A lot of things have happened in the US in the past month. Tragic things. Things that are often difficult to wrap our heads around and fully comprehend.
Granted, a lot of things – tragic things – have happened all over the world in the past month. I don’t mean to disregard those things. But as I am much closer to the recent tragedies of the US than other places, I prefer to focus on those for now.
It’s during these times when “living” on the internet becomes very difficult for me. When bad things happen, it seems like everyone has something to say about it. This isn’t always a bad thing. Offering prayers, writing open letters, commenting on news stories – everyone has their own way of responding to and coping with tragedy. I respect that everyone must handle tough situations in their own way.
So I don’t always understand why my way – the way of a writer – doesn’t earn the same respect.
These are the general, paraphrased messages I have seen online in the past month.
Commenting on what needs to change doesn’t actually change anything. Action is what promotes change.
If you stay silent, you’re just as bad as the people committing senseless acts of violence.
I have the right to say something because I identify with this group of people; you don’t, so therefore, you don’t have the right to speak.
In some contexts, there is nothing wrong with these statements. In other contexts, these statements are troubling, contradicting and unproductive.
I am looking at this from the perspective of someone who communicates messages for a living. I do not take sides, I do not wish to form opinions about anything specific that has happened for my own personal reasons, and I am neither praising nor insulting any specific party in this post. This is the way I see things. You are welcome to disagree, but if your argument is not constructive, please keep it to yourself or contact me personally outside of this comments section.
First: I am a writer. I am, in some ways, a master of words. That does not mean I am required to join a conversation. If you are waiting for me to say something, and I don’t, let that send a message much louder than words ever could.
If you think silence somehow means I don’t care, that I’m indifferent or don’t want to add my voice to the conversation, you’re wrong. The thing about writing is, anyone can do it. Anyone can type words and hit a button and send it out there for everyone to see. But a writer, a true writer, doesn’t abuse words that way. A writer constructs their thoughts strategically, forming an argument, taking a stance, and doing so with great logic and effort. It takes time to do that.
So if I don’t say something right away, if it takes time for me to respond, it’s because I’m just doing what writers do. I’m not just throwing out words. I’m posting well-constructed thoughts that just so happen to appear in a written form.
Sometimes words cannot adequately express the way I wish I could respond to something. That means I’m most likely not going to respond. It may be because I do not yet fully understand a thing everyone else is commenting on; I will never voice my opinion if I am not as well informed, in a non-biased manner, as I can possibly be. It may be because simply saying “I agree with this person” doesn’t always feel necessary to me; I don’t want to repeat a message that has already been communicated, that’s a waste of words, especially in the aftermath of tragedy. If I cannot add something constructive to a discussion, I will always choose silence.
Honestly, it may just be because I’m tired. I’m tired, and I may wish I could know the ideal solution to everything, and I may be an educated, effective communicator, but that does not mean I have all the answers. And it certainly does not mean I have the right to offer any suggestions I may have, especially when I am not directly involved or affected by something that has happened.
Second, as a writer, I do not write about people, the way you probably assume. I write about issues. Issues that involve people, yes, but too often we focus too much on people and not enough on the underlying issue. People are catalysts, they are not the entirety of the problem. Catalysts can be good or they can be bad. They can make a problem worse or they can make it better. Through action.
But what you often fail to realize is that before action should, ideally, come thought. And a writer often thinks by writing. So you can criticize my essay on Issue X all you want to, but just because I have written something that talks about what needs to change does not mean I – or someone else who reads that piece – do not plan on doing something later. Writing is a starting point. It is how I gather my thoughts. It is how I try to make sense of the things that don’t really make sense at all.
Words lead to actions. So while I do agree that posting about a problem on social media with no intent of accompanying it with a real-life action is wrong, I must also stand up for those who have the courage to get informed and say, with as much truth and accuracy as possible, what needs to be said. You never know how something someone else reads can change someone else’s mindset – and therefore, maybe, their behavior.
Everyone has the right to speak their mind, even on the internet. We all know this. But that does not mean you have to. It is not a requirement. I am consistently appalled by those who feel the need to voice their opinion when they are not properly informed on an issue, or when they do not have anything valuable to say. Use your words, but do so with a purpose. Saying this here, now, will not change anything; I know that. But just think before you write. Think about what your words imply.
A lot has happened in the US in the past month. I have stayed silent about most of it. Why? Because I am 23. I do what I can to educate myself and support people of various groups. But there is only so much I can say and do as a straight, white, Christian female. But if I can comment instead about the awareness we, as writers, need to raise about the influential power of words – both in good and bad ways – I’ll do it.
Sometimes that means I will write, and not take immediate action until I decide how I can best contribute to a cause.
Sometimes that means I will not say anything at all.
Sometimes that means I will say, “I support you.” Because those are the only words that can convey all that I feel about everything that is happening.
I have said it many times before, and this time will not be the last: writers have a superpower. Their mastery of words can be used for good. But it can also be used for evil, whether intentionally or otherwise. I cannot change other people. All I can do is use my words to build a constructive foundation underneath all the conversations that are being generated online … in hopes that one of them will lead to positive action, which will lead to change, which will lead to a little less suffering.
I may be one person and my opinions may not matter and I may not know everything. But I know that confronting darkness with light is always better than trying to fight hate with more hate.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.
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