Tuesday, 15 October 2013

You only think you believe in freedom of speech.

Image source: airobserver.wordpress.com
Disclaimer: Views are my own, this particular article is an expression of thought and not a reflection of my own life or circumstances. Any links made to my own life by others are purely speculative.

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” 
― George Orwell

You would like to think you believe in freedom of speech. Do you, though? When it comes down to lessons in expression of thought and freedom to speak out, would you be willing to silence others?

You can't be afraid of thought or ideologies that are oppositional to your own. Discrimination, sexism and racism are all limitations of free speech and rightly so. You can hold whatever opinion you like in your own domain, but you cannot take those views from the private sphere and into the public sphere. You might not like someone's race, religion or belief, but then again I don't like your eyebrows and I won't throw that into a public forum for careless scrutiny. So, do you believe in freedom of speech? If someone offends you, your family or your friends, do you really want to take it on the chin when you're bombarded with things you don't want to hear? Everything within reason, and everything within logic. You also need to consider what it is you disagree with before you speak, is it the person themselves, or the way they conduct their business.

We live in a democratic society which allows us to have freedom of speech, and so it is a fundamental part of our human rights. In the United Kingdom, Article 10 of The Human Rights Act states that we each have the right to freedom of expression. This means we each have a right to freedom of thought and freedom to express it, freedom to hold opinions and receive and impart information. We can also campaign for better benefits in the workplace. Basically, we can advocate for free discussion.

We have to remember that speaking up can lead to consequences. If it occurs in the workplace it can result in workplace retaliation. In the UK, this is called harassment. However, in the United States, there are specific laws to prohibit workplace retaliation and prevent unfair treatment. This means that just because you said something that your employer didn't like, you cannot be punished for it. In the same way that you shouldn't necessarily be oversensitive to your employer's actions, they cannot punish you for themselves being oversensitive to negative comments. However, they then themselves must consider the comments they make about other employees. To call someone a dog is a personal insult, not a work related one.

The pressure put on workers these days and the growth in illegal activities has led to a popular form of free speech, whistleblowing. There is a form of protection put in place for such people who wish to speak out, so punishment, threats or intimidation are illegal if you decide to publicly do so. It is also illegal for you to be fired because of it. You can only blow the whistle if;

  •  Illegal activity has occurred, or is likely to.
  • A person has failed to comply with any legal obligations placed upon them.
  • There has been a miscarriage of justice.
  • The health and safety of others is put at risk.
  • The environment is being damaged.
  • There is evidence to suggest that any of the matters of the above are likely to be covered up.

Whistleblowers also need to report any suspicion of wrong doing to a prescribed and approved person or body. The list for whistleblowing in the UK can be found here at GOV.co.uk.

If you don't like the way they conduct business, you can hardly comment on it. For example, you can't undermine your employer in front of a client or make disparaging comments to customers, you cannot damage the bottom line of the business. However, when attention is drawn to matters that involve the employees themselves and warrant comment, then these can be made within a protected environment that only involves the workers. This is why unions exist, although not every industry has the privilege of a union and has to rely on the wildcards to negotiate with their employer.

Negotiation is your biggest friend if you decide to speak up about anything, no matter where it is. In a flurry of muddled voices, sharp opinions and hot tempers, no one can win and no one will get out unscathed. Lay down your weapons, withdraw your defenses, but speak now. Because maybe no one else will.

“I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.” 
― Oscar Wilde

They say are two types of evil people. Those who commit evil acts, and those who witness them. Those who choose to ignore it. When it comes to where you work and not where you live, the workplace is where freedom of speech goes to be silenced. So tiny work dogs, bark if you understand what I'm saying to you.