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The Blessing and Curse of Self-Censorship

Posted by on June 5, 2009

Now I don’t consider myself a writer, more like a guy that likes to write, but this has given me enough insight to know what hurdles a lot of writers must overcome to finally come into their own.  My biggest creative struggle with the written word is self-censorship.

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About a year ago I wrote an article about pregnant women (danger zone).  In the article, I meant to highlight the importance of nutrition and the proven harmful effects of not exercising and eating properly during pregnancy.  As you can imagine, this did not go over well.   I totally wrote this piece from a negative point of view and tried to stir some controversy with the title.  Long story short, I ended up writing the article very poorly and completely misrepresented myself, it is to date the biggest learning experience I’ve had regarding my writing.  To make matters worse this article was syndicated to a blogging network and of course I was lambasted, as I rightfully deserved.

From the stance I wrote from it sounded as if I was trying to say if a woman were to gain weight during pregnancy regardless of the situation I would consider it ugly, which was completely not what I meant at all. A few people could see through my verbal mess, but overall it was a blood bath.  One hundred comments and 47 grey hairs later I removed the article from my blog and asked the blogging site to do the same, it was a total disaster.  It was truly a moment where I had to sit back and evaluate, “What just happened here? Do I really think like that? What could I have done differently? Should I have done anything differently?”   I learned a lot about my writing and myself from that, so overall I’m grateful for the experience, but simultaneously wish it never happened.

censorship_pressAfter that ordeal, I’ve had a struggle with writing as openly, honestly, and as often as I used to.  I’ve developed a self-censor that is more thoughtful and methodical than before (which is good), however, now I’ve noticed added caution with some issues I would typically be itching to sound off on. These spark of inspiration now stay firmly on the back burner until they’ve disappeared into vapour.

As far as I am concerned, writers shouldn’t have a censor.  It’s those writers that are unapologetic that cause a shift of paradigm within their readers, not those that sit on the sidelines making a long list of the people they may offend.

This mentality is a departure from my everyday life as I try to keep the self-censorship to a minimum, because I think in society we have too many people who are overly delicate with what they say. I find conversations with these people boring, unintelligent, not genuine, and usually a huge waste of time. Nobody wants to rock the boat,  or have a disagreement for fear of a (gasp!) real conversation. I’ve been called opinionated, stubborn, and most other things from people that largely don’t have an opinion, conviction or any reasoning behind any of their views (note: I do agree with their assessment though).  I’ve noticed if I ever challenge one of their opinions that I find ridiculous, when they have no defence I am immediately labelled stubborn and opinionated. Go figure.

To give you an example, the type of person I just mentioned are typically those that have the “I don’t care” mentality whenever a group decision is announced, but they’re always the first to try to manipulate their way to success when the selection doesn’t go their way. Apparently they DO care, they’re just too scared say it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am fully aware I can be a pain in the ass sometimes, and admittedly there are some things I should let go of but you can all blame my Social Psychology Professor for this.

Allow me to explain…

In my 2nd year of University life, I visited Professor Levine to discuss a paper I was writing for his class. In the midst of this discussion we somehow began to jab back and forth on the topic of conviction and personal identity. It was at that time in my life where I was often disagreeing with a number of people around me, constantly. However, being the mental analyst I was/am, after any such encounter I would replay the topic in my head to evaluate both sides of the discussion.  If I found I was mistaken I would find the person and retract my comments (if possible), if not, I’d just let it go. But with the frequency these events were taking place I thought it wise to ask this Professor to chime in on the topic.

I asked, “I find I’m always arguing with my buddies about things, and to be honest, I am just sick of it. I’m tired of defending myself and getting into these confrontations.   Is it better to continue these conversations or just go along to get along to keep the peace?”

He looked at me like the 20 year old ideologue that I was, realized this was actually a serious concern of mine and took a few moments to think through the question, and from what I recall, he said, “Well I guess that’s your choice Mike.  Is it worth it to you to go through the rest of your life sacrificing who you are and your opinions for anyone you’ll ever meet? Or is it more important for you to be an individual?  And remember, in the intelligent, opinions are always changing as you acquire more information. Today’s disagreements might be tomorrow’s epiphany.”censorship

It was like lightning.  There was no thinking through this.  Just the thought of being one of those yes men that go through life agreeing with people to gain their favor and be everyone’s best friend was a future that scared me more than The Ghost of Christmas Future ever could.  Sure, I still pick my battles, but in my opinion, to sputter through life, going along to get along seems like a pretty boring existence.

I’ve learned the most from the people in my life that are an active part of the conversation, even if I couldn’t disagree with them more.  It’s these disagreements that give you a barometer of where you stand. You discover when you have gone too far, which audiences to engage and which to leave to their unshakeable bubbles.

I think it’s my lack of self-censorship that has taught me the most about life, love, and being verbally destroyed online. 😉  Now its my goal to bring back my verbal vigour before the fear of the masses, the fear of conversation, paralyzes my written words any more.

But the key is not only in sharing our own opinions; it’s in having the wisdom to evaluate the opinions of others and knowing when to abandon our own.

Yes, it IS as difficult as it sounds, but usually most things worth doing aren’t easy.

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