Tuesday, October 25, 2016

To Speak or Not To Speak

Looking ahead to Halloween, a holiday I love by the way, we're writing about fear on the Blood-Red Pencil all this month.
This is a time we think about all the things that used to scare us on All-Hallows Eve - ghosts and goblins and witches and now zombies – as well as other things that grab us by the throat and hold us immobile. Jason wrote about his fear of being able to get back to writing after the birth of his child in a two-part series that began with Fear Beyond Words. An apt title for a topic to which those of us who juggled kids and words can relate. Will we ever have time to write again?

However, that is not what I want to write about in this post today.

A Facebook friend recently advised me to be cautious about what I post on social media that could be controversial, such as political issues, as it may not help my career to get in the middle of contentious debates. Not that I want to get in the middle of an ongoing rant, but I do like to speak my mind, and perhaps no longer hold back when there is something racist or sexist, or just plain rude and obnoxious or ill-informed posted on Facebook.

On Twitter, I just ignore the junk.

My friend offered that counsel in the nicest, most well-meaning way, but I don’t agree that we should hold back just because we run the risk of angering people to the point of losing followers and money. I thought a lot about that after I read a post by Erin Hensley Schultz on her blog, It’s Fine. She titled the essay So Which Is It? and it challenges us as writers to think about whether we want to be quiet about social issues. Her post starts:
I’m scared to post this. I’m afraid of alienating people I love, people I interact with on a daily basis, people whose friendships I value. I wouldn’t say this if it hadn’t been weighing heavy, like a 50 pound weight on my tongue every time I open my mouth to say something and stop before it comes out because I don’t want to stir the pot. I don’t want anyone to be mad at me. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But I can’t, in good conscience, do that anymore.
She goes on to say, that she is putting her fears aside and writing about racism. She says she has no right to complain about racism, but she has a duty to complain about racism.

Interesting point. Do we all have a duty to complain about social injustices?

I think we do, and I basically said that in my response to my Facebook friend. I believe writers owe it to the public to be a voice of reason and truth, and if that means taking a risk, so be it. It used to be that we only took a risk by putting our thoughts about issues into our books and letting them belong to one of our characters. We can still do that, if it fits that character, but we can also be a voice in cyberspace to counter whatever awful things start filling the Internet.

We can do it with thoughtfulness, respect, and civility.

So I will continue to post things on Facebook and Twitter that challenge people to think about the important social issues. I am a writer and an activist, and the two can happily live together. I won’t rant. I won’t call names – although it is hard to resist The Trumpster – and I will respect the opinions of other people.

Just in case you might be thinking that it is fine for  Erin and I to band together in our own little activist group of two writers, HERE is a list of 600 others who last May risked alienation by signing a declaration of why they oppose Trump as a presidential candidate. The most telling clause being:
Because the rise of a political candidate who deliberately appeals to the basest and most violent elements in society, who encourages aggression among his followers, shouts down opponents, intimidates dissenters, and denigrates women and minorities, demands, from each of us, an immediate and forceful response;
(The post about the 600 writers was written by Andrew Altschul and Mark Slouka at The Literary Hub.)

I do hope you will take a moment when you are finished here and go over to read the entire post by Erin. It is worth the read and unlike the rants that so often clutter social media. And do leave a comment here to let us know your stand on speaking out or not. Do you agree with my Facebook friend?
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

17 comments :

  1. I completely agree with you and your friend, Maryann. And the 600 writers. I believe we have a duty to speak out about those things which are cruel, unjust, hateful, and just plain wrong in our society.
    I have probably alienated some friends and others on Facebook by taking a stand, but I have a strong belief in the justice of equality for all, the need to help those who cannot help themselves, striving for a better world and all the rest of the issues that arise in society.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your beliefs. I have always had a bit of a Don Quixote philosophy myself.

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  2. It's a really tough one, especially for those of us who have been conditioned to be "nice" and "likeable" - and it's only amplified by attempts to build a platform from which to promote one's books. The idea of rocking the boat is terrifying, and more so when others who do are bullied to the point of receiving death threats. It's the Wild Wild Web out there, these days.

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    1. I agree that it is terrifying, Elle. And I think there is a way to speak out and still be "nice." Maybe we will lose "likeable," but if we are only liked because we go along, is that okay? Just wondering, not judging. :-)

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  3. I am generally neutral on social media, but there are times when to not speak out is being complicit.

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    1. So true, and I was silent and complicit for too many years.

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  4. I've had no trouble this election season trying to expose the racism and misogyny of someone vying for leader of the free world. If it causes someone not to buy my books, fine with me. I believe I've made more friends during this election cycle than lost friends. Have I changed anyone's mind? Probably not, but I do have to look at myself in the mirror every day. Reminds me of the quote by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

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    1. Thanks for sharing the quote. We need to remind ourselves of that every day.

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  5. In another life -- when I was young -- I was a bit of an activist. Maybe age has mellowed me, but I pick my fights now. Having said that, I will stand up for what I believe if I'm asked or challenged. I just may not jump into the middle of a fray on Facebook.

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    1. I avoid the fray, too, Linda. I just post to clarify what is truth n the face of all the misinformation online.

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  6. After years of being told what to think and support, I worked up the nerve to commit an atrocity: I ventured my own opinion. Verbal abuse and disownment promptly followed. It was astonishingly liberating. While I still prefer to avoid stirring the pot, and try to rely on tact and reason, I'm no longer afraid to stand up for what I believe is right. Anything that I lose because of it probably wasn't worth holding onto in the first place.

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    1. Good point, Audrey, about standing up for what we believe and not losing anything that was worth holding on to.

      But I am sorry that your speaking out did cause such problems. Some people just don't want to hear anything that is not their opinion. We used to call that "listening with your answer running."

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  7. Maryann, I fear social media in general ... it's very scary and overwhelming. But what I fear most are political rants ... I'm sure yours are intelligent and well written ... but honestly, they frighten me.

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    1. I hear you, Christopher. I hate the rants as much as you do. What I try to do is offer a calm and reasoned voice in the middle of the junk. And I call people out on the lies and misinformation. If we just ignore it, then it becomes what some people think is the truth. The idealist in me cannot stand that. LOL

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  8. I do respond to political rants that others post on their Facebook Timelines, but rarely do I get intelligent conversations when I do so. Instead, I get personal insults. That's why I don't put politics on my own Timeline. People can look elsewhere for that kind of stuff, because there's lots of it out there. I'd rather post about more fun stuff, so people can get to know me that way.

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    1. When people start with the name-calling and insults, I am out of that discussion, as it is no longer a discussion.

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  9. Interesting to think about our responsibility to effect change through social media. Thanks!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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