Canary in the Coal Mine

canary-in-coal-mineEarlier this week, I listened to an NPR story about how the recently publicized eavesdropping incidents of the NSA have caused writers to self-censor their work for fear of government retribution. The story mentioned that when it comes to freedom, writers are the canaries in the coal mine, the first ones to notice and react when there is a risk of persecution. And so, instead of being able to exercise their right to self-expression, writers are keeping silent on controversial issues.

It was an excellent story, represented equally by Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, and David Simon, the writer and producer who created the HBO series The Wire. Nafisi told about a writer she knew who has faced harassment over a poem that she wrote jihadis becoming jihadis. Simon argued that “If a quarter of the writers are saying they’re already self-censoring – based on a dynamic in which you’ve seen the government not interpose in any significant way – it disappoints me that writers have not shown the courage of their convictions.”

Anyway, it made me think about the self-censoring that I do in my writing. Though I don’t fear government retribution or harassment over the things I write about on my blog, I do choose not to write about certain topics because I know quite a few of my readers in person.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if the canary in my coal mine isn’t dead, it has surely passed out. Let me justify myself.

The reason I self-censor is out of fear/respect. Fear, because I don’t want people to dislike me because I share something negative about them. Respect, because it isn’t my goal to cast anyone into a negative light.

And so I wonder if my reluctance to write about specific topics is a bad thing or a good thing. How would you feel if you had a message to share but feared the outcome of sharing that message? How would you feel if someone shared something honestly, but it cast you in a negative light?

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2 responses to “Canary in the Coal Mine

  1. I’ve started to censor myself more, because I’ve realized that my friends and family are very nervous that I’ll share something that makes them look bad. “Are you going to put that on the internet?” is something I hear at least twice a month. I don’t know that I ever purposely shared something to embarrass someone, but they sure are jumpy about it.

    At some point, however, we writers do need to write about actual things. And our lives and the people in them are the obvious choices. It’s a hard balance!

  2. That very thing happened to me. Yes, it was difficult but two things are true. One, open dialog with honesty resulted. And two, I believe God was honored because we are called to transparency. Self censoring could also be considered a type of people pleasing and thus could fall into hypocrisy.

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