This should be common sense, but it’s amazing how many people fail to understand the concept.

Last week I was perusing the profile of an acquaintance on MySpace (UGH) and saw a post that has become all too familiar in today’s online society: Someone posts a picture of his or her junk, or makes a duck face, or some other image in which the poster is doing something that might be considered inappropriate or weird in a public setting. Another person remarks on the inappropriateness of the image, insults are traded, and everyone ends up angry at everybody else.

Now, common sense dictates that if you start flashing others in public, say, on a crowded bus or on the street, chances are good that someone is going to complain about it. Not everyone appreciates having to look at some stranger’s privates, especially immediately prior to or after eating. And let’s face it, not everybody looks good naked. The point is, if you pull a stunt like that, it’s a given that at the very least some people are going to complain — loudly. Someone might even call the police. There are consequences to certain activities when performed in public.

I remember reading once about a Star Bucks employee who was fired for kicking a customer out for changing her infant’s diaper on a dining table in full view of other patrons. That was wrong. The employee did the right thing. Public restrooms have diaper changing stations for a reason: no one wants to go out to eat and get an eye-full of something disgusting and appetite-ruining.

But somewhere along the way we became a society that demands absolute freedom to do anything we like in public, social etiquette be damned. “HOW DARE YOU ATTACK ME FOR EXPRESSING MYSELF! I HAVE FREEDOM OF SPEECH!”

But freedom of speech is something everybody is supposed to have. You may have a “right” to post nude pictures of yourself online, but even in that venue, there are certain rules for how, when, and where that is allowed. On a permissive web site, such as Twitter, people can and do have a lot of leeway. But that does not mean that others have to like what you post, or that they must keep their opinions to themselves. They can, will, and should be allowed to respond with their own opinions. You do not have to like those opinions, or keep yours to yourself, but don’t begrudge others their rights.

I guess what I’m saying is that the old quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “your rights end at the tip of my nose,” applies. If you don’t like people saying or doing things that anger you, maybe the wiser course of action is to not say or do things that anger others. Either that, or just accept that with any act of expression comes consequences you may not like, and respect the right of others to voice their opinions even if you don’t concur.

Just sayin’.

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