We often hear about free speech and how it is important and should not be taken for granted. I agree. But here's something I have struggled with for many years and continue to struggle with. In fact, I could definitely argue that it partially explains why I haven't had a full web presence for a long time: self-censorship. I feel it is an unsettling threat to free speech which doesn't get the attention it deserves.
Raw & unfiltered
While there's a lot of flexibility from a legal point of view, free speech certainly does not mean you are free to just say whatever you want, raw & unfiltered. It is also not very useful. I mean, mud slinging on social media might feel really good for a few minutes but it doesn't move the discussion forward, or change people's mind. It is just not helpful. And worse, now it's out there on the internet. Dirt for anyone to dig up at the most inconvenient time & place. And you know, perhaps it does change people's mind. Negatively. Not about the subject being discussed, but about the person who wrote it. And probably by other people than those we were having a 'discussion' with. Heck, when it happens you might not even realise it: you'll just receive a rejection letter vaguely stating that regrettably there were more qualified candidates for the job you applied for... Unfair? Perhaps. But it happens. Something I'd like to avoid if possible. But I may have overdone it somewhat...
I wrote in my introduction post:
There's hardly a trace of me or my work to be found online. [...] It is almost like I never existed in the one place that mattered to me most.
To an extend my relative invisibility is entirely by choice: as someone who earns a living thanks to the internet, perhaps I know better than most that the internet is forever. Once something is out there, it is out there. Sure, websites go down, links go dead. But posts & comments spread too: they are quoted, shared, replied to, copied and archived. As a general rule of thumb I think it is always better to think twice before posting something, as it is definitely a lot harder to correct, let alone remove, something afterwards. Especially now in the age of social media.
As I write this there is in fact no website at all, I haven't launched it yet (obviously I have now because you are reading this!). I am writing this right now mostly just to figure out if there's really things I would like to share, as I would like to avoid the hassle of launching a new website and losing all interest after just the first ten posts. That would be a waste of time, both for you as reader and for me as writer. Sounds perfectly reasonable, right? But that's not the whole story. Self-censorship creeps in very early into this process.
Authenticity out there
A personal blog is different from an informative website because I am writing about myself, about stuff that interests me and things I've learned and would like to share (dare I say my expertise?). In other words: me being authentic, which is the whole point for a personal blog, right? Easier said than done. Because, you know, I'd be putting myself out there. Out there! That's scary. What would people think? I would like to reach out, make a connection. Make a difference even, no matter how small. That's the good part. But I am also scared of alienating people because of my views. Or to be more specific: I am scared of alienating people not so much because of what they think of me, but how they could potentially make my life harder or more difficult because of their actions as a result. Irrational? Perhaps, but the fear is real. Very real. It is part of my subjective reality and therefore real to me. It affects me and my writing. And while I agree that the objective reality does not actually warrant the severity of this fear (try telling my subconscious that, thanks!), I think it would also be dangerously naive to think it is completely unwarranted. There is definitely cause for some concern. We've all got jobs we depend on, connections & interests, etc.
So what to do?
a) I should be on my guard. I should avoid writing about too touchy subjects and be careful in general about my views and opinions (and how they could be perceived and misunderstood). Don't rock the boat.
b) I should write under a pseudonym. If it can't be traced back to me, I'd be free to write about whatever I want and however I want. Freedom of speech, baby!
While the first option fits the definition of self-censorship to a T, the second is really not that much better. It leaves out the best part of doing this in the first place: the possibility of making a connection, making a difference. I can't make a connection, not really, if the person on the other side doesn't know it is me. The connection cannot blossom further because I can never reveal who I really am. And you know, it is just not... authentic. Sometimes I feel I should just speak up, no matter how scary it is. Not a pseudonym. Me!
So realistically that leaves only option C:
c) I should be respectful and be on my best behavior, but I should write it anyway. I should try not to censor myself. And when I catch myself doing it, and that will most definitely happen, I should just strive to do better the next time.
Just how difficult this is I realised just before writing this post. I spent my morning reading over a transcript of a conversation I had with a writer, consultant and public speaker on personal development and spirituality. It was a fascinating deep dive into the purpose of life, creation, consciousness, religion vs. science, all intertwined with tidbits about my personal journey through life. Science & spirituality coming together. The conversation took place a few months ago, but reading about it sturred up all kinds of feelings in me. He asked me for my permission to release the transcript on his website as he genuinely feels it could benefit others. I felt honored but also very self-conscious, even without my name on it, and I admit I was reluctant at first to give my permission. But I did and it feels good.
It also planted a little seed for me. Writing about science & spirituality and my exploration of whether or not these realms can somehow come together. I am excited to explore the subject further and share what I'll learn along the way. Which is great, because I now have a website to do just that, right? Then why do I feel so apprehensive? Oh, I can just see the challenges ahead for my self-censoring urges!
Better hold on tight. We are going down the rabbit hole.