Free Expression As Revolution

Ever kept your opinions to yourself to avoid confrontation? Ever said something you didn’t fully agree with to improve your reputation? What about repeating an accepted point of view without thinking it through for yourself? If this is you. Maybe, “you got the fear”.

Opinion polls suggest the public have never felt less free to speak their minds. Self-censorship is on the rise, but as self-preservation technique it only works in the short-term. Longer term, sacrificing our authenticity effects our mental health, harms our relationships, and is detrimental for society generally.

Public and often private discourse has reached the point where naming and shaming has been normalised as an argument winning tactic. The names have become familiar to us and they can be heard in response to once innocuous opinions; bigot, deplorable, homophobe, racist, transphobe, Covidiot, mansplainer, Karen, gammon, the list goes on. Each comes with a certain amount of shame attached and delivered with the intention of keeping us out of conversations or controlling what we say in them.

To some extent, seeking to preserve our reputations is natural. Group safety was the key to our survival as a species and those instincts are not easy to override. But confidence in your own well considered opinions is worth cultivating.

It was Jordan Peterson that said, “if you have something to say and don’t say it, you’re lying”. The clinical psychologist doesn’t stop there. When you fail to express who and what you are in an articulated manner you lose the opportunity to know yourself better. And not knowing yourself impacts your ability to make good decisions and navigate life’s challenges. The upshot is that you will be hurt more than you need to be.

Censoring yourself inwardly becomes a habit that increases the disconnection with our true selves and lowers moral self regard. It can make us annoyed at our own lack of integrity, and lead to a loss of identity and comfort in our own skin. As our levels of self-awareness drops, so to does our ability to know our own needs, fears and desires. Wise decisions escape us.

Be inauthentic for long enough and you may find yourself becoming judgemental and critical of others to make yourself feel important. The impact could spread to those around you. People noticing your insecurities and tendency to take offence when none is intended, may avoid robust conversation and mirror your dishonesty by telling you what you want to hear. The lack of openness and unwillingness to discuss vulnerabilities makes friendships and family ties weaker.

There are implications for group situations too. The result of a reluctance to raise objections is laid out in the Abilene paradox. A phenomenon that occurs when people are so considerate of others in a group, they ignore their own needs, second guess other people’s desires, and refuse to risk upsetting anyone. They end up deciding on a course of action that none of them want. 

Magnify this distorted thinking more broadly and it starts to impact organisational strategy, public policy and the global agenda.

It’s nearly a decade since we lost Christopher Hitchens, but his advice on this matter still rings true. The fearless and eloquent critical thinker knew his own mind better than most, and warned us, “don’t take refuge in the false security of consensus”. He also encouraged us to take the risk of thinking for ourselves. Far more truth, beauty and wisdom will await us if we do. 

Striving to be more genuine, whatever the consequences, is a positive and liberating experience. It’s a sentiment that’s familiar to the Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown. With songs and statements on topics from the monarchy to lockdowns, Ian’s never been afraid to contradict the socially accepted narrative. As if to exemplify this point, he joined forces with friend and fashion designer Kazuki Kuraishi to create the clothing brand, “Own Brain” – an anagram of his name and title of a song on the album “My Way”.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Ian Brown’s solo release F.E.A.R. The 2001 classic contains the line, “Free Expression As Revolution”. Could those words be any more relevant than right now?

[700 words – Jan 2021]