Growing up in mainstream suburban America, I can hardly think of a ‘dirtier’ word back then than censorship.

It was the height of the cold war, and censoring was something that ‘bad’ countries like the USSR did and good countries like the US didn’t. And if something was censored back home by either parents or politicians, it only meant it was something worth putting in an extra effort to see or read (or to vigorously protest, in my Brandeis years).

Who’d have thought the day would come that not only would I willingly allow the info and images that came my way to be censored – but I’d be doing that censoring myself?

I’ll explain.

While politically motivated censorship, a prime tool of totalitarian regimes, still rankles me to the core, I’ve come to see one type of censorship – self-censorship – as actually a form of freedom rather than its opposite.

I reached this conclusion after asking myself a couple of questions:

Must I truly allow myself to be a captive audience to imbibe whatever information or visual that anyone, regardless of their motives, avails to me, simply because they did so?

Wouldn’t true freedom of expression also include the ‘freedom of reception’ to make personal choices as to which freely expressed offerings I’d like to take in?

Of course, the case contra can be made that by not being open to everything, I’m limiting myself and taking the risk of missing out on valuable and enriching ideas and experiences.

That’s true.

Also, some might assert, if I expose myself to something which I wish I hadn’t, I can simply avoid it in the future, and have lost nothing in the process.

That is not true.

Putting aside the time wasted in watching/reading/listening to everything, a basic concept of spirituality is that the spiritual aspect of a human being, commonly referred to as the soul, is a living, functioning entity and, like the body, is affected favorably or adversely by whatever you ‘put into’ it by letting it into your consciousness, even once.

Just as a thinking person wouldn’t smoke a pack of cigarettes ‘just for the experience’ and then after the subsequent nausea (and possible permanent damage), blithely shrug it off and decide it wasn’t for them, why would I want to light up a ‘soul cigarette’ under the same premise?

Of course, the question remains; what’s considered harmful, permanently or otherwise, to the soul? After all, the surgeon general hasn’t issued any warnings that I know of.

I suppose that’s essentially a personal choice; for me, self-censored input includes that which demeans human dignity, undermines my valued relationships, or stimulates selfishness and other small-minded traits.

And just like a responsible parent would advise and educate his kids to avoid smoking, and wouldn’t even bring lung-mucking cigarettes into the house to place them at their disposal, I advise and educate my kids to avoid what to the best of my knowledge could gum up their souls.

Truth is, the word censorship still rings irksome to my ears. But I guess you could say that by self-censoring what I’m really doing is self-‘sensor’-ing; developing a clear sense of my spiritual goals and needs and making that the sensor that decides what gets in and what doesn’t.

Makes sense?


About the Author
Nesanel Yoel Safran, US born and a graduate of Brandeis, now living with his wife and family in the Judean Hills, is a writer, chef, and a teacher/student of Jewish spirituality. He blends these assorted vocations on his blog, Soul Foodie, where you can join him on mystical cooking adventures and glean practical wisdom for the kitchen — and for living.
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