On Self-Censorship

The internet is no place to be anonymous.  Your name and face is attached to everything you say.  You cannot guarantee that your sarcasm will translate through your prose.  People will read what you wrote and take it the wrong way.  You may not intend to offend anyone.  Some people are just easily offended.  I am not one of those people.

I can take criticism, cynicism, and obscenity at face value.  I may not agree with those things in certain contexts.  But, I am willing to let them happen.  To me, it is only speech.  Obscenity quickly loses its meaning and becomes white noise.  Cynicism is just a manifestation of doubt.  Criticism is the acknowledgement of differing opinion.  None of those things are particularly offensive by themselves.

In face-to-face interaction, I find myself carefully choosing my words and constantly gauging my audience’s reaction. I feel more tolerant of opinions and ideas that I oppose when I am speaking to someone in person. I don’t do it to avoid conflict, but rather to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. People are passionate about their ideals and opinions. They are entitled to be so. Just because I disagree, or am indifferent, doesn’t mean that I have to tell them that.

For example, some people incorporate religion into many other parts of their lives. As an atheist, the mention of religion in an otherwise secular conversation makes me extremely uncomfortable. It’s not discomfort with the subject, it’s discomfort with the possibility of my differing opinion offending the other person. My atheism is not intended to be offensive in and of itself. I simply lack belief. But, I am aware that some people associate atheism with visceral, militant opposition to theism. In my case, it is not. So, to avoid the whole situation, I engage a religious person as if I too was religious. And, why not? Their ideas are not invalid just because they differ from my own. However, doing this is disingenuous, and constitutes self-censorship. It is suppressing my true self so as not to impose on others.

In the opposite extreme, I’ve found myself uncomfortable talking to people who are religion intolerant.  My reaction is the same.  I’m not conversing with the intent to offend anyone, present or not.  I try to avoid telling my position on the subject, choosing instead an ambiguous non-commitment.

Furthermore, we should all be aware by now that our social media accounts are monitored not only by acquaintances and family, but also by current and potential employers.  What is a crass, atheist, cynic to do?  The answer is to pretend I’m talking to my grandmother every time I make a post on a public forum.  “Everything is peachy, Grandma.  Life is wonderful.  Nothing bad ever happens.  I’m never angry, upset, or agitated.  I’m never at odds with anyone or anything.  I’m apolitical.”  But, that too is disingenuous and constitutes self-censorship.

I envy artists, because their job is to be themselves.  An artists’ expression is often intended to create discord, discussion, provoke thought and questions, etc.  Some art is just downright offensive.  Some is unintentionally offensive.  Either way, you have the choice to experience the art or not.  Unfortunately, artists also have a tough time making money by just being themselves.  It takes a special kind of person to pull that off.  In that respect, I don’t envy them.

So, with future employment in mind, I keep most of my thoughts to myself.  The fact that I’ve decided to write a blog has me seriously conflicted with that, though.  How can you sincerely write a blog without possibly offending anyone?  You can’t.  So, do you go for broke and let everything in your head pour out unfiltered and unedited?  Do you spend as much time deliberating over what topics to write about as you do actually writing about them?  Do you battle analysis paralysis and wind up never posting anything?

The answer is that you write a blog post about this internal conflict.  Then you choose to straddle the fence between censoring yourself and expressing yourself.  You expose some facts that you know will polarize your audience.  Really, if something I’ve said or done in the past offends you so much that my abilities and aptitude become a moot point, what are you really hiring for?  Certainly not diversity in the workplace.  If my personal beliefs (or lack thereof) are so incompatible with your own, do we really have anything to offer each other as friends?  I think there might be.

So, what’s the moral of the story?  It’s that being crass and cynical and expressing your opinions about lofty subjects has a place.  That place is the internet.  Likewise, being respectful and obedient and avoiding interpersonal conflict also has a place.  That place is the workplace.  Employers need to take the pressure off of employees to incorporate their private life into their work life.  Don’t ask me for my facebook password during an interview.  Don’t send me a friend request if you’re my boss.  Likewise, employees need to avoid associating their companies and schools with their private life.  Don’t put your work history on your profile.  Don’t friend request your boss.  (LinkedIn is the only exception to those rules.)  Draw a line between work and home, and then never cross it.

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