Freedom of Expression.
It’s a universal value. Beyond a desire, it’s a need. Among our most fundamental needs as human beings I believe are the need to feel seen, heard, and fully expressed.
And yet to look at life is to look at the many ways our freedom to fully express ourselves is limited, in small ways that we don’t always realize until it’s late in the game, until the restrictions on our expression have become embodied as habits.
The ways that governments do this is well-documented and explored; I don’t want to talk about those here. Instead I want to look at how our socialization can inhibit our freedom of expression.
This is not just about speech.
Expression takes many forms.
We announce ourselves in this world through sound: an audible cry of our existence, a cry that eventually changes in tone and intensity as we learn to shape it to express our different needs. Cries may turn into shrieks or loud sighs.
Until we learn that it’s not ok to cry or make sounds, especially in public.
Almost as soon as we learn to walk our feet get shoved into shoes, depriving us of access to develop our feet in their full potential, unless we took the route of a dancer.
Consider how you articulate the fingers of your hand, how nimble you are with your hands. Can you do the same with your feet?
For many of us, our mobility comes with a soundtrack of warning songs, cries from the edge of the playground:
Don’t go there.
Watch out or you’ll get hurt.
These warnings condition us to believe that every step is fraught with risk, danger ever-present with any movement.
Expression is How We Communicate With Ourselves
Expression is not just how we communicate with other people; it’s also how we communicate with ourselves. Physical movement especially is a way to speak and listen to ourselves.
What happens when we cut off that communication?
When your floor is another person’s ceiling, when every creak may cause that person to become irritated or agitated, suddenly your dance becomes stifled, your body restricting movement in fear of drawing the wrath of the neighbor downstairs.
When cries and shouts might prompt mis-reactions from people who overhear through thin walls, we are forced to scream into pillows, muffling our own voice.
When our very act of sighing out our breath in a yoga class becomes an issue of contention, we learn to hold in our breath.
When shaking our bodies to release pent up energy is met with admonition to still yourself and control your body and stop shaking, we begin to fear movement.
In these and so many other ways, we learn to keep still and silent. Soon enough we don’t need anyone else to restrict our expression. Our bodies and minds have learned to restrict it on their own. And then, even when we have the space to do so, we no longer have the freedom within ourselves to express.
Movement. Dance. Cries. Song. Voice. Creative projects. Words. Art.
Consider all the areas of your life in which you express, in all ways.
Freedom of expression is vital to our survival. How free do you feel to express yourself?