All too often in our lives, and I speak from painful experience, our plans and wishes for a situation run aground on realities that show us to have been woefully overambitious in our aims and desires. One of the more widespread desires in this world among people is the desire for freedom of self-expression, a desire that many people in the United States take for granted but that is not something that can be assumed overseas. Many countries, including Thailand, but also the monarchies of the Arabian peninsula , have draconian laws against lese majeste (that is, offending the king by being an obnoxious loudmouth, as some of us are known to be from time to time) that can lead to significant jail time and legal trouble for those who say anything that can be interpreted as a threat or disapproval of the often-insecure ruling monarchs.
According to international norms (some would even say international law), rulers are supposed to accept and tolerate greater scrutiny from the people that they rule than ordinary people are. That is to say, leaders and rulers should have no greater libel protections than ordinary citizens, not least because authority is not a place where thin-skinned people belong or will really feel comfortable. With fairness, some people would probably consider me a bit thin-skinned from time to time, though at the same time I respect the right of others to speak and write their mind even if it is not always a flattering portrait of me, so long as they do so with honesty and integrity and are willing to hear any rebuttals that I may have. It is only when people are no longer willing to listen to me that I am no longer willing to listen to them. Otherwise, I try to find worth and value even in the harshest and most unfair of criticism.
This is not to say that I believe all leaders should let themselves be disrespected or suffer whatever sorts of abuse others would want to inflict on them. Far from it. However, the sort of premium a leader puts on his own dignity and reputation and honor ought to be the same sort of honor and esteem and dignity that a leader gives to others. None of us is due any more honor and respect than we give to other people. The Bible solemnly warns us that we will be treated as we treated the least of these, and many of us could stand to treat others better for our own sakes, as well as help make life go a little more smoothly (as decent people will treat others with respect). At some level, criticism is respect if we have a desire that God mend the flaws of others, and if we have the discernment to be able to provide wise rebuke that allows others to grow as better people and face sometimes uncomfortable truths. Most of us can be told things about ourselves that are both true and unpleasant, and learning how to accept godly rebuke without becoming embittered is an immensely important and far from straightforward task.
However, for many people (especially people in leadership roles), granting other people the freedom to be critical about them is a bridge too far. A lot of this has to do with fear and insecurity. Part of the dangers in the uncertain march of freedom and liberty throughout the world has been the toppling of vulnerable regimes throughout the world. Paradoxically, the early successes of freedom have made those areas where freedom is most lacking even more reluctant to take any steps that would threaten the legitimacy of their own regime. Likewise, the growing ability of governments to monitor and track the online activities of their own citizens has made it more hazardous for people to speak up against their leaders. The repressive tyranny of many nations around the world that dictators use to present themselves as being strong and mighty only broadcasts their weakness and insecurity, as threats and abuses are a sign of weakness and not strength. Knowing that a leader is truly weak behind their secret police and military strength and being able to say that without death or imprisonment or exile are two very different things, however. In much of the world, it remains impossible to speak safely even about obvious truths. Sadly, the same is sometimes true in our personal lives as well.