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The absolute right

When I joined law school, I was bothered by a few things. On a course on extra-liability, one of my respectable instructors thought me and my classmates broadly on how we are free to do anything we want, as long as we do not cause harm to others. That means, a person is free to do or act however he or she wants, but he or she cannot choose consequences. Not only harm to others is restricted, but also harm to oneself.

In Ethiopia, like in other nations in the world, a person is not allowed to take one’s personal life, however, in case of suicide, the person caught in a failed suicide attempt is to be punished.  In a nation that still does not recognize the existence of suicide and self-harm, we still see it as a personal failing or something that was done to oneself, as punishment to personal deeds gone wrong.

There are many places of worship that even refuse to honor the bodies of the departed, if they are recognized as having been victims of suicide.

So, I keep on trying to figure out an absolute right that is not restricted by law or anything else. Which right is absolute? Which doesn’t have a reciprocal obligation? It is hard to find many but luckily, I found one which qualifies for absolutism. This right is recognized under Article 27 of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, under the title Freedom of Religion, Belief and Opinion. My interest is freedom of thought. So, the right of thought is a protected right.

Every minute a person thinks on a slew of issues, it may be deducted that thinking is inevitable in human nature. Or as long as a person lives, he will keep thinking. Study reveals that most human thoughts are repetitive and, beyond average, they are negative thoughts. Science has been able to count these endless flows of ideas, which include worries, fantasies, curiosities, anger, compassion. In that regard, there are around 3,000 thoughts a day. These rivers of thoughts continue flowing and jumping from one topic to another.

Sometimes, while you are having a discussion with people, at the same time, you are thinking about what you are going to do regarding your professional obligations, as well as other personal and social undertakings. The ability to simultaneously think about two or more things is very common with women; according to many. But it remains an open question with men.

Some thoughts are passionate, creative, happy, and there are criminal, fearful and revengeful thoughts – then again, that is the normal process of our human existence.

My concern is on the last group of thoughts that creep into the mind of a person and make him smile or frown his face. Until you say or execute your thoughts who knows what is going om in your mind.

When people ask simple questions, it is common to be polite and tell them what they want to hear. For instance, when I am asked a simple question like “how was your day”? I would answer it is fine or it is great while I am felling unwell. That’s because nobody knows what is going on inside your head, unless you show it. Or, in a job interview, if am asked where do I see myself in the next ten years, I would give impressive plans which I never thought of and I might have a mental wink to myself without getting caught. This could be taken as a lie but who can tell?

For instance, whenever a heinous criminal act is committed on my fellow countrymen, I say to myself, “maybe those people have been mentally preparing themselves to kill or injure others.” Unless those people are on drugs or in a position of not being able to control themselves, the act of committing a crime reveals that anyone is capable of committing a crime if the opportunity presents itself. 

Due to this we can say freedom of thought is enjoyed until it is expressed. That is to mean, unless you poison and kill your neighbor, you can repeatedly think about his death. And that does not make you a criminal. Therefore, you are free to even think about unspeakable things you want to do without anyone judging you.

We can say freedom of thought is decisive to exercise your freedom of expression. Law can only punish a person when hostile thoughts are expressed. Or the consequence for your bad thoughts materializes only when they turn into actions. The obvious advice is, enjoy your freedom of thought until science is advanced enough to identify threatening thoughts and the government starts taking action.

This brings me to the old saying, ““Don’t exercise your freedom of speech, until you have exercised your freedom of thought”. Then again, I ask, can we say that a law permitting what it can’t control is a right?

Ed.’s Note: Tsedenya Alemu is a graduate student at Bahir Dar University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Tsedenya Alemu