Not crossing the thin line, or the art of debating on Hubpages
The imminent departure from Hubpages of our fellow writer Sophia Angelique prompted me to reflect on the way we debate and interact here on Hubpages. Sophia was apparently banned for two days for telling another Hubber that she or he couldn't write, which seems to have been ruled by Hubpages staff as a personal attack. Now, I am no one to judge, but I know one thing for sure, Sophia Angelique can write. She wasn't banned permanently though, just for two days, but she made the voluntary decision to leave Hubpages for good. A decision which, as much as I personally regret, I fully understand. I am sure there are similar examples. I just happened to mention Sophia Angelique because I was lucky enough to read some of her hubs and recognize her as the talented writer she is, and in my very humble opinion, it si not such a good day whenever a competent writer leaves Hubpages.
This latest incident, however, made me think, and the first question that came to mind was : "Whatever happened to the freedom of speech people are so fond of in this country?" Because, what was sanctioned here was nothing more than an individual expressing a personal opinion. If you want to be a writer at any level, the first thing you have to brace yourself for is criticism. Whether you are a cook, repaving a road, playing professional football or writing a 900 pages book, there will always be someone who on occasion will tell you what you did wrong, how you should have done it in the first place, and not always in the nicest possible way! And so it goes for the writers we are. I mean, take any newspaper and look at the book review section. Critics, who may never have published anything themselves, will tear apart seasoned writers who have been around for decades and published numerous works. Of course it hurts! But because we write things down on paper in a way that is appealing to ourselves doesn't mean it will meet everybody's approval. Hence the critic! Because as much as one has the right to write anything one wants, other people have an equal right to like or dislike it and voice their opinion. The alternative is censorship, and I don't think anybody really wants that!
The Supreme court and freedom of speech
In the case Schenck v. United States in 1919, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. ruled in favor of restricting freedom of speech : "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent." However, in 1969, the First Amendment holding in Schenck was overturned by Brandenburg v. Ohio which limited the scope of banned speech to that which would be directed to and likely to incite imminent lawless action. The test in Brandenburg is the current High Court jurisprudence on the ability of government to proscribe speech after that fact. (source : Wikipedia)
Then, as an answer to my own quest "Whatever happened to freedom of speech?" I came to realize that the minute you sign up on any internet site and agree to their terms of service, which most of us don't even read, you relinquish your freedom of speech to whatever the website policy is. Which makes me think that these terms of service could posssibly be technically unconstitutional, but that would be another debate.
A few weeks ago, I took the liberty to express my opinion on a thread about abortion, always a touchy subject if there is one. I stated my opinion in a non agressive way, as I usually do, a point of view which happens to be shared by other people. However, a woman Hubber, in response to my post, said to me : "What a stupid thing to say!" Needless to say, that infuriated me and my first reaction was to report her, something I would certainly not enjoy doing. But I try not to react immediately when I'm angry. So, I gave myself 24 hours to cool down and make an educated decision. In the meantime, I looked up the profile of my "attacker", to realize that she is a good writer, having published a number of hubs on a variety of interesting topics. And then I saw it :a major, and I mean major grammatical error in one of the titles of her hubs. The fact that I was able to detect it when English is not my first language was enough vindication for me, and I let go of the whole incident. My point is no matter how good or how right we think we are, we are still flawed and one should keep that in mind at all times. And one's opinion is just that, not an universal rule of law (unless you're a Supreme Court Justice, of course!)
I have been on Hubpages only for a few months. At the beginning, I was willing to jump in pretty much any kind of debate, especially those on topics that sometimes "pushed my buttons". I guess with time I have acquired some badly needed wisdom, as I have come to the conclusion that debating, like any other human activity, is not for everybody. It takes a special open mind to tolerate that others might think differently (and accept it!). It takes humility to recognise that whatever our opinion might be on anything, we may ultimately be wrong. It takes vision to accept that some subjects will not be resolved in our lifetime, if ever (hunger, poverty, religion, abortion, etc...) So, I restrained myself, and it wasn't easy. As much as the world and its people interest me, I have become more selective with what I wish to debate about and who I want to do it with. There are enough people on a mission here on Hubpages and I am not and will not be one of them. But in the end, and concentrating on the positivity, this is a great community of all kinds of writers whose creativity and talent never cease to amaze me.
Ultimately, the same way not everybody is capable of driving a race car at 200 MPH, fly a supersonic jet or write a best-seller book, not everyone is able to enter a debate efficiently, honestly and constructively. But one can learn to do so. I'd like to think I have. And if one has so little respect for others as not to tolerate a different opinion, that makes them a narrow minded person and it's only a matter of time before the thin line is crossed!
Copyright 2012 by Austinhealey, his heirs and assigns.
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