I am conflicted.
One would think that for a novelist being conflicted would be a familiar, if not wholly desirable, state of affairs. But the truth is, I am not used to this feeling. I am a fairly forthright, take me or leave me, accept me for who I am (yes, that is a Rent reference, thank you Rai), type of person. I have an aversion to prevarication and find it much simpler to just say what I feel and move on. My mother used to say I had no tact – and she was right. All this to point out that I don’t usually have any trouble knowing how I feel about something, regardless of what appears to be the mainstream of thought on any given topic.
However, I have been warned that voicing my opinion may cost me readers. And it is true that the level of vitriol in public discourse seems to have risen in direct proportion to the level of the perceived anonymity of the
combatants, err, um, speakers.
But, and correct me if I’m wrong, I have always thought that one of the jobs of the writer is to point out, in as entertaining a manner as possible, the things that society should fix. Authors from Dumas to Atwood have written about social issues, often in the most harrowing of terms. Sinclair vilified the meat-packing industry. Fitzgerald lampooned the upper crust of polite society. Aren’t we supposed to use our writing to make a difference?
Now, I don’t know how outspoken any of these writers were/are in their personal views. Maybe they saved it all for their novels. Is that what we are supposed to do? If you write, or speak, or teach, or do anything in the public sphere, are you then obligated to confine your personal opinions to the hazy fictional halls of metaphor and symbolism?
Or are we obligated, as citizens, to speak outside our books, and stand against injustice plainly, in the public square? That’s what Colin Kaepernik did, and he is paying the price now. People say they are not angry with him for protesting. It is the manner of his protest that upset so many. So maybe he should have protested in a different way.
And yet… Isn’t the point of any protest to make others uncomfortable with the way things are? If the protest doesn’t make folks uncomfortable, how likely are they to change? And what reason do they have for doing so?
I’ve tried to develop a talent for sensitivity and I like to think that I’m better about it than I used to be. In general, I am careful not to be unnecessarily incendiary because there is nothing in me that wants to cause pain to others. But how sensitive am I required to be?
If I create a post on social media that protests racism, or sexism, or whatever I see as wrong, and someone gets upset, there are some who would say the post has done its job. I’ve made them look at the issue from another perspective. Silence does not create change.
On the other hand, I’m fully aware that there are those who deliberately set out to create drama, regardless of the consequences – and others who maintain silence, either from a distaste for drama or because their employers insist on it, no matter what the topic. At a certain point, it becomes necessary for someone to take a stand for reasoned discourse, for righting wrongs, for an America that strives for the highest ideals of our founding documents while acknowledging and addressing our shortcomings.
So yeah. Conflicted. Speaking out has its price. The question is, am I willing to pay it? Are you?