Speak Freely or Die

In the spring of 1970 just after the Kent State shootings things were extremely tense on college campuses. My campus at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) was no exception. It was a time of drastic transformation, courage and unrest. Yet during those pressure-packed days the IUP administration made an uncharacteristically wise decision. Black Power members and other radical students decided they wanted to demonstrate by walking a route right through the heartland of the two groups on campus who felt threatened the most by the rapid change, the ROTC (reserve officers training) headquarters and the athletic field house.

University officials knew that the peace could not be kept by anyone in uniform. They also knew that they couldn’t deny the request to demonstrate. Their solution was pure genius. They asked my fraternity, the Brothers of Sigma Tau Gamma, to march on the outside ring of the demonstrators to act as a buffer of peace and sanity between both groups.

In 1968 I was a ROTC cadet myself but the Vietnam War changed everything. I opted out – and by 1970 I was a longhaired wild man wearing cut-off bib overalls. My fraternity was asked to serve that day because of our unique makeup. Some of us had become full-fledged hippies and some of us remained hard-core jocks. I was proudly both and I did inhale. Because we had the respect of both sides we were the buffer least likely to fan the flames of hate. Now it was up to the Brothers of Sigma Tau; would we accept this perilous assignment?

As I look back on those times I find it fascinating that I was my wildest, most courageous and most unrestricted self during those college years. It also was the time when I felt the most freedom. We could choose to go to class or to honor the fallen students at Kent State by not attending. We could choose to remain silent and buy what our government was selling or we could express ourselves freely in protest.

Is there a connection between the freedom of self-determination and the freedom of self-expression? Darn right there is. They go hand-in-hand.

Employees have less of both freedoms. We self-employed get to choose, but even among the ranks of the self-employed we sometimes choose an inauthentic silence.

We suppress our freedom of self-expression when we hold back from saying what we really want to say. We restrict ourselves because we are afraid of some undesirable consequence.

Self-censorship is all about fear. It could be a fear of standing out, offending, being judged, or fear of what others might think of us. What’s behind that fear? Why do we care so much? Could it be a primal fear of crossing cultural lines and of being left alone because our tribe no longer accepts us?

Or is it simply fear-based economics? If we believe that there is only so much good to go around, aren’t we more likely to censor what we express for fear of offending? For example we could believe that by taking a spiritual or political stance we may adversely affect a hiring or buying decision? Business blogging gurus say that it’s simply good sense to play it safe. But when we play it safe, are we really living our lives on our terms? Or are we just pretending?

Are we afraid that once we are totally exposed, fewer people will like us or support us as we really are? Stripped of our fears, who are we?

Without your fears who are you? Really consider this question for a bit. Who are you without your fears? Are you more or less yourself? Are you happier? Stronger? In the absence of fear are you not more carefree?

What good might happen if you decided let go of your fears and freely express? When we hold back from revealing our whole truth, aren’t we saying that the opinions of others matter more to us than our own? Isn’t this a pretty small way to live?

Where in your life are you playing it safe and thus way too small?

Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.

David Whyte, from his poem Sweet Darkness

Holding back is choosing to play it safe. Just so, exaggeration also masks the real you. Hiding behind a facade of exaggeration is a most cowardly form of self-censorship. Where are you exaggerating the truth to make yourself appear other than you are?

If you do not pretend to be more than you are, you will dare to be all that you are.

Susan Thesenga

Might that dare be your call to aliveness? Might it be your time it to show yourself, bruises, baggage and all?

What if the question is not why am I so infrequently the person I really want to be, but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am? Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Without your fears, you are a gloriously wonderful human being. You came here to do something remarkable. The world needs your special contribution. Isn’t it time to speak up before the real you withers away and dies? If you could remember to be who you are more often, how would this change your willingness to freely express yourself?

What did the Brothers of Sigma Tau do? Yes we were both hippies and jocks but we were first brothers. So we marched and we kept the peace that day. Right on.


  1. Without your fears, you are a gloriously wonderful human being. You came here to do something remarkable. The world needs your special contribution. Isn’t it time to speak up before the real you withers away and dies? If you could remember to be who you are more often, how would this change your willingness to freely express yourself?

    Rock on with your bad self Tom!

    Thank you for fanning the fire of allowing open self expression.

    You remind me to continue to be true to the real me – a divine goddess of unconventional wisdom. *squealing with delight*

    Enormously cool post.

