Guest columnist Mariel E. Addis: On self-expression


Published: 07-11-2023 11:15 PM

Now, I could write about the upsetting judgment by the Supreme Court indicating that free speech and religious rights supersede the civil rights of individuals, namely those in the LGBTQ+ community, but I won’t. I could talk about how Moms for Liberty are trying to take over the country’s education system, modeling it with their conservative values using funding from unknown sources, but I won’t.

I could also talk about how Anheuser-Busch decided to walk away from transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney after using her in an ad campaign for Bud Light that caused a massive uproar that endangered her personal safety, but I won’t.

What I’d like to talk about is self-expression: something we all engage in but don’t really think all that much about. I regularly lead group sessions on this topic in my job as a mental health counselor. I try to kick it off myself and then ask for group participation. What has come out of the groups has opened my eyes as much as it has opened the eyes of those I counsel.

When people think of self-expression, most of us frequently think of the arts, of language, of written and spoken words, but it is so much more. We are communicating to others every minute of our lives, although we frequently forget that. Most of what we communicate is done non-verbally, but our words, and how they are said, obviously say a lot and are what most people think of.

I frequently start the group with a listing of what I consider the “heavy hitters” of self-expression, including religion, politics, education, sex and gender (which don’t always align), and sexual orientation. Then there is the monster item that I lump together for simplicity, and to avoid conflict; it is a highly complex area: race/ethnicity/culture. In reality, this vast topic could be a group session all its own, although it might be a rather testy one (not that the other topics might not spark controversy.)

In the group, we cover all kinds of personal self-expression, from clothing choices, hair styles, the choice of car we drive, whether we are smokers or not, down to how we decorate our homes — if we are lucky enough to have one, which sadly, some participants don’t. In the end, we always cover a whiteboard, that although I never measured it, must be at least 4 feet by 3 feet with usually around 40 items, give or take, different ways that we all show the world who we are and what we stand for. It is eye-opening and many participants have expressed how much they enjoyed the group.

I wish we could do this type of thing on a national level to help heal what I frequently feel is a splintered country. Some of our leaders like to point out our differences in an “us vs. them” fashion, and our political, legal, educational, financial, medical, and economic systems frequently feel like they are dysfunctional and in shambles because of this newfound inability to compromise and find common ground.

It is an all-or-nothing country, and world for that matter, we seem to be living in and we are going to need to work together to simply survive.

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In doing the “Self-Expression Exercise” I described above, it shows how very complex we all are, but it also demonstrates how much many of us who are seemingly at odds with one another have in common. I usually mention how fascist governments are quick to control some self-expression (frequently race or ethnic groups) that they despise, or activities they find morally repugnant, such as cross-gender presentation or simply living as a transgender person.

Anyone paying attention to the news from across the country will quickly see these are all issues we are facing in this country as I write this. We need to do far better when it comes to civil rights and the ability of all to make choices, even ones unpopular with conservatives, for themselves.

Now, if we got the country around a giant whiteboard with some markers, maybe, just maybe, we could create some increased understanding.

Mariel Addis is a native of Florence. She left the area for 16 years but returned in 2013.