Freedom of speech is the single hardest thing to have in any nation, because it protects not only those who speak plainly, intelligently, and thoughtfully, but shields those who seek to stir up anger, spew rank intolerance, and perpetuate outright lies. It is the singular right that does the most to outline what is a free society, but it also is the right that permits ease in attacking a free society by fomenting civil unrest, hatred, and anarchy. It shows the difficulty in having your cake and eating it, too.
Those of us who cherish freedom of speech and the society it creates must steel ourselves against the drumbeat of negativity that accompanies such freedom. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of turning our fire hoses on the rabble, attempting to beat them back, not by force of reason and logic, but by retaliation in kind. To turn to our own brand of invective and vitriol, no matter how earnest and right we may be, is to fall prey to the very thing that caused the trouble in the first place: ignorance. It is ignorance that is the fertile soil of the bigot and the hater, and we may become bogged down in it as much as they, if we allow ourselves to tread upon it.
We may take our shots at them for comedic effect, or to release our pent-up frustrations, but we cannot allow our thoughts to dwell too long in the muck and mire. At the end of the day, though the spiteful and self-righteous may not bend to our reason or understand our compassion, they are made lesser when we choose to stand above them, instead of wallowing down among them. We must resolve to be better people than those we know to carry hatred in the hearts, for we are called upon to make up the deficit in humanity brought about by their choices in separating themselves from it. If we carry forward the strength of our convictions, then we reduce the effect of those who would see a world divided and rife with their brand of intolerance.
Our ultimate victory over the forces of bigotry and intolerance will not, in the end, be measured by how we crushed them beneath our heels, but how we chose to rise above them.