  2. Karen Lynch says:

    I love this post! It is so nice to read something that is different from the rest (maybe it is just me but I seem to see a lot of same ‘ol, same “ol) I love that this post is different and interesting yet still says something profound!
    It made me think about my own writing and if I express myself authentically….I think I did for a long time but I know that in the past few months a few critics have slowed me down.
    I appreciate the reminder.

    Karen Lynchs last blog post..What Could Have Been

  3. A personal question: did you read the books from where you culled the quotes? If so, you have touched a depth that totally amazes me.

    Second question: does it seem that if we have something outside ourselves to stand for it’s more compelling, that the reality of it makes the small hairs stand with electricity? If somone else depends on us, is it easier? If it is ‘only’ ourselves, why do we diminish the significance or the need to forge ahead into and through fear? Can it be true that fear is only excitement through which you forget to breathe and there is no difference between doing for others and doing for self?

    What is the piece about ‘standing’ for something that doesn’t have the momentum of a war-torn world? Perhaps just a doubt-filled mind, ever marking the path with detering signposts?

    This is a wonderful piece. Color me “wowed”.


  4. Life is so much better when you have the courage to face your fears. Great post and memories.

  5. This talks a lot about what my most recent article, just worded in the sense of fear instead of knowledge. We basically fear because we’ve eaten a lie. We put our faith in it. Without our faith, the lie or the fear can’t survive.

    I’m trying to learn how to express myself in my writing, uninhibited. It’s been a great process for to overcome my fear and step outside of my comfort zone. It’s a wonderful growing process.

    Great article Tom, stumbled. =)

  6. Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Map says:

    I’ve got great successes with EFT. I used to be a sceptic but as I start to experience results, I applied it more and more.

    Enjoyed your post! It really spoke to me about self expressions. I’ve suppressed myself previously, which apparently contributed to my problems with eczema.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Evelyn Lim | Attraction Mind Maps last blog post..Our Life Journey: Break Free From Limiting Beliefs

  7. Fear and anxiety are the two most debilitating states of mind; and they are irrational.

    One of my own life chores has been to fight to find a balance between thinking and feeling. My heart never leads me wrong, but it takes my brain to harness the passion, energy and truth in a productive way.

    I missed going to Woodstock by missing my ride there. Looking back on it now, I’m glad I didn’t make it. Uninhibited party, to say the least! It took my friends almost a full week to recover. Underlying that whole time of our history was a sense of …groundlessness… a sort of panic because our generation had managed to burn the bridges and there was no other way but forward. Though we won many battles, we still lost the war.

    I think freedom of voice goes right along with free will and freedom of choice. It takes an honesty within and without to define yourself enough to transcend the fear.

    Tom, I really enjoyed your post, and I am subscribing!

    Theresas last blog post..Saying Thank You Out Loud

  8. Shann tell it like it is with powerful self talk and hail to the Divine Goddess of Unconventional Wisdom.

    Pat how is life better for you when you face your fears?

    Jonathan I commented over at your blog about this voice of knowledge. Thanks for pointing out the similarities here. Your comment about trying to learn how to write uninhibitedly tells me that perhaps it’s not something we try to do at all. I do have a tip for you. Write about something that pisses you off! The anger will call out to your uncensored voice and it will feel so good.

    Karen thanks for recognizing my different approach. That’s music to my ears. Please don’t take any shit from your critics. I’m encouraging you to write a post answering their critiques. I’ll be glad to swing by and kick their asses for you.

    Fawn thank you for the very kind words. I have read a couple of David Whyte’s books but that line was directly from his poem, Sweet Darkness. I’ve read the Susan Thesenga book, The Undefended Self: Living the Pathwork. The quote from Oriah Mountain Dreamer is from her book the Invitation; I’ve read the poem and not the book.

    As for your other questions I’ve read them a few times and I’m not really certain of what you’re asking. Please ask again I get the feeling you knew exactly what you meant. I just can’t grasp the essence of what you’re asking. Can you lay it out a little clearer for this thick noggin?

    Evelyn thank you and I’m so happy to see that you are now on the other side of suppression. I’ve also found EFT to be enormously helpful.

    Theresa thanks for subscribing and thank you for reminiscing with me. I wondered if any fellow travelers from those days would read this post. My memories aren’t of a groundless time as you put it but Perhaps it was. Consciousness for me was at a minimum back then. I truly enjoyed the whole concept of dropping out. It was a delicious escape from responsibility.

    “My heart never leads me wrong, but it takes my brain to harness the passion, energy and truth in a productive way.” This is a very astute observation and one I can relate to. I’d like to read more from you on this. Let me know if you ever write a post elaborating on this comment.

