While I have often heard people waxing lyrical about their ‘right to freedom of speech’ it is rare to hear a conversation about the responsibilities that go with that and that’s what I want to talk about today.

An article in the Australian has struck a chord as on the surface it looks like an early attempt by the government to squash our (the public)  right to self-expression and in particular our ability to join and protest about issues that sit uncomfortably with us.  Examples given in the article are logging and live exports but they could stretch to those that we see in cosmetics I guess – ingredient choices, supply chain issues, animal testing etc.


As usual I can see (and feel for) both sides of the argument and as usual I am trying to work out where the sweet spot of balance is. Damn my Libran brain 🙂

Freedom is a wonderful thing but I feel that most of us understand that it does have its limits.  Take for example by love of music. I am one of those people who likes to FEEL the vibe as well as hear it (which might explain why I’m a little deaf) and as such I often get told to ‘turn it down’ by my kids, husband and dog (well I assume that’s what she is trying to say).   When they are not with me, if I was to take the freedom of self-expression mindset to the extreme  I would be able to have my music on as loud as my speakers allow but I don’t.  My behaviour is modified by my environment – will that annoy the neighbours?  What time of day is it?  Is that actually GOOD for the sound system or will I vibrate it loose?   In short I take some responsibility for how my rights play out.  I am aware that other people have rights too. I am not ‘special’.

It is no different with any scenario big or small.  

Our right to self-expression comes with a responsibility.

Which begs the question ‘where does it stop being our responsibility and start being a problem that we don’t have to deal with?’

In an ideal world we would all have enough time, resources, intellect and support to weigh up the rights vs responsibility equation effectively.  We would never act before we thought, always be in a sound state of mind,  understand both the value and shortfalls of everything we read and would be comfortable enough with our own vulnerability to know the difference between what we want to be true and what is actually so.   We would also have a sound appreciation for the results of our action and what might happen IF we were to get our way.

But that state of mind is surprisingly hard to attain, especially when the world media (which includes the social variety) prefers BIG emotions (hate, anger, outrage, passion, betrayal,  scandal etc) over a more sedate reality  – rational, balanced,  slow, logical, understandable, complex, intellectual.

Also we have become accustomed to instant gratification as a substitute for real action.  A state that is validated every time we click ‘like’ or ‘share’ something ‘important’ that makes us feel like we have done our bit and been ‘active’ for our cause.  Yes we have but there is a danger that in the simplicity we missed something……

We have become accustomed to quick-fix resolutions and are less interested in a slow changing evolution…

I believe that’s where the legal system comes in, as a sort of mediator.

Well, of course that is assuming that the legal system is fair, reasonable and abides by rules that can be known to all and sundry – ie: The law makers don’t just make up rules as they go and I do believe that Australia is and will remain that kind of country (on the whole).

So back to this proposed law which is possibly logical given the changes in the way that we (the masses) receive and share information. Please keep in mind that at this point (with me not knowing what any law will look like) I am turning the IDEA over in my head rather than dealing with the reality of a done deal.  

The world has changed dramatically over the past 5-15 years. We all know this but do we consider the gravity of this when we speak in public, in our one-direction onesies?  Facebook launched in 2004 making it easier than ever to share opinions, group like-minded people together and mobilise ‘troupes’ for action.

But of course it is not just Facebook.

We have twitter, blogs, messaging, google plus, linked in and a whole host of other social networking sites that connect us to news, views and issues as soon as they are expressed, planned or happen.   BTW the irony of blogging about this issue is not lost on me……..  Thinking about my own experiences I have been made aware of problems and situations happening in the world through social media that I might never had heard of otherwise. Does this make me a better or more powerful or smart person?  I don’t know – maybe sometimes but not others.  What I do know is that it adds to my ‘information in’ tray and makes life seem oh-so-complicated and time-consuming – Do I really have to wade through ALL OF THIS….

In my job as a cosmetic chemist I feel the brunt of this.  Some days it is like sitting on the shore as the waves smash in, knocking me backwards time and time again and giving me a good going over while they are at it.  However, once the wave passes I survey the situation, find another spot to sit in and try to get on with what I was doing.  It is exhausting and yes each onslaught does change me but usually not in the way that the wave of mis-information would like.  I generally end up feeling stronger and more secure after using the experience as a learning curve, a chance to re-evaluate what I know and don’t know. How I can prevent it from happening again.

So what next?

The ‘big idea’ of reviewing the boundary between our rights (to free speech) and our responsibilities (as citizens) makes sense to me given that the tools we have at our disposal now are bigger and heavier than ever – the equivalent of a change between cutting a forest using a hand saw, man power and ropes to razing  it with a nuclear bomb.

My blog goes out to hundreds of people a day. Facebook ensures that another 5000 plus can see what I think, Twitter a couple of thousand, Linked-in several hundred.

15 years ago I wouldn’t have had more than 10 people a day know what I thought about something even if I stuck a post-it note to my forehead, stood on the office lunch table and shouted as loud as I could.

I could have had a bigger audience if I was lucky enough (or talented enough) to get a writing job at a newspaper, TV station or in a documentary makers team.

Now I don’t even have to get out of my bed.

I don’t even have to be good at my craft (writing).

I don’t even have to have done any research!!!!!

Because of all that I believe that looking at the law with fresh 2013 eyes is a good idea in principle.  Whether it works out to be good in practice is, I guess another matter entirely.

Whatever happens I’m sure that I’ll be able to read all about it on the googlesphere…..

Amanda x