At the recent Festival of Faith and Writing, I attended a session lead by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre entitled Called to Clarity: Writing for a Polarized Public.
The first thing I wrote down was, “It’s impossible to write without politics.”
At which point I seriously considered gathering my things, feigning a bad cough or the plague, and taking my leave.
I avoid politics with fervor. Just like I leave the room when the Blackhawks are ahead by only 1 and there’s 1:45 left in the game. Please don’t start a conversation about the election or the controversy of gender neutral bathrooms with me. One of two things could happen:
- My eyes will glaze over as I think of anything I can talk about *SQUIRREL* to change the subject.
- I will tell you that I need to visit the ladies’ room. And not return until the coast is clear. Which may be tomorrow.
But she’s right. It is almost impossible to write seriously about anything without having people either “like” it or argue about it. Or roll their eyes.
Marilyn spoke to a room of writers, editors, and publishers about the power of words and how they affect the atmosphere and the temperature. So true at every level.
I snap at Audrey and cringe as I hear my own voice speak so harshly. Good golly, Miss Molly, what am I doing to the soul of a sweet 5-year-old?
Someone mentions a name and an incident and suddenly it’s a roomful of gossip.
He/She includes a snide comment in a campaign speech and it creates a legacy of superiority and division.
Did you notice the “he/she” thing? See? Avoidance.
Marilyn also reminded us that “neutrality is complicity.” Which is scary at best. Remember that speech given by Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller and interpreted poetically:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.
It happens too often. Yes, I am completely allergic to ugly and heated political debate, and yes, I wear that aversion with pride. However, I am not as proud of my failure to stand up when compassion and justice are being trampled. When my voice should speak the truth or defend the helpless or reveal my faith without hesitation.
Marilyn spoke about being brave and speaking the truth. Her compassion for the world is compelling. She spoke powerfully about the power of words and the responsibility we carry as writers and publishers.
So, I am here to follow suit and encourage my fellow writers and all who love words.
I believe that we should present our words wisely and carefully.
Not timidly. Carefully.
I believe that our words should heal, not harm. They should unite, not divide.
I also believe that no matter now strongly we feel about what we feel, our voices carry no more weight than those who are uncertain or opposed or conflicted.
And if – or when – our words are met with disdain and hostility, so be it. Let’s not feed the hate. Let’s make sure that, to the best of our ability, we have written with compassion and respect. The response of our readers is between them and them.
Please don’t misunderstand – I absolutely do not mean we must all agree. But, we can and should create opportunity and space to safely converse.
The world is swimming in words and ideas and opinions. My hope is that mine have merit. Not to be noticed and celebrated. Not to be memorialized. My hope is that my words and yours, when offered in love and with a peaceful spirit, will add a layer of sweetness to a bitter and broken world.