  9. Tom, how is life better for me when I face my fears? Life is better in so many ways. The first time I even realized that I had lived most of my childhood in fear, I was 19 years old, running down a dark country road to get away from my drunk, abusive dad. My sister was running right beside me. We were running and I suddenly realized that we had no where to go. So we stopped running and walked back home. I remember thinking that I had never felt the fear before that night. I had denied that I felt it or stuffed it deep inside me. At that age, I didn’t know how to handle it. I made the decision that night that I had to leave that home or I would go crazy or die. That was when I found courage for the first time. A few weeks later, I had made arrangements with an older friend to live with her and get a summer job before going away for my junior year of college.

    The next time that I actively started to look at all of the fears that I carried around was when I was 38 years old and in Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) and Al-Anon meetings and a few months later in an Incest Survivor Counseling group. I remember sitting in an ACA meeting and telling everyone that my fears were big enough to fill the entire room that we were sitting in. That is the night that I started looking at my fears and whiddling away at them one fear at a time. Most of them were needless and unrealistic. Courage had become my constant companion instead of fear.

    I think I just found my next blog article. I haven’t thought about my fear and courage in exactly this way before. I hope I answered your question. I will be sure to link back to this article when I get mine written and posted. Thanks for sending me in this direction with your question. I almost missed it because you called me Pat instead of Patricia, but that is another story. I do go by both Pat and Patricia. This is what I love about yours and other blogs that I read, they make me think and sometimes remember my own process. Thanks.

    Patricia – Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworkers last blog post..Grieving—A Necessary Process For Healing

  10. There, I let go of my fears and freely expressed and you didn’t understand me. Will that stop me? Nevah! OK, I’ll try again:

    In your story, the motivation to “speak or die,” “act or die” is actually a choice where the “or die” is a real possibility and adds to the excitement and resolve. Deciding to be courageous and to live your ‘truth’ when you are surrounded by your ‘brothers’ and part of the group, seems huge motivational piece. When there are a lot of people involved and the stakes are high (public and publicized), there is more of an energy around the choice…we are swept up by the communal energy. It might feel more exciting or more compelling to act or move beyond our individual stasis. The group dynamic creates a stream or wave that we can ride, that stream is motivational.

    When talking about blogging, or self-employment, or entrepreneurship, we are IT. There’s no brotherly group or ‘let’s go make a huge statement together…” or being called on to step up by an administrator with a plan for a greater good (go save some lives). We are self-employed why? To do something for our ‘self’, is that less noble than doing something where you sacrifice (anything–including your fears) for someone else or for a group?

    When talking about self-employment, the timeline for success is elongated, there is no external crisis point (perhaps the internal crisis point is needing money but that can be coming from fear rather than moving past it). There’s no ‘administrator with a plan or guarantee saying, hey hippie jock dudes, go here, march here, become a here-o. With no ‘crisis point’ or ‘passion point’ our decisions are mulled over, ignorance of process and procedures becomes a factor, doubt creeps in, and voila, it’s easier to go get a job.

    So my question was, with the absence of this ‘crisis point’ outside yourself, how do you find, fuel and maintain that same energy level that in those long, lonely nights and many doubt points? When you are an entrepreneur, or self-employed, not having a ‘script’ or predictable success markers sometimes seems like trolling in the dark.

    So are you saying that by overcoming your fears of failure (etc.) it will get easier?

    Did that make more sense?

  11. Tom, I posted my article and the link back to this article this morning. You will find it at http://patriciasingleton.blogspot.com/2008/05/facing-my-fears-and-how-that-changed-my.html . Let me know what you think.

    Patricia – Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworkers last blog post..Facing My Fears And How That Changed My Life

  12. “My heart never leads me wrong, but it takes my brain to harness the passion, energy and truth in a productive way.” This is a very astute observation and one I can relate to. I’d like to read more from you on this. Let me know if you ever write a post elaborating on this comment.

    Tom, this has been a life-long struggle for me, being one of those ‘whacky musicians’ and all. I don’t want to clog your comments with a bunch of links to my stuff, but I have written about this several times in several different ways. You’re welcome to come explore!


    Theresas last blog post..Notes on Changes

  13. Fawn thank so much for coming back and explaining. Yes now I understand what you are asking. No doing something for yourself is not less noble, if anything it is even more noble because we are fulfilling our inherent covenant of authenticity.

    I used the story as a way of illustrating how the freedoms of self-determination and self-expression are more likely found together. There was quite a lot of individual self-expression in the meeting we held to determine our response to the request. It was an extremely heated discussion because we knew that whatever the majority said – all would endorse. That’s the essence of brotherhood. So I don’t think it was easier to stand tall and speak my mind then. In fact it’s much easier now because I have the benefit of experience.

