I've thought a lot about writing of the tragic suicide of Ned Vizzini. I only knew him through his work, but as a writer who has also battled depression and spent time in a psychiatric facility following a suicide attempt, I felt that I might have something to say. However, I think everything that needs to be said is in his books. So I'll leave it at that.
I seem to frequently read about people getting in trouble for the things they've said. Most recently, a cast member on a show called Duck Dynasty, a show I've never heard of or seen before but is apparently popular, made some remarks about gays that caused an uproar, and a member of a PR firm tweeted a racist comment on her way to South Africa.
A lot of comments I've read seem to focus on the fact that people have the right to their opinions. They believe that, in the case of the Duck Dynasty guy, he should be allowed to speak his mind about his religious beliefs without having the fury of the Internet descend upon him. They feel like the "thought police" are out in force, trying to regulate what people think and say and believe.
Here's the thing: I believe in freedom. I believe in freedom of speech. I am not offended by people who believe that homosexuality is a sin. I respectfully disagree, but we are all entitled to our beliefs and opinions, even if those beliefs and opinions are unpopular, even if they're bigoted and mean-spirited. The are yours, and you have a right to them. I read what that Duck guy said, and I didn't even find them particularly insulting. I've heard far, far worse.
However, when you speak openly and publicly about them, you are inviting others to disagree. If you are a public figure—a writer, actor, politician, CEO, musician, etc—and you speak openly about your beliefs, you cannot then claim the right to have those opinions and not be condemned for them. If you want to have unpopular opinions and want to not be called out for them, keep them to yourself. And if you are going to speak publicly, then have the courage of your convictions. I speak about equality because I believe in it. And I have no problem discussing my beliefs with anyone, whether they agree with me or not. I speak openly about my sexuality and my beliefs with regard to my sexuality, and I do so knowing full well that some people may disagree and that it may cost me a few readers. I understand that there are consequences to speaking my mind.
Say what you mean and mean what you say, but unless your'e willing to stand behind your words, it's best to keep them to yourself.