can't say
Written by Doctor G

When you can’t say what you feel


Free speech gets a lot of attention, and rightly so. It is also pretty fundamentally misunderstood a lot of the time. Free speech is a right given by a government, for example the United States Constitution – saying the government views free speech as a right and therefore the government can’t take it away. 

Lots of other people do not have to allow us free speech. Employers, for instance, monitor and regulate speech all the time and so do schools, and parents and organizations. As well they should. I don’t want my employer to allow anyone at our health center to say racist or sexist things to our patients under the guise of “free expression.” I certainly did not allow my kids the right of free speech at their own discretion, mostly because for some number of years kids don’t have much discretion at all. 

All of this leaves us, though, in situations where we need to feel our feelings or think our thoughts without expressing them in that moment. And in an era of “speak your truth” and “every voice deserves to be heard” it can feel like oppression when you find out not every time or place is an acceptable platform for those feelings and thoughts. 

We’ve spent a lot of important energy in the past 30 (arguably 60) years helping people find their voice and learn to advocate for themselves. I’m not suggesting we undo that work. I am saying, though, that we may have over-corrected and need to work on the skills we need to handle ourselves when we have opinions that need to be held until we’re at a better moment or with a different person or in a different situation. 

Simply put, shutting up takes resilience – often as much as speaking out. 

Honoring the boundaries that exist in a work environment or an educational one, in a community or a club or any group situation, takes strength and will and skills. 

As leaders we can model that, we can speak about it, we can offer empathy when someone struggles with it. We shouldn’t, however, believe that we need to offer “free speech” no matter the impact.

Have you struggled with this in the workplace? Comment and tell me, please. 

All my best,

Dr. G

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