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Ethical Writing

Giving voice to our community

Writers are, I think, held in very high esteem by their communities. We are the communicators of the dreams, aspirations, heartaches and desires of others. We paint with words on the canvas of the mind. Every person who reads our work imagines the narrative as it is superimposed upon their own array of personal experiences and history. Some of what is written is by its very nature culturally confined to a particular group of people or geographical area. Even the language in which it is written can limit its expression since not all words have a matching word for meaning in another language. When writers sit down to put “pen in hand” or “fingers to keyboard” they are speaking from their personal experience and writing toward an audience whom they hope can understand and appreciate what is written.

Writers, me included, are sensitive people. We are the ones who listen – a lot – to what is going on around us. We are cognitive sponges soaking up the conversations, emotions and surroundings in which we find ourselves. Writers remember, interpret and feel the joys and pains of others and if we are faithful to our craft, create a story or an article or a poem that is an expression of that felt experience. Sometimes we are lauded for what we do. Silas House is a great contemporary example of such a contemporary voice as he continues to advocate for the LGBTQ community in his work and his public advocacy. Other times we are hated, reviled and attacked for what we have written. Salman Rushdie wrote the Satanic Verses in 1988 and a fatwa (death sentence) from the totalitarian theocracy in Iran immediately followed. This culminated in a horrendous knife attack on him last August that left him blind in one eye and the nerves in his right arm severed.

Not all writers are overtly involved in social-political issues. The question that comes up to me again and again is – should we be? Writers after all are possessed with the enormous gift of communicating and preserving ideas for others to consider. We can do that in direct op-ed pieces or in significantly more nuanced works of fiction where the reader must think through the message. Some writers will swear they are not political but then I read their work and find their work is full of political context. Their disavowal of partisanship is, I think, a way of skirting responsibility for any reader taking offense should that occur.

Writers make a thousand decisions every time they sit down to write. That is what the creative process is all about. Do we ignore human suffering? Are we to turn away from the prejudice and hatred we see in our communities? Turning away is as much an act of social participation as being an activist but it is a choice full of negative effects and lost opportunities. My first novel Marilyn had as its protagonist a woman who had been abused and mistreated and who opted to fight back against further mistreatment by using extreme measures appropriate for her circumstances. It was my way of creating a discussion about how women and minorities are treated by power structures. One reader of Marilyn was critical of the profanity in the book. My response was “Have you been out in the world? It is a very profane place. I choose not to ignore the profanity.”

So, to my fellow writers, let us all stayed engaged in the life of our communities both local and on the larger national level. We can give voice to the needs of others and, when we are at our best, create conversations that help lead to meaningful change.

the journey continues…

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