What's happening to "freedom of speech"?

“Is “being offended” a choice?’

The subject line of this post is one I’ve pondered for some time. 

Since leaving the corporate world 7 years ago this month one of the main differences I have noticed, and to some extent enjoyed, is that I can have an opinion publicly on things now that will not, by inference, be applied to the brand of the corporate I might be working for.  As an independent contractor my view is my view. It does not by association become that of my “employer”. 

As someone who now regularly presents to different groups of people I do find it intriguing that an apparently increasing number of people find ways to be offended by things said in a public forum. To my knowledge I haven’t wildly offended anyone. My encouragement to audiences is that if I do say anything that offends you then please let me know and we can sort it out. I don’t set out to deliberately offend! 

We’ve all seen examples in the media where a “public figure” makes a statement only to be vilified by hoards of people who were “offended by that”.  Really? Surely for me to deliberately offend you I would need to be aware of your values base, your belief system and/or your personal view of a situation or an issue. If I did know all those things then I could “choose” to set out to offend you. Personally, it is not something I would do.

I became aware recently, listening to Lindsay Perigo on the topic of Freedom of Speech, that in NZ there is actually the potential to go to jail for 3 months if you hurt someone's feelings! In a landmark case however, the High Court found against a complaint over a cartoon.  The court did, in its decision, remind us to be conscious of the impact of our comments on other people's feelings. 

Someone in, or on, a public forum, cannot possibly be aware of all the nuances of everyone’s personal situation.  For people in a mass audience to therefore take umbrage to what is said must simply be them choosing to be offended is it not?  The deliverer of the message, or the point of view,  has simply put it out there. As the receivers of it we choose to take it on board or let it go. But to be “offended” by it feels to me like a bridge too far. 

Interestingly, Lindsay quoted Article 14 of the Bill of Rights :  "everyone has the right to freedom of expression including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form".  Isn't that all we need? 

You might have a different opinion to me. That’s ok.

Different is different - not necessarily offensive.