If you don’t have anything nice to say, stay quiet

The relationship between political correctness and the first amendment right to free speech is under constant scrutiny.

Most recently, “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson may have pushed for the divorce of the two with his unfavorable remarks about gays, blacks and Japanese people.

No matter which side of the fence you’re on, there are just as many people who agree as will disagree with you.

Some will say Robertson is entitled to his opinion and has the right to speak about his personal beliefs, no matter his celebrity status. Others argue political correctness is the modern rule and Robertson deserves his punishment – he was removed from future filmings of the popular television show – though the family said there is no show without Phil.

We know that sometimes it doesn’t matter what is said; it’s impossible to keep everybody happy all the time. It’s even impossible to keep some people happy some of the time.

But almost all our mothers offered us good advice in our youths: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

The line we all have to walk between speaking up about what we believe in while not offending someone is getting thinner and more blurred all the time. There are ongoing changes with even the words involved when it comes to races and orientations that are, honestly, difficult to keep up with.

Just knowing what terminology is or isn’t acceptable when describing who is different ethnically or religiously or has a different sexual preference from us is enough to make the head spin. No matter what the current “accepted” terms are, the most benign intentions are still more likely to offend than not.

The questions remain: can humanity move on while walking on egg shells? How can we get anything accomplished when our main worry seems to be if we will offend? How can we live together as a society if we don’t accept people for who they are?

We don’t have the answers to those questions, and maybe never will because the only sure ways to not offend someone are to ignore everyone who’s different in any way, to never speak our minds or to lie about our personal feelings. The plain truth is that people rarely agree on anything.

What we can learn from people like Robertson is that the best thing to do before we speak is to think about what we’re going to say. You don’t have to disagree with someone’s way of life to offend him. Most often it’s not what you say, but how you say it that gets you in trouble.