Free Speech

Politics and religion are traditionally the two topics that should not be broached in "polite" conversation. But can they be discussed amongst a group of people who have the ability to respectfully disagree, debate, rationalize, and still treat each other with love? Now, is that type of discussion permitted in public... say a restaurant?

This morning, I had breakfast with my friends Guy and Tim. Typical of our get-togethers (we have breakfast just about every Saturday morning to discuss theology and politics and also because Tim is a professor at UNF who Guy and I are doing a Directed Independent Study in Biblical Greek with), we began to get engrossed into a discussion about the theology of the body and its impact on stewardship, the role of the church in the world, and eschatology. As an aside, I lost 50% hearing in my right ear at a concert in a small bar about 12 years ago and it makes it very difficult for me to make out specific words in a crowd of noise. Because of this, I tend to talk a bit louder in public places (like a restaurant with wood panel walls and no carpeting, thus causing the noises to bounce around rather than be absorbed and making it even more difficult for me to hear). These friends also talk a bit louder so that I can hear and because this restaurant can get a bit loud. Mind you, we do not shout, nor do we argue or toss out inappropriate words, we simply might get excited or might have to talk above the conversation taking place at the next table.

Well, apparently our topic of discussion this morning was too much for our neighboring table to bear. As someone who has some difficulty hearing in public, I can completely respect a request of trying to "keep it down a little," but our neighbor did not utilize such tact. Here was his statement (and I think I am quoting pretty accurately):

"Fellas, it's breakfast time in a public place, and when I can hear your conversation at my table and you are talking about religion and politics and sexuality, then it's time for you to go."

So, instead of saying, "Hey guys, my wife and I are trying to eat breakfast and have our own conversation, but it is tough to hear each other over you. Can you please keep it down a little bit?" To which my reply would have been, "Certainly. Sorry we got a little carried away. We will try to keep it to a dull roar," and maybe our neighbors and us could have had a little laugh about it. Instead, this man told us that our conversation wasn't welcome there and that we should leave! So much for free speech. We politely told him that we were going to continue our conversation and that he was entitled to his opinion. I did try to explain that I had a tough time hearing which is why we might be talking a bit loud, but the man simply responded by saying, "Well, you heard me!"

I wanted to call the man a number of names. I wanted to rip him to shreds by showing how tiny his mind must be to actually think he had any right to limit our topics of discussion. I fully admit that he had every right to politely ask us to talk quietly, but he has no right to tell us that if we are going to discuss certain things that we had to leave. We did try to talk softer because, even though the man a severe deficiency in communication skills, we recognized that we could be more courteous. However, I will not back away from an uncomfortable topic simply because it might ruffle someone's (or my own) feathers. Comfort is the enemy of growth.

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