Freedom of SpeechSo many years ago, my grandfather stepped onto a leaky boat at 17 years of age to come to Canada in the hope of realizing dreams and opportunity. He didn’t know it at the time, but he would never see his family again. You see, a revolution had occurred. A change in regime. The borders of his homeland closed, the mail was censored, communications were stilted.

In actual fact, a few letters from his family did occasionally make it through. Pages of scattered, hand written text peeking out amidst chunks of heavy black blocks of ink. Because his eyes were not the first to read his letters from home. Letters from home, these ‘private’ communications with his family, had already been read and reviewed by the government. Just to ensure they were appropriate, of course, and not threatening to government interests. Similarly, when my grandfather, who had built a small successful business for himself in Canada, would send care packages home to his family, the government would ‘review’ those items as well. And more often than not, his family received his letters – his own few scattered words amongst heavily blacked out portions – but they never received the cash or goods.

And so, as happens with an innovative human spirit and the will to communicate, my grandfather and his family began to speak in a code of sorts. A phrase or sentence, here and there, that would convey meaning only between the sender and recipient, regardless of any other watchful and prying eyes. The phrase “the government has been so good to us, we now have 3 horses on our farm” was clearly understood by my grandfather to mean “we only have 3 horses now, they have taken all of the others”.

And so it went.

My grandfather wasn’t able to attend the funerals of his loved ones, nor did he ever know the details of when or how his siblings died; he merely assumed them to be gone, because the letters stopped. A world without communication is the essence of isolation. And loneliness.

My grandfather, who arrived in Canada at 17 years of age, passed away when I was in my 17th year. I often think he would be amazed at the technologies of today, that allow us to reach out and communicate, instantaneously, across distance and geography. How amazed he would be to know that I have a voice. A voice that stems not from wealth or position, but simply from being! I can blog, tweet, ‘like’, follow, ‘pin’, email, speak and share without fear of interference, retribution, or censorship.

Because of enabling technology and the freedom I have to use it, I can better understand cultures beyond my reach, learn about ideas outside of my experience, and build relationships with people I have yet to meet.

We speak about ‘rights’, but what are they, other than a codified list on a piece of paper. Rights without enforcement are too easily reduced to privilege.

It is all too easy for me to imagine a world constrained by constructs, approvals, gates, borders, barriers, censorship, and fear.

Should I awake someday to find that such be my world, then please, someone, send me a leaky boat. I’ll gladly risk rough waters to be taken to better shores.