What is Freedom of Speech When Granted to a Silent Society?

By Camila Ottoy

As humans, we are granted the greatest form of expression—to speak. 

Unfortunately, growing up, we are not taught to speak enough, and we see the consequences in our current society. 

Many teachers will tell their students not to participate if they are unsure of an answer, not to complain when faced with something they dislike, and even not to converse with their classmates throughout an entire class period overflowing with content to discuss. And the fact is, all of these behaviors pushed upon kids affect them more than we think. 

According to a study by MIT’s Cognitive Department, children need to be encouraged by grown-ups to frequently express themselves and engage in conversations, as it is critical to their language and brain development. This is important, not only because kids who grow up struggling with language development can have delayed speech issues, but also because they have a greater misunderstanding of emotions of themselves and others later on.

Data posted on the Washington Post suggests there has been an ongoing set of rules shown to kids in the past years, pressuring them into “keeping their ideas to themselves” and thus diminishing their ability to speak up overtime. 

And while social media platforms, like TikTok, show another side of the current youth where they seem to address issues that distress them, in reality, more than 80% of the same teenagers who speak up about certain topics on the internet tend to be less outspoken in person. 

And the issue here is not that teenagers use social media platforms as an outlet for self-expression, but rather that they can not communicate the same way outside of a screen.

At times, when bringing up a certain socio-political topic among my friends, I encounter a sudden shift to a tense or uninterested atmosphere. And though my intent is not to make the people around me uncomfortable, I can’t help but think that we are too scared — too scared to disagree, to be judged, to be stripped of our inner peace, and perhaps even too prideful or egotistical in other occasions to stop us from speaking up our minds.

Nevertheless, sometimes we also miss or get driven away from the point of speaking up, and this is what discourages others from speaking up at the same time. Evidently, to talk about a topic should not be intended to directly change others, but to extend the knowledge of those people with what you have to share. At the end of the day, it is best to allow other people to discern other information and draw their own conclusions over time. 

Likewise, going into a conversation with someone who does not necessarily agree with you while having this idea in mind will allow you to develop more openness of mind—a great asset in life for self-growth and negotiation. Simply put, knowing that the goal in an exchange of ideas is not trying to win or lose will result in creating a more relaxed environment between people, where all arguments can be easily listened to.

Now, of course, merely speaking to complain about an issue with a friend will probably not be the solution to that issue. Yet, it can be the start for a train of ideas to flourish and ultimately lead to developing more problem-solving skills and taking action upon these problems that we feel are important to us. 

And although there will never be a perfect world — as people who inhabit this earth, as people who see or experience constant inequality everyday, and as people who have the right to speak our minds — we must use our voices for the better cause of our society and to build a better tomorrow for the upcoming generations. 

We must remember that just as a word can unleash a war, it can also end it. 

So then I urge you to think, what is freedom of speech when granted to a silent society?