The Speech of Freedom: Establishing Safety


Safe spaces have been pitted against freedom of speech on university campuses. Safe spaces are literally places where students from a racial minority, or LGBTQ students or other communities of interest can go where they won’t face hostile speech from outsiders exercising their “free” speech rights.

It seems to me that while safe spaces may be good temporary refuges, they don’t get us to the place where we can have the important conversations across our differences that allow us to reach a modus vivendi with each other.

This week, a number in the organization I work with went through Crucial Conversations© training. One of the insights shared is that people rarely get defensive about the content of what we say. Instead, they become defensive because of why they think they are saying it. The issue is safety, and the training says people experience safety, when their is mutual respect and a mutual, shared purpose.

What this suggests to me is that safety is not ultimately spatial but relational. The speech of freedom is not just about the content of what we say but our commitment to communicate in our words and demeanor genuine respect even for the others with whom we speak. With this is commitment to mutual purpose. What could be the mutual purpose between to differing people? If nothing else in our democracy, it would seem that wanting others to enjoy all the rights and opportunities of citizenship–a precious gift.

What was even more striking was the idea that we can have really hard conversations when we are committed to the safety of each other.Safety and freedom need not be opposed to each other or mutually exclusive. Rather safety both creates the environment where we might speak freely, and where we might listen, even to difficult things, because we know the other respects us and we are in this together.

“Safety first” may well be the motto of the speech of freedom. To cherish our freedom cannot just be to protect our own “first freedoms” but to ensure that others enjoy the safety we want. Seems like an American thing to do.


On Fathers

I’ve been thinking today of what it is we honor in remembering fathers on Fathers Day. What it strikes me what we do not honor is simply the ability to become a father. There are lots of males who have impregnated women who never step up to the plate and act as a father. And there are the real men who sometimes cannot fulfill this biological function who so live and act that they are truly worthy of being honored as fathers. So what are we honoring on this day?

Dad and Me on a ride in Mill Creek Park, Fall 2011

Dad and Me on a ride in Mill Creek Park, Fall 2011

We honor those who fully share responsibility with a woman in making a home, in providing for the livelihood of that household, and caring for the children of that union. They not only help provide for children, they help with the vital work of being present with children, from those first diaper changes, through nights awake with a sick child, through school projects, through family outings and vacations, through the changes of adolescence, driving lessons, and going off to college. They continue as trusted mentors through adult life. I don’t think of any of these as particularly “male” tasks and many single parents manage these well. But the fathers we particularly honor are those who are “all in” in sharing the work, and the joys of being present to their sons and daughters in this way.

We honor men on this day who model respect for every woman in their lives–their spouses, mothers, daughters, friends, and colleagues. Their maleness is never an excuse for verbal or physical violence against a woman. Their sexuality is never a license to force sex on a woman (even one’s wife) without her consent or a child ever. I would go so far as to say that the honoring of women extends to how we look at women, either in the real or virtual worlds. Women are not an assemblage of body parts–they are persons. Perhaps the test is to ask, would you ever want someone else looking at your wife, or mother, or sister,or girlfriend, or daughter in that way? Those people are real persons in our lives. Do we extend that to seeing all women as real persons? And these men teach their sons to define real manhood in this way by saying, “do as I do.”

We honor men on this day who keep their commitments to love and cherish, for better or worse, in sickness and health as long as the two live. My father incarnated this. He was holding my mother’s hand when she took her last breath. He kept faith with her and loved her through nearly 69 years of marriage.  He was a one woman man. It wasn’t all a walk in the park. There were times of separation because of war and employment. There were tough financial times, illness, aging parents and more. But he didn’t walk away. He kept showing up.

We honor men who do all they can to teach their children all they have learned about life–from how to love God to how to fix a toilet. Perhaps most crucially, we teach our children how to live wisely–to act with integrity, to learn to work hard and finish a job, to use money wisely without inordinately loving it, to be considerate of and empathize with others.

These are some of the things I believe we honor with this holiday called Fathers Day. These are the things I remember about my own father and have aspired to in my life. I hope these things are what I’ve passed along to my son and those of his generation. Thank you, dad for all that you taught me, and all that you were in my life!