Freedom of Speech and Hiding Behind My Blog
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on my blog about freedom of speech and boat names. Normally, I write about something and move on to the next thing. But this one has been sticking with me. I’ve been reflecting on the whole issue of freedom of speech and come to the realization that I might in fact be hiding behind my blog. I’m curious what you think, so here’s the story…
When we’re out sailing in the Hauraki Gulf in New Zealand, one of the things I like best is when we drop the anchor in a scenic bay, have a glass of wine and some quiet conversation and gaze peacefully out at the other sailboats while the sun goes down. Now, imagine yourself sitting in the cockpit sipping on your wine only to see another sailboat anchor up, a boat which has a name that some might consider offensive. It definitely changes the mood and the conversation, that’s for sure.
We started whispering to each other, “Does that say what I think it does? Why would anyone name their boat that? What were they thinking?” Then we moved on to wondering what the owners of the boat are like and passing judgments on them based solely on the name of their boat. After another glass of wine, our initial shock gave way to reflecting on cultural differences between Americans and Kiwis. As Americans, we found the name very offensive but this is probably from a particular frame of reference rooted in American history and our experiences growing up in the States. Would this particular boat name have the same impact on Kiwis? Or would it be viewed as ironic, even harmless.
We continued to see the same boat from time to time in our marina and out on the water and, while I continued to be shocked by the name, it didn’t have the same impact as that first time we saw her. And I largely forgot about it. That is until I started doing some research on the options for registering your boat in New Zealand and the States and read up on the rules around acceptable boat names. And then it all came back to me. And it made me mad.
Maritime New Zealand will not approve any name that is offensive and the US Coast Guard will not approve any name that is obscene, indecent, uses profane language or is a racial or ethnic epithet. On the face of it, this name would probably get a pass from the US Coast Guard based on their criteria, but would it pass the “offensive” test in New Zealand? It offends me, but is that enough to tell someone they can’t name their boat that. And that’s where freedom speech comes into it. What you consider offensive is shaped by your own frame of reference. The beauty of being human is that we all have different experiences and different frames of reference. And talking about how we see the world differently and why something offends you and not me is what’s really important. Dialogue is what leads to change. If nothing else, it can change your own perceptions and judgments of other people and the name of their boat.
And that is why I think this has been sticking in my head. Blogging about something only becomes dialogue if others choose to respond and join in a conversation. In this case, I wrote about a boat name that offended me. But I wrote about it hiding behind the relative anonymity of a blog. I effectively avoided any uncomfortable conversation. I didn’t write personally to the boat owners. And I didn’t engage them personally in a dialogue. I still find the boat name offensive and I probably always will. But who knows - next time I see them out on the water, perhaps I’ll stop and have a conversation with them about it.
Do you ever hide behind your blog?
Ellen writes about what it is like to live on a sailboat and her transition from landlubber to salty sailor at The Cynical Sailor