Do free speech and transparency actually make people happier?

I was browsing over at the Anchoress, and I found this fascinating article on free speech, political correctness and self-censorship.This is a huge issue for Christians, especially given what is happening in countries like Canada with these politically correct, multi-cultural censorship tribunals. In the post, the Anchoress urges us to be less worried about offending people.

In our politically correct age, where everyone is afraid of giving offense, being misconstrued-and -then-sued, or simply fearful of falling out-of-step with the trendoids, we almost never hear or read anything that is uncontrolled.

But “free speech” cannot be controlled or it is not “free” at all. And we in America have for too long engaged in self-censorship in favor of “niceness.”

Sometimes, you have to lose control and let the words fly, and if you cannot do that, you are not free.

People in my office know that my favorite way to end a conversation is by apologizing. I probably apologize about 15 times a day. Why do I have to do that? The people I work now with are the most tolerant people I have ever worked with. But I never know if a member of some left-wing special interest victim group is listening, and they may sue me if they don’t like what I say.

And what is the effect of this PC victim mentality? Fewer friendships between people who disagree. Shouldn’t these “victims” get used to the idea that some people disagree with them? People disagree with me all the time. My Christian beliefs were mocked by the media and secular teachers all the way from kindergarden to grad school. I didn’t complain! I wasn’t offended by people who disagreed with me.

The Anchoress also cites a study from Science Daily that argues that self-censorship makes people very unhappy. The study notes:

They figured that well-intentioned people are careful – sometimes hyper-careful – not to say the wrong thing about race in a mixed-race group. Furthermore, they thought that such effortful self-control might actually cause both unease and guarded behavior, which could in turn be misconstrued as racial prejudice.

…independent black observers found that the powerless volunteers were much more direct and authentic in conversation. And perhaps most striking, blacks saw the less inhibited whites as less prejudiced against blacks. In other words, relinquishing power over oneself appears to thwart over-thinking and “liberate” people for more authentic relationships.

As a person of color myself, I would just state that the joy of having authentic relationships with different people is real. I love intimacy. I love being myself. I love opening myself up to people. I love disagreements. If I cannot say what I really think about issues that matter, how am I supposed to be able to form authentic friendships with people with whom I disagree? Enforced segregation by worldview is very bad.

The Anchoress goes on in her post to list how free speech has been curtailed in a number of instances, even in the media, where there is supposed to be freedom of the press.

If we lose our freedom to speak out – to opine loudly, to mock, to question, even to demandthen we have lost everything.

And the truth is, we have already – thanks to political correctness and self-censorship – fallen into the mindset that our speech should be controlled, measured and unfree.

Her post made me recall a podcast that Dennis Prager did a while back on the issue of transparency. For those who don’t know, Prager has a regular “Happiness Hour” every week on his show. Prager makes the point that being transparent with your neighbors, and not censoring yourself, leads to happiness. There is also a partial transcript here. Here’s an excerpt:

You have to let out your secrets. Keeping yourself bottled is a recipe for misery, anger and pathology. I must have hit paydirt here, because all the lines lit up before I even gave the number.

Keeping stuff inside of you, and usually, we do it because we’re embarrassed by it. But you know, everybody has things that they are embarrassed by. The more that you keep hidden, the less chance of happiness you have. Why would one want to go through life hiding? It’s like wearing a veil over your psyche, and over your soul, or even a burka, completely covered. I’ve never followed it, because…I’ve never been hurt by opening up. I mean, it hasn’t always received the response that I wanted. It’s inevitable that it won’t.

The Anchoress ends by mentioning the movie “The Lives of Others“. I just watched it myself yesterday evening, because I saw that it was number ONE on National Review’s list of top conservative movies. And now I am going to make it clear to you. WATCH THIS MOVIE. This is the most amazing movie I have seen in a long time. I give it my highest recommendation!

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from the Anchoress! Thanks so much for the link! New readers may want to take a look around since I cover a lot of different topics here, from free speech to economics to science to public policy!

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