There have been a recurring theme in the news about executives and celebrities who opened their mouths and inserted their foot down their throats.  And when the inevitable backlash occurs – usually in short order because of modern social media – there is always a minor chorus of “They have a right to say what they want – we believe in free speech!

Yes, in the United States of America, the First Amendment of the Constitution states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.  (Emphasis added)
Did you read it carefully?  Notice it is addressed to Congress.  Congress can’t do anything to abridge your right to say what you want – that is that they can’t pass a law doing it.  And if Congress can’t pass a law, the executive branch can’t do anything to abridge your right to free speech because it has nothing to charge you with under its police powers.
But that doesn’t stop me or you in our personal, business or social roles from thinking that they are a complete idiot/bigot/not nice person.  And we can act on our thoughts as long as we don’t violate any laws – we can’t shoot them, hit them, or deprive them of their property or rights.  But we can withhold our business, our society, our support for their causes, even to the extent of firing them from our company.  Because free speech ain’t free – there are always consequences to our words and those consequences will be paid – whatever they are.
Don’t believe me?  Just go up to your significant other and tell them that they’re having a bad hair day with BO – I guarantee that there will be consequences that you won’t appreciate whether you’re telling the truth or not.  You have a dog house available?
There are only two ways to deal with the crisis caused by speech – prevent it in the first place or repent real fast.

  1. In this day and age there are just some things that can’t be discussed in public or private without causing a problem – sex, race, gender, age, profanity and reputations are just a few but they represent most speech problems because they are the hot buttons for emotion and discrimination.  And the easiest way to deal with the problem is to never mention the subject except to denounce discrimination.  Anything else will likely be misconstrued by somebody.  It’s your mother’s advice – if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.

  1. If you do say something you shouldn’t – apologize fast.  J. Golden Kimball was a well-known Mormon general authority who was known for dropping a damn or hell in his public addresses.  When asked why he wasn’t censored by church leaders, he stated, “Because I repent too damn fast!”  Whatever you do, don’t try to justify what you said.  We saw how will that works with the Daiquiri Factory in Spokane with their Date Grape drink – they still have legal problems arising from that fiasco.  On the other hand, Sonic demonstrated an absolutely great response to their mea culpa.

For business owners this is an important subject because they are responsible for what happens in, around and for their business.  Yes, the business owner is responsible – liable responsible – for what is said (and done) within the area that is the business.  Now people will understand if it’s a customer sprouting off if – and it’s a big IF – the business demonstrates that it doesn’t condone the customer’s bad behavior.  But I hear of too many business owners who are either unaware (doesn’t matter) or know and don’t do anything about speech in the workplace that is absolutely creating a hostile work environment and this includes sexual comments about workers and their family members, derogatory comments regarding race or gender or putting conditions on workers that that make them uncomfortable.  And every time I heard about a situation like this, I can’t help but think, “Can you really afford a lawsuit and have this all come out in public?  Who would want to work for you if they knew?”
By the way, I discuss in a future post what to do if you find yourself in a situation like the above.
Meanwhile, let’s think before we speak and consider the age old wisdom of:
Make your words sweet because you may have to eat them!

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.