EHS OutLoud Blog
Charlie Hebdo: The Freedom to Write

Charlie Hebdo: The Freedom to Write

I’ve been a professional journalist for eight years. I’ve covered real estate, finance, and most recently manufacturing and transportation.

On Monday, I became an associate editor at EHS Today, pledging to cover safety as it affects the workplace, the worker.

I thought that would mean covering personal protective equipment (PPE), OSHA and maybe workplace bullying. I thought I could be creative by writing about autonomous driving and the office of the future. I thought I could redefine workplace safety by writing about sustainability and environmental concerns, by identifying our world as the workplace.

But I’m a worker. I have a workplace. And safety affects me, affects my coworkers, affects my family, my friends.

And that was never clearer than this week when gunmen stormed the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, murdering 12 people, including four cartoonists, during the attack.

As a journalist, I like to think I’m being brave in writing about unpopular topics, about covering the story for the sake of justice, for history.

I’ve been barred from entering businesses after unfavorable press. I’ve received hate mail asking me how I sleep at night. I’ve been screamed at by a convicted arsonist at the scene of the fire.

But I’ve never taken a real risk or been in real danger. In fact, if anything, I’ve sometimes hidden behind the label “journalist” to keep from speaking out in my personal life, to remain objective.

I write for a safety magazine in Cleveland.  I’m not a war correspondent. And neither were those working at Charlie Hebdo, who were senselessly slain for protecting the freedom of speech, a right we sometimes take for granted in the U.S.

To try to make sense of the attack is impossible; we can’t find reason in the actions of the deranged. But one thing is clear: the staff of Charlie Hebdo was targeted for truth telling. Whether we share that truth or not, the right was theirs to tell it -- for anyone to tell it.

Our society is made stronger by its differences, by our ability to find common ground despite our disagreements, to, above all, respect one another.

The Charlie Hebdo staff was doing its job, like any of us. Those journalists went in to work like they would any other day, went to their staff meeting like always. And they were killed because someone didn’t like how they were doing their jobs.

It’s heartbreaking. It’s unimaginable. It’s unconscionable.

The attacks have given me a new definition of safety, of my new job.

Safety is living in a society in which we are free to go to work, to school, to church without fear – not fear of disagreement, a healthy fear, but fear of danger. It’s being able to speak out when something isn’t right – on the shop floor, in the office, in the world. It’s about the right to draw a pointed caricature without fear of death.

Hello, EHS Today readers. I’m ready to write about safety. 

TAGS: Safety
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