Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The intake of breath

Self-censorship: noun control of what you say or do in order to avoid annoying or offending others, but without being told officially that such control is necessary. From: the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

I do this every day. You do this every day. Self-censorship is the intake of breath as one decides to smile instead of sneer, to say "yes" when you think "no," or even to keep silent when another person voices a contrary opinion. It is a gained professional trait and a skill that is developed with maturity of character. It is valuable as restraint and the ability to temper emotions.

But self-censorship can also lead to the repression of beliefs and opinions out of fear of retribution. It is the symptom of an oppressive government. And in extreme circumstances the silence of a censored voice is more damaging than the sound. "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter" (Martin Luther King, Jr.).

Our country's ideals and its identities are solidified by the words of the Constitution. "We the People..." are a multiplicity of voices and words, a plethora of beliefs and feelings, and sometimes a barrage of disjointed opinions. The Fourteenth Amendment states "no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States..."

With the intake of breath when we self-censor, we are making a decision about the things that matter most to us as individuals, professionals, and community citizens. It is this choice that is bestowed upon us by our Constitutional Rights. It is this choice that makes us free-thinking individuals. It is this choice that was repressed and that resurfaced from the depths of humanity in the dystopic nightmare of Fahrenheit 451.

I am proud of my restraint, but I am also proud of the intake of breath that prepares me for self expression. I am proud to proclaim my beliefs, but with this pride must come a willingness to listen to others and their own self expression. Otherwise, would I be better than Captain Beatty? Or vapid Mildred Montag?

When was the last time you censored yourself and for what reason? Was it worth it to you?

1 comment:

Paula said...

Well articulated! What a fascinating topic for discussion. There is so much that I say but shouldn't, but probably just as much that I don't say but should.

This event is part of The Big Read, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.