Why is the First Amendment Important to an Entrepreneur?
Before we can answer the question of why the First Amendment is important, it’s necessary to understand what the First Amendment is. Many people are confused about what’s included in our First Amendment rights, so just for clarity I want to list them and make sure we are on the same page.
First Amendment Rights:
- Freedom to practice religious beliefs
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of the press
- Freedom to assemble peacefully
- Freedom to petition government officials regarding grievances
These rights are available to all American citizens. No government organization can take these rights away from you.
It is important to understand with this though, that a right, by its nature, cannot infringe on the rights of another person. To put this in context:
I have the right to express my ideas and opinions; I do not have the right to force you to listen.
You have the right to disagree with me and argue against my opinions; you do not have the right to silence me (other than by walking away or ignoring me).
Another example of this difference can be seen with religious freedoms:
If your religious beliefs involve the murder of another human being, you will not be allowed the freedom to practice this because doing so would infringe on the other person’s right of life.
While both distinctions are important to understand, I want to focus my attention on the freedom of speech for our purposes today.
The right to voice our opinions is important for many reasons. I think this quote from J.S. Mill expresses the importance very well:
“In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct.”
A Mind Open to Criticism of Ideas
To really advance our own ideas, we should be ready to hear criticism of those ideas. Shocker of shockers, your ideas could be wrong.
How will you ever learn this and correct wrong ideas if we shut off dissenting voices?
Imagine if there had not been people to champion the voices of minorities when the ideas of equality were being discussed. What if people who wanted to shut down this radical dissenting idea had succeeded?
Luckily, they didn’t. Luckily there were preachers, politicians, and people from the general public that encouraged these voices being heard. These people took up the ideas of equality, adding their voices to it, and managing to prove the legitimacy of these ideas.
I realize the road is not perfect, and that issues still exist, but the point still remains that these voices of equality were not allowed to be silenced, even though they were a minority voice for a long time.
There were people willing to believe that the majority opinion was not infallible and were willing to review these ideas from the other side. This is important to allow growth and progress.
If we hold to ideas because they are the wisdom of the day, we become stale and unthinking. We aren’t challenging ourselves and not strengthening our ideas.
But, the quote continues:
“Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious.”
A Mind That Sees Fallacy
The thing is, some dissenting voices are going to be valid, and some are not. Just because we are open to hear criticism and dissension doesn’t mean we just accept new ideas and discard the old.
All ideas need to be weighed by logic and tested. Put new ideas to the test, see how they hold up. Is there something that doesn’t hold up to logic, point this out. See if the new idea can meet that test and correct the fallacious.
If the idea holds up to rational discussion, it’s worth taking note of. If a fallacy- not I don’t like it but a true fallacy- is found in the argument, make it known. Give the dissenter a chance to correct the fallacy and expand on their idea.
Then take the quote further:
“Because he has felt that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion…”
A Mind That Seeks Full Knowledge
Test new ideas against your existing ones. If they prove a fallacy in your ideas, correct this, even if it means adopting the less fallacious idea. If your idea holds up better, at least you have been given the chance to strengthen your argument.
Don’t spend energy trying to silence other opinions, even if they prove false. Every dissenting opinion is the opportunity to strengthen our own.
So, Why is it Important?
This brings us back to our original question, why is the First Amendment important to you as an entrepreneur? The answer is simple:
If the minority voice can be silenced, no new ideas will be allowed to come to fruition. Entrepreneurs by nature seek new ideas, seek what is outside of the norm. If we only allow the majority or even the loudest voices to speak, we drown out so much of what can be good.
Without our freedom to dissent from the majority we find nothing new, nothing innovative. If people are not allowed their freedom of expression we learn nothing new, and no one is allowed to grow.
Entrepreneurs should be some of the loudest voices seeking preservation of First Amendment rights. Without these rights we also lose what makes people unique and worth hearing. If we all say and think the same things, think how boring the world would be.
Do you agree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.