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We have to let them all speak

Imagine you’re taking a walk in a forest on a warm spring day. You pull up a nearby stump to sit a spell, and close your eyes to focus just on the sounds. Above in the trees, you hear the choral call of the season -- the sharp mating beckon of the male cardinal, the throaty song of a thrush in the brush, a fleeting whistle of a warbler as it passes through to its northern summer chick-raising grounds. So many songs you hear, you can’t identify them all.

Now think of those same woods, but someone has come before and muted all the birds whose songs they do not like. The crows? Too raucous. They’re gone. The bluejays? Too shrill. The nuthatches and song sparrows? Well, they’re just not worth hearing.

Apply our bird analogy now, if you will, to the clamor of human voices that grows in volume and rage each day in a nation that’s possibly as divided as it was 150-plus years ago when the North and South clashed in war over the very soul of the union. There are so many voices now trying to be heard, and with so many microphones for them (think social media, endless TV and radio outlets, etc.), it’s difficult to ignore any of them. Not that we should -- as with our feathered friends -- because every one of them has its place in the discussion.

Oh, but it’s hard to listen to some of them, like the voice of the teacher in southern Wisconsin last week who said on a social media post that he was glad to hear that conservative radio talk show pundit Rush Limbaugh has advanced lung cancer. This man went so far as to say he hoped Limbaugh would die a painful death, obviously because he disagrees with Limbaugh’s view of the world and his pulpit for professing it.

For his comments, this teacher was fired. Now were his statements vulgar and cruel, stupid and arrogant? Absolutely. But should they have cost him his job? No, nothing could be more dangerous in a land where freedom of speech is the law. Condemned for saying it he should be, but punished for expressing his views? Uh, uhn. That’s not what we’re all about. We let the birds sing, whether we like their tune or not.

Also, this past week, you may have read about the death of the Chinese doctor, the one who tried to alert the public of the dangers of the coronavirus outbreak. Reportedly, he and others who tried to warn the public were arrested by police, because in so spreading the word of the impending danger, they made the government look inept. In China, where freedom of speech is but a dream, the only birds that are allowed to sing are the ones that chirp the Communist melody.

As we said, it can be painful to allow all voices to be heard. Many people will say things to which we do not want to listen, things that are at best unkind and at worst, ignorant and harmful to minorities or races or those with alternative lifestyles. But where do we draw the line on what can be expressed, and who draws it? Let the government tell us what we can or can’t say, and well, we shouldn’t have to tell you to where that will lead.

At the very top of our free-speaking American society is a perfect example of the need to let everyone say what’s on their mind. Our President’s vitriolic, demeaning, childish words are often ones that are not just unbecoming of a man elected to represent us all, but extremely poor examples to our young generation of how one should treat others. Still, we have to let him speak, as we do every average one of us, because the alternative is censorship, control, and eventually fear of expression. We have to endure the mean words to ensure the kind ones can be spoken, we must allow everyone to say what we think, or risk a day when no one can. Let the birds sing, we say. Tune out the ones for whose songs you may not care; hum with the ones you like. All voices are always better than no voices. Members of the TRG editorial Board include Publisher Kris O’Leary, Editor Dean Lesar, and Carol O’Leary.