From 15th May 2020 till 15th June 2020, EMPOWER Malaysia organised an essay competition for aspiring writers aged 13 to 23 with the theme “The Freedom to Express Myself without Fear”. In his essay, Ronan Danial, aged 18 discusses the different forms of self-expression and their implications on the society today.

Ask anyone whether if they have heard of self-expression and you will get a reassuring yes. Ask whether if they have frequently practiced it, and you’ll probably get different answers. Chances are, we may have attempted to express ourselves in one way or another, through speech or writing. If by all means, words fail to send the message, we may have expressed it through, music, art or even sports. Self-expression varies from one individual to another and this action speaks volumes to its targeted audience. Somehow, it has become quite a questionable self-redemption approach to different people, in different communities in different parts of the world.

The world we live in is becoming more complicated as I write. There is a need to be able to express ourselves more than ever. In this complex world, self-expression is a reliable tool for people to send their ideas out there or a balm even, to soothe their soul with their contributions. When we are honest about how we feel, we radiate a sense of authenticity to our surroundings which help not only ourselves, but also the people around us to feel more connected, which in turn, develops a more sincere and trustworthy community.

On top of that, the epitome of a conducive working environment often takes pride of the top-notch communication and collaboration that exist inside of it. Take an established company for example – communication is vital to keep the engines running. Whether if the exchange is top-down or bottom-up, they both serve the utmost importance in ensuring better efficiency and production.  The allowance of self-expression stimulates ideas, interests and passion that encourages more fruitful brainstorming sessions to take place. Of course, brainstorming can only happen when one is allowed to speak up for themselves or else, we would be doing injustice to Alex F. Osborn (he introduced the brainstorming technique) and the whole constitution of creative problem-solving wouldn’t we?

Today, the medium of self-expression have stepped up a notch. The birth of social media platforms namely Facebook, Instagram and Twitter gave the people a voice, a presence and for some, an identity. Real or unreal, the thirst for self-expression is an undeniable compulsion, desperation even.

We have come a long way since the dark days of oppression. Now, in this world that we are living in, we see people taking a jab at almost everything that runs along their feed. Good or bad, comments are posted like a running machine gun with unlimited magazines. These are souls, wanting to be a voice of acceptance and compassion in a world spinning out of control.

Unfortunately, the community has resorted to the ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ parade, for no one wants to be a victim of bullying, in this case, cyberbullying. It is as if self-expression cannot be taken positively and everyone has to take it with a large pinch of salt. It has come to a point that no matter how pure one’s intentions are for their actions; it will always be criticised. As a result, the more you show, the more vulnerable you become.

Take for example the tragic deaths of Zulfarhan and Nhaveen back in June 2017.  In the case of the naval cadet, Zulfarhan, he was picked upon by his peers with unexplained ruthlessness and unimaginable cruelty that caused so much damage that his life ended. The extent of his injuries was so horrendous that a post mortem was deemed unnecessary to determine the cause of his death. On the other hand, 18-year old Nhaveen was bashed up brutally by a group of teenagers using helmets as well as a reported act of sodomy. He was hurt so badly that he ended up brain-dead a couple days before he succumbed to his injuries. Cruel? Yes, and definitely uncalled for. 

One major ‘disease’ afflicting our people is apathy. This is evident in both cases. Reports indicated that people who knew the victim personally were aware of the abuse. On top of that, people nearby who witnessed the commotion, merely observed in the background, or worse, turned a blind eye. Had the people around intervened and stopped the assault, or at least called the authorities, both the victims would probably still be alive today.

Let’s take a moment to ask ourselves first, who are the bullies, really? When we diss people due to differences, when we start pointing fingers, when we don’t take parenting, and teaching seriously, when we judge but don’t listen enough, when we set social standards and expect others to follow them, when we ignore cries for help because we are simply too afraid of the unknown. Without a doubt, we are, the bullies.

It is appallingly obvious that the fear of self-expression still very much lingers amongst us. The fear of taking a side and staying on the fence. The fear of not speaking up even when we know in our heart it was not right. If you choose to be quiet and neutral in situations of injustice, you have unfortunately, chosen the side of the oppressor.

The fear of expressing ourselves will never end if we do not look into the root cause of the problem. And it roots from the obsolete perceptions and blind expectations of society, till it stems to the fears of discussing taboos and speaking out truths. Until finally, it bears the fruits of pretence, ignorance and social hypocrisy. And it’s only a matter of time before the greenery wilts and death precedes veracity. But how many more will have to succumb to fear before society finally realises the bigger picture? That we are collectively responsible for our world and the prospects that we wish to become.

Daunting as it may sound, I don’t have much faith in systems, but I do have faith in people. The time has come for us to embrace our hidden power. Say no to apprehension. Say no to harassment. Say no to fear. Say yes to self-expression.

The views, opinions and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of EMPOWER Malaysia.

Photo by Cristian Dina from Pexels

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