When I went to school, one of my classmates (let’s call him Danny) was short. Not abnormally short, just shorter than anyone else in class. One day I was being picked up by my mother. The other kids sat waiting for their parents, talking. For some inexplicable reason, probably just stupidity on my part, I shouted as we were walking past the youngsters, “And this is Danny, ma, look how short he is!”
The choice of words in a given situation is crucial for a message to come across. Just because you can say something does not necessarily mean you should. Freedom of speech is bound by limitations. My freedom to express what I believe must be guided and controlled by whether my words will harm or offend others.
The problem does not lie in my uttering the words of hate, disdain or scorn. It lies in my fostering the thoughts in my mind. The words are the result, the reflection of what’s happening inside.
But we are free to use language to encourage one another, build each other up. True freedom of speech is not about saying what you want—it is about saying what you should. It is also about knowing when to talk and when to keep silent.
When my mother and I left the school building that afternoon, she touched my shoulder and told me, “You know, some people do not like their height, and if you remind them of it, they may get offended. It wasn’t polite of you.” Her words stayed with me since shaping how I view people different from me.
I never got to apologise to Danny. To exercise my freedom to resist the norm, to burst it. But some day I will. Not because I should, but because I want to.