Freedom of speech is one key aspect of our democracy, as is our tradition of hearing each other out, and working together with goodwill.
In other words, civil debate.
Since the 17th century, meeting houses across New England provided forums for the earliest Americans to discuss public issues in earnest, informally, and regularly. It was a form of direct democracy whereby colonists were able to discuss policies, laws, and budgets for their towns, without needing to consult a centralized authority.
This tradition of direct democracy, once a cornerstone of the republic, has become less common in recent times, although the format of a town meeting does continue in some regions, albeit with differing degrees of limitations. Meanwhile, in this increasingly digital age, human interaction is becoming increasingly rare, and the outright censorship of certain views has led many Americans to feel that their fundamental freedoms of speech and belief truly are at stake.
How can we play a positive role in our families and communities, navigating the complex issues before us with the same civility and respect for our fellow Americans, as did our forbears? We need to return to our tradition of civil debate. At critical times, this is all the more necessary. We must remember that it is a virtue to have the courage to speak up with dignity, and perhaps equally virtuous to listen and empathize with others, especially when we don’t all agree.