    But more to your point – saying that an external crisis point allows us to become more motivated is just not true. WE can be more motivated by some external influence than by our own internal guidance but I think it’s a mistake to do so. Then you’re always looking for something on the outside to respond to.

    Yes of course it gets easier and in fact the fears don’t even enter into decisions after awhile. As for the doubts, it’s the self doubts that we really need to work on. The ones where we doubt our own capability are the ones that keep us stuck within analysis and non-action.

    “So my question was, with the absence of this ‘crisis point’ outside yourself, how do you find, fuel and maintain that same energy level that in those long, lonely nights and many doubt points?” My answer – the doubts simply don’t arise as much as they used to. Probably because I’ve realized a couple of things.
    1). In any present moment I’m totally fine. In fact I’m more than fine because I have complete freedom. The doubts only come when I try to leave the present and live in the future.
    2). It really doesn’t matter. We make it all up, meaning our perspective on how things really are. So if I’m going to make it all up I might as well make up a perspective hat has me feeling eager and vigorously alive.

    I hope Fawn, that you can use these two relative truths to silence the doubts and laugh it off.

    Patricia thanks so much for the beautiful explanation of facing your fears. I’ve read your post at you blog and you are a wonderful example of feeling the fear and acting regardless of it.

    Theresa I will visit again to read about your heart and your mind.

  14. Fear is a great teacher, but must be harnessed. If it isn’t, it can rule your life.

    I used to let fear guide my actions, but now I use in conjuction with all the other emotions. When I spoke in public my nervousness took over, until I faced it by joining Toastmasters (public speaking club). It opened my awareness to the energy that was hidden within. I was so scared that my true voice wouldn’t release. But facing this fear and learning from it allowed me to find the enjoyment in teaching a group my knowledge. It was about giving back to them, not being afraid of what they thought of me. The selfishness ended and my true self could be expressed.

    Karl Staib – Your Work Happiness Matterss last blog post..Mini Sabbaticals Should Be Mandatory

  15. Suzanne Bird-Harris | Learning Curve Coaching says:

    Without your fears, you are a gloriously wonderful human being. You came here to do something remarkable. The world needs your special contribution. Isn’t it time to speak up before the real you withers away and dies? If you could remember to be who you are more often, how would this change your willingness to freely express yourself?

    Mine almost did wither and die. Almost. It was that realization that made me stand up and yell, “Oh HELL NO!” to just about every aspect of my life. Then came the sinking realization that I had created the mess that was my life by shrinking each time I could have shined.

    My willingness to freely express myself today is bolstered and fed each time I do it. I find that it’s easier in certain areas of my life than others. Because I (the real me) almost ‘died’ in my personal relationships, I speak most freely there today. What those closest to me think of me is no longer my first concern. What I think of me is.

    Ironically, the area I hold back the most today is in my ‘public’ life – with my clients and at my blogs. I don’t know if I’m worried that because they don’t have the context that the people who’ve had a front row seat to my personal life have had, they won’t ‘get’ the real me?

    This is a new twist for me because while I was fading away in my personal life, I was shining in my work life…or so I thought. I suspect now it’s more likely that I was faking a good game in my work life while my personal life was seeking the city sewer, and now that it’s not, the truth is revealed in my work life.

    So, I’m going to take the advice you gave Jonathan and write about what pisses me off. Tapping that is what turned things around for me in my personal life (so, Jonathan, I can tell you Tom’s advice works, for sure!) so look out work life – here comes the real me!

    And I already know that what will happen there is the same thing that happened in my personal life: people will either welcome and applaud the change or they’ll get their undies in a bunch and start squawking. And I already know I will do the same thing that I did there: I will interact with those who remain and attract new people who value me and what I have to offer while I turn a deaf ear to the squawkers and let them fade away.

    Might it be your time it to show yourself, bruises, baggage and all?


    Right on, dude!

  16. Karl wouldn’t it be great if every fear had a ready-made solution like Toastmasters addresses the fear of public speaking?

    I wonder if our real work is to define our fears so that we can create the structure and solution to address them?

    Suzanne I’m so happy that you have decided to let your wild self rip. As for others, some will, some won’t, so what, next! (I didn’t say that first but I’ve heard so many act like they did I don’t know who to credit it to.)

    I just love it when you get fired up. It’s very inspiring and you’re right. the folks who like that will gather and you’re phone will ring. Let them hire you who like to be around you. Life couldn’t be sweeter!

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Works last blog post..Speak Freely or Die

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