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freedom of speech

Viewpoint: Adding respect to freedom of speech


The right to freedom of speech is a common topic in the news, but the reporting often doesn’t include a full discussion of the issue. We need to consider what we are not including when we exercise our right to freedom of speech. We need to look at the fact that although freedom of speech is a constitutional right, exercising that right can be hurtful to others and has, unfortunately, even been cited as an excuse for acts of violence.

The murder of 12 people in Paris on January 7, 2015, was blamed in part on newspaper personnel who exercised their right to freedom of speech. Let me be clear, speaking or writing something that offends another does not justify killing. But that doesn’t mean we should insult and make fun of other cultures and religions when we exercise our rights. There seems to be something fundamental missing from the act of exercising the right to freedom of speech these days: I think it’s the simple seven-letter word “respect.”

Remembering respect

According to Merriam-Weber dictionary the word respect means that one feels another person is valuable, important, and should be treated in an appropriate way. Respect is part of cultural competence.

Today, most schools and employers provide education on cultural diversity training and cultural awareness that includes an expectation that everyone needs to develop an understanding and acceptance of all people from all cultures and religions. Yet, all around the world we are seeing increased attacks of violence as a result of the lack of understanding and acceptance of people who are not of each other’s culture and religious faith.

Fortunately, nurses have acquired cultural competence skills, which help them to role model the incorporation of respect into freedom of speech.

A special expertise

Nurses receive cultural competence training in most nursing schools and in the healthcare facilities where they work. According to the Transcultural Nursing organization, for a nurse to possess cultural competence, he or she must be: knowledgeable of each person’s culture, able to communicate and understand the cultural influences that affect a person’s health behavior, and reevaluate and adapt to the way culturally competent care is provided. An essential component of cultural competence is respect for others and respect for differences in each other’s culture and religion.

Nurses take what we learn and apply it in our daily practice. When we provide care to patients and interact daily with others in a caring way, we develop and show respect for our patients and others who are often from a different culture and religion than our own. Respect is a core value of nursing and essential to providing patient-centered care.

Our expertise in cultural competence makes us ideally suited for leading the way to advocate for maintaining respect for others when exercising the right of freedom of speech.

Leading by example

Nurses are in a unique position to lead by example and promote respect for their patients, families, communities, and society by providing culturally competent care to all people regardless of their culture and religion. Nurses can help others around the world develop cultural awareness, tolerance, and acceptance by valuing and respecting all people.

We need to remember that respect is more than just a word; it’s an essential component of cultural competence and needs to be included when we exercise our right to freedom of speech.

Selected references

BBC News. Charlie Hebdo Gun attack on French Majority Kills 12. 2015.

Jeffrey M. Dynamics of Diversity: Becoming Better Nurses through Diversity Awareness. NYSNA. 2008.

Transcultural Nursing: Cultural competence.

Maureen Kroning is an associate professor of nursing at Nyack College School of Nursing in Nyack, New York.


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