May 4, 2014

Freedom of speech an economic imperative

There are places in this world that do not share the same celebration for our marketplace of ideas that our constitution enshrines.

In some countries, people are executed or murdered simply for the ideas in their head and the courage to express them.

Freedom of speech is less a human right than an economic imperative. This nation progressed from a colony to the reigning economic superpower in less than a century because it recognized that oppression, especially oppression of ideas and innovations, makes progress difficult.

Our nation had the good sense to realize that freedom to express novel or unpopular ideas cannot be conditioned on popular predilections. This freedom is most fruitfully employed to ensure our leaders have the opportunity, if they also have the good sense, to listen to their critics. Such dialog allows us to constantly reflect on and, hopefully, embrace diverse perspectives and new ideas.

Without innovative ideas, we lose what defines us as a dynamic society and economy. If we fear expression of new ideas, and afford no opportunity to confront those who disagree within an atmosphere of tolerance and compromise, we are led down a path of bigotry and intolerance none of us would aspire to join.

We are fortunate to live in a nation that encourages free expression of even stupid or bigoted ideas. That freedom to express ideas remains fragile, though, and is not universally embraced.

Human nature often constrains our own circles of acquaintances to those with whom we agree. When I’m sometimes asked to suggest participants for groups, I recommend our leaders and managers don’t assemble the usual cronies, but instead seek out people with diverse viewpoints. We all know what our friends and favorite colleagues will say. It is far more useful, from a leadership standpoint, to hear from our critics. They will have both the honesty and courage to tell us what we need to know, not necessarily what we want to hear.

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