5 Suggestions for Self-Censorship (Blogs)

The idea of self-censorship is alien to many. Freedom of speech is something we value, rightly so, but there are times when, as Benedict says, melius est silere quam loqui, it is better to be silent than to speak. Words are dangerous, slippery things. Once let out of the cage, they cannot be whistled back again; and while they are on the loose, they can do untold harm. When should we put a clamp over our mouths or a lock on our keyboards? Here are a few suggestions. I am sure you can add to them.

1. Never turn an argument ad hominem. Good people sometimes do bad deeds, but a personal attack is never justified unless one is in possession of all the facts (unlikely).

2. Never give way to the temptation to be patronising or dismissive: you have lost the argument if you do.

3. Never state as fact what is merely opinion. Everyone has a right to their good name. If you want to make an accusation, make sure you have evidence to back it up.

4. Never forget that acts have consequences: before you write or comment, consider what the effect on others might be, especially those who may suffer as a result.

5. Never underestimate the importance of goodwill. Encouragement achieves more than condemnation, courtesy more than rudeness — no one was ever bullied into belief.

That is not an exhaustive list, but I’m sure there will be some who will see it as a limitation on their freedom, a forcing them to be something other than they are. I myself see it as a discipline, a way of ensuring that what one writes is responsibly written. Lurking behind my suggestions is, of course, an even bigger question than how we should conduct ourselves online but, sadly, it is too big to explore in a short blog post. Can you guess what it is?



16 thoughts on “5 Suggestions for Self-Censorship (Blogs)”

  1. For myself, one of my rules (in which I sometimes fail) is not to read the sort of blogs that arouse my own passions and tempt me to respond inappropriately. Of course it’s not always that simple as there are some that it is helpful to read for some information, but there are some blogs (I could name a couple of both Orthodox and Catholic ones, but won’t) that I have now put off limits because they are, frankly, an occasion of sin, at least for me. Even though I usually refrain from commenting, they nevertheless poison my thoughts, and I don’t want them doing that.

    I think that your bigger question of how we conduct ourselves on the internet is very important, if wide-ranging and will be interested to hear more of your thoughts on this!

  2. I agree with Macrina – self-censorship can also apply to what we read. Not that we pretend to live in a cotton-wool world, but it makes as much sense to keep our internet consumption healthy as it does to do the same with our food intake.

    Written criticism, especially online where it is often posted in haste, without consideration, and anonymously without accountability, can so often be hurtful and damaging even if it’s intended to be ‘constructive.’ We are here to build each other up, not tear each other down. Thank you for your online thoughts – I often find something timely and helpful in your posts.

    • Yes, Anna and Macrina, I do agree. It’s so easy – for me anyway – to find a horrid fascination in reading some of the rants and un-charity (is that a word?) in blogs and discussion groups, even Christian ones. And even if I don’t join in with a comment I can catch myself doing so in my head. I heard someone speak once about keeping”custody of the brain” as well as of the eyes – watching the diet of what we read, as you say. Annie Dillard says something like “what you read is what you will write, and what you learn is what you will know”.

  3. Thanks for this. Directed, reminds me 5 of 10 Commandments. Perhaps lurking:

    Romans 13:8
    “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another hath fulfilled the law……”

  4. Good advice – I find it so easy to get dragged into the excitement of ‘winning’ an argument and forget the human behind the keyboard.

    I do often write things and then delete them instead of posting. Sometimes because I’ve written something potentially harmful, sometimes just because I ask if I’m really contributing anything new – does my voice really need to be heard on this?

      • Thank you, Jean.

        I think the easier part is keeping our behaviour in check, but to effect the change of heart that one would wish for but only rarely can attain is a nagging problem. Choosing to give ones life over to the Good, one finds oneself appearing to be better on the outside than one actually is on the inside, that is lacking congruence. The inner self is not very good at all. And that is very disappointing. Of course, I should say that I speak for myself…

        • Margaret, it is my belief there will always room for improvement. The fact that we recognize our sinfulness and flaws and feel regret for them is the first step on the path to forgiveness. That, coupled with the Sacrament of Reconciliation helps a lot. Only God is perfect, and we need to keep in mind that however flawed and failing we are, we are His creation. He doesn’t expect perfection, but that we keep trying to walk in His light and not give in to the darker side of our natures. Our salvation is an ongoing work in progress with a few steps forward and (hopefully) fewer steps backwards, a journey, not a guided tour.

        • Sorry, forgot to say, you don’t speak only for yourself. If I had a halo, it would be tarnished, somewhat bent out of shape, not even a good fit, lopsided…

  5. “In seeking wisdom, the first step is silence; the second, listening; the third, remembering; the fourth, practicing; the fifth, teaching others”. ~ Ibn Gabirol

  6. Self censorship should also lead to diplomacy in language used. It is not just what is said that is important but also how it is said; truth can be unpleasant but the language does not have to be.

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