that permits and encourages the right to protest.
Freedom of speech is an interesting concept to me. Words come easily to me, and I’m safe to express them. What then, about my daughter, whose speech does not flow so freely? How do I protect her rights? One way, is respecting her expressions of protest. Pudding can refuse, or dissent, or stay quiet, or walk away. I’ve explained to her therapists before that her needs should always be respected, rather than corrected. At times she can articulate those needs quite clearly, when she is overloaded, she cannot.
I’m mindful that this right I have is actually a privilege. A power not extended to all. And so, if I abuse that power, intentionally or not, others have a right to protest. The grey area gets murkier, because words, particularly from those in power, can have unforeseen consequences. Every time I write about Pudding, her autism, and our lives, I’m mindful of the fact that I’m balancing my freedom of speech with hers. We’re all Ambassadors, all the time. When things get dark, we have to light the way.