Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Conversation on the Bus

Warning: Strong opinions ahead!

I was on the bus this morning talking to “M,” with whom I frequently ride, and a friend of his. We were talking about this and that, and somehow the subject came around to door-to-door missionaries, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Scientologists.

We discussed Scientology and the fact that the group was founded by a man who wrote science fiction. Good science fiction, mind you, but still – science fiction. Someone mentioned that Scientology actually was started as a grand experiment, apparently never meant to become a religion. I asked the guys if they had ever visited the Scientology Web site and looked at the glossary. I told them that personally I find it all to be a bunch of bunk.

“M” then said that one day a woman and her daughter came to his door, and as he was feeling “chatty,” he engaged them in an hour-long discussion about the precepts of their particular religion. They brought up point after point, and “M” found the flaw in each one. They never once lost their tempers or got frustrated, and after an hour the mother said, “Well, you have a nice day,” and they took their leave. We laughed about an imagined comment that the daughter might have made to her mother as they left.

At this point, a young woman sitting nearby interrupted us and said, “Excuse me, but this is a public bus, and you might want to be careful about what you say. You never know who’s listening, and you might be offending someone.” To which I replied, “Well, the last time I looked this was a free country, and I have the right to express myself freely.” She persisted with her statement, adding that a relative of hers is a Jehovah’s Witness, and she’s a very nice person, and she really believes in her religion. To which we replied that we never said that Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t nice people. Again, we were vaguely threatened with “You should be careful.” Our conversation was quickly squelched when it became obvious that pressing our right to free speech with this young woman would be to no avail. Shortly after that we changed the subject to general pleasantries about the traffic. Did I just say “pleasantries” about traffic? Well, the traffic was hardly pleasant, as we were crawling into town, but we had moved to a “safe” topic anyway…

Excuse me?! Since when did avoiding the risk of offending someone trump a person’s right to free speech?? When did the fact that I happen to disagree with these particular beliefs mean that I shouldn’t be able to express that opinion because I might offend someone? Never once in our conversation did we attack anyone for belonging to these particular groups. Not once did “M” say that the people who came to his door were stupid or ignorant or ugly for believing what they do or for wanting to share their beliefs. We NEVER said that these believers aren’t nice people! Heck, I grew up in a religious group considered by many to be a “cult,” so I’ve been on the receiving end of many religious discussions. Offended by these discussions? No. Motivated to defend my beliefs? Yes.

I know that we all want to be nice and considerate of our fellow man, but I also believe that we should cling tenaciously to our freedoms. Giving those freedoms up for the sake of being “politically correct,” or because we might “offend” someone flies directly in the face of the intentions of those who framed our Bill of Rights. I will fiercely defend a person’s freedom to believe whatever they choose to believe. They have a right to express their beliefs to whomever they choose. By the same token, I have the right to express my own opinions about what I personally believe. I’ll be respectful, but I’ll be expressive, remembering these words from William Cowper, British poet:

Discourse may want an animated "No"
To brush the surface, and to make it flow;
But still remember, if you mean to please,
To press your point with modesty and ease.

Whew! This was an intense topic; but I felt it was an important one, and if I didn’t express it here, it would bother me for days. Now I have it off my chest, I do feel much, much better. I am also interested in hearing how you guys out there feel. Are we, in striving to avoid offense, in danger of breaking down meaningful discourse? I’m sure there are other questions I should put forth here, but it’s after midnight and I’m very sleepy, so I must post this and head to bed.


Maya said...

I think in writing people should never factor in offending people. In having conversations... yeah, I think I agree with you too. It is tactless to talk trash about, say, Mormons when your Mormon friend is around, but in general people should be able to discuss (and even argue) their opinions without worrying about offending others.

Jay said...

It never ceases to amaze me how many people are just looking for ways to be offended. I think if I were having that conversation with you and some woman said we should be careful not offend I would have told her that it's rude to listen in on other peoples conversations. Of course, I do it all the time, but I don't then confront them. Geez!

As long as a person isn't spewing racial epithets then he/she shouldn't have to worry about simply expressing an opinion. Especially in a private converstation. And people shouldn't have to apologize for what they do and don't beleive.

Tink said...

Ugh. I've been trying to comment on this post for TWO days. Blogger sucks.

It really saddens me that our newest generations are being corrupted with the "Shut up and sit down" virus. Where are the days of protests? Of fighting for a cause? Morals? Opinion? Thoughts, even?!

What a boring world it will be when everyone is too scared to speak their minds.

F&W said...

My husband grew up Mormon (left the church at 18 yrs old) and has never looked back. One reason was because he felf the very freedoms you're trying to defend were taken from him by the very church group he was a part of!

We both have very strong opinions about organized religion (and numerous other topics) and I always strive to take the same stance: You listen to me. I listen to you. We may agree to disagree but everything can be discussed in a safe, supportive environment.

I'm with Jay. I would have told that nosy nellie to stick it. After all, she was not invited to participate in the conversation. As my sister would say, "Um, hello? We were talking near you, not to you."

Thanks for the local yore about the Seattle stuff! ;o) And the compliments on my pics. I really enjoyed my time there.

mamalujo1 said...

Freedom of speech is not an issue here. ONLY when your GOVERNMENT seeks to restrict your speech is that a problem. Another person on the bus can't violate your right to free speech, whether they are tying a gag around your mouth or just asking you to be careful about what you're talking about.

(Sorry, I'm a lawyer and I can't help myself when I see folks misunderstanding freedom of speech. I reeally hope I don't come across as rude).

Now, what I see in your post is a collision of manners. Perhaps the lady was sticking her nose in your business. But remember, you were having this discussion in a very public place; maybe she couldn't help but hear you. What if, instead of this being a discussion of Scientology, it involved some rascists talking about white supremacy? Would you have butted in? Would you have wanted to?Whenever I'm in a public place, where I can't control who may hear me, I try to remain aware of the possibility that what I say may offend someone else, may hurt their feelings, may make them angry, or sad. When I'm not in such a place, I don't concern myself with that, only with the persons with whom I am conversing.

dogfaeriex5 said...

amen sister~
i like that entry!!!
i want to ride the bus with you and your friends~*~*~*~