I've written from the perspective of hitmen, serial killers, cops, and rapists, and yet I am not a hitman, a cop, a serial killer, or a rapist. I've written from the perspective of men and of women, and children and the elderly. I've written from the perspective of minorities. (And the issues of men writing women and vice versa, and authors writing characters from other races are discussed endlessly on blogs and forums. You can even take classes.)
As writers, we project and explore. Part of our process is stepping into the unknown (to us) territory and asking, "What if?" and then using the possible answers to enrich our stories. It was this ability that enabled George Orwell to write 1984 and imagine a day when the government monitored citizens. It was this ability that enabled Ray Bradbury to create the world of Fahrenheit 451, where people were so inundated by electronic entertainment that books were seen an an evil outside the control of the government, and therefore burned when found.
The ability to walk in another person's shoes and explore the possibilities - even if they aren't realities we've lived with or will ever live with - is what we writers do.
Perhaps this week has shown the limits of the ability to be a true writer for some. I don't know.
I recently saw this post** on Facebook:
Seeing an author post this really got me thinking. How good of an author are they if they can't try to understand a view they don't share? Doesn't that mean their writing would be very limited?
And that got me thinking. Can I put myself in another side's shoes and understand? Or am I limited by prejudices of my own?
Isn't that our job, as writers? To get past our own realities and explore the unknown?
I know tensions have been running high. Mine included. I never thought an election would make me cry. Hell, I never though a speech by Hillary Clinton (#imwithher) would reduce me to tears, and yet that was last Wednesday's reality.
There are writers who are racists and bigots and misogynists. There are writers who are assholes.
Some of these writers still craft exceptional stories that do their job of entertaining the reader.
And some will find themselves blacklisted by readers who don't want to support their beliefs or feel as though they've engaged with their views.
I guess that's fair. We all have the right to decide why we will or won't read something, and it could just be as simple as being put off by the cover design of a book, which is usually far outside the control of an author.
I just thought that social media had helped take down some of the boundary lines. I've never written a cozy, but have many friends who have. I've never written a romance, but many friends of mine are authors who specialize in that genre.
We can all be friends... So why is it that political differences have driven a wedge between some authors?
Imagine if that post above had said:
If you are an ethnic minority or a person who is not full-blooded caucasian unfriend me because I am not your friend! I question your right to be considered a person under the law.
I've known people on both sides who've unfriended over political affiliations. To me, that's not the core of any action on social media. I have friends who voted Trump. I have friends who voted Clinton. I have friends who voted third party.
I have unfriended (I think) or unfollowed (until after the election) some of those people because the nature and volume of their posting was comparable to the tone of the post I quoted here. (And nobody wants every exchange with a person to be that person trying to convert them, religiously or politically.) The content became hateful, discriminatory, or so vile that it was no longer about understanding their views. They weren't posting about what they believed in. They were just name-calling and attacking anyone who supported other candidates.
The first time I remember voting was a provincial election in Ontario, and I helped elect one of the worst governments that province ever had. I learned I needed to take responsibility for my vote and make sure that I researched my issues. If I have an opinion on an election, I haven't just listened to the soundbites and decided who I like based on party or headlines. I've gotten there with some substance.
So you may not ever have much chance of convincing me to think differently, but at the same time, the only way we're going to build bridges instead of walls is by keeping the lines of communication open. By meaningful dialogue. By finding common ground.
Shouldn't we all hope the elected government does better than some of us think they will? And shouldn't we all - no matter how we voted - hold them accountable if they threaten the ideals of America and the principles America was founded on?
How are we going to do that if we hide behind dividing lines, if we shut ourselves off to people who don't think like us, and if we make blanket generalizations about people based on how they voted?
I've already had friends wave goodbye to social media. And others are talking about following suit.
Are we going to let one election destroy a community of writers and readers who are supposed to cherish the idea of exploring the worlds of others through stories?
What happens when we allow this election to destroy a communication network that will enable us to rise together as a unified force if necessary if things we fear come to pass?
Just the other day, a friend talked on a Facebook post about being harassed because of his skin color and threatened that he'd be deported. And he was born here, as were his parents, and their parents before them.
How can I know these things are happening if I don't listen?
Leaving doesn't make things better, but it does make it possible for people to close their eyes to the reality of what's happening. That may make one's day to day feel fine, but it doesn't mean it isn't happening. It's shutting our eyes to the realities and keeping inside our own bubble so that we can believe everything is peachy that is the same mentality some took when Hitler was elected.
There are people in parts of this world who risk their lives to have a voice to the world, to tell the truth about the regime they're oppressed by, who cry out for help and beg to not be forgotten. Educating and informing the public can only happen with communication, and that's largely accomplished through social media.
Unplugging might be occasionally necessary for our own sanity at the best of times, but walking away over politics runs the risk of muffling the very voices some of us claimed we feared were threatened through this election.
And if you're a writer, what does it say about your skill if you can't find common ground with the other side?
We must be better than this. We must stand together to fight for the ideals we believe in, and it's much harder to stand up to forces that may threaten us if we stand alone.
**I didn't unfriend them. I think that's their job if that's how they feel. We manage our lists. (And it would be self-righteous to say, "Well, I never unfriended anyone because we disagreed about politics" if you post like this.) In the same way that I think I'm responsible for my friends list, I think each person is responsible for their vote, or lack of vote. Reforming government, if that's really what people want, comes with holding them to account every day. It comes with saying, "I voted for you but I didn't vote for this, and you're breaking a promise" when necessary.
I have to be honest. I think if we're blocking out the voices of 100% of the other side, then we're facilitating segregation. We're as much a part of the problem as anyone. If we censor people just based on political affiliation, or turn social media off altogether just because of this election, then we're censoring and being censored. We're hastening the alienation we claim we fear.