I Have a Strong Opinion – Now What?

Politics.

The Viking happened to be looking over my shoulder when I wrote that word, and immediately told me, "Don't go there."

He's wise, of course. If, as a writer, you venture to spout your political beliefs on the internet, you're going to get yourself in trouble. You'll alienate readers. You'll invite trolls. You might get into arguments with other writers. Most agents and marketing and PR people advise their writer clients to button up and stay out of the fray.

So far in my writing career I haven't had much trouble keeping my mouth shut. I'm busy. I hate conflict. And since I'm Canadian and living in the United States, I can't vote and don't really feel I have a say in anything that happens here. As for Canada, I've been gone long enough to feel detached and like I don't really understand the issues. So I keep my mouth shut and write my books and let the world fall as it may.

But I've been having thoughts about this of late. Not little, fleeting thoughts, but big, cumbersome, slow moving THOUGHTS that are insisting I pay some attention.

There is so much ugly out there. Thanks to social media, even if I don't watch the news (which I avoid like the plague) all of that ugly is brought regularly to my attention. Rape. Police brutality. Racial injustice. Suffering refugees. Sexual inequality. War and rumors of war. A constant, overwhelming, deluge of hate.

I have opinions on all of these things. Sometimes I have vehement opinions. Still, knowing that anything I put out there on Twitter or Facebook or even a blog post will be out there FOREVER, I mostly just bite my tongue, sit on my hands, and keep my thoughts to myself.

Over the last year I've been pushed to the point where I question my own silence. Things are happening out there that move beyond politics. They are moral and ethical issues involving people. Other living, breathing, human souls who are being hurt.

If a Syrian refugee child showed up starving and homeless on my doorstep would I feed and shelter her? Of course I would.

If a woman knocked at my door late at night looking for refuge from some horror of a human being who has raped her, would I take her in, get her to safety, do everything in my power to help her bring the assaulter to justice? You bet I would.

If I see racial injustice happen in front of me, will I speak up? Yes. I have. I do.

But there's this thing that happens, I think, when we're inundated by horrific images from all over the globe. Before the age of technology, people only needed to focus on what happened in their own corner of the world. Now, everywhere you look, there's somebody suffering. Every minute of every hour of every day. And, as human beings, we have a limited capacity to absorb horror and trauma and fear before we begin to suffer our own traumatic response. When we reach a certain threshold our defense mechanisms kick in, numbing our response, making it easier to see some things as "far away" and therefore not a danger or grief we need to attend to. At some point, even those things close to home can seem less relevant.

Defense mechanisms are healthy, to a point. Just as keeping our mouths shut in public is healthy to a point.

But it's also important to act, to make a difference, to be an instrument of change. As writers, we are adept at using words to share ideas and provoke emotions. I think it's important to develop an awareness of how we are using, or not using, our influence. Action, even in small ways, makes a difference, even if we are never able to see it.

Social Media isn't the only place we can express our opinions, our outrage, and our grief. I've always admired Dickens for his ability to tell a good story while condemning social injustices. Pratchett did this brilliantly, as well, so a writer doesn't have to be focused on literary fiction in order to write stories that make a difference.

To be clear, I'm not advocating that any of us get preachy. Tales told from a moral high horse seldom make for good reading. And I don't have answers for the question of how much we should share our beliefs in the public arena. But I do think some serious soul searching is in order. Knowing what we believe, having a moral compass, and allowing that to find its way into our work is an important step.

I'll be working on that. What about you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Kerry Schafer
Kerry Schafer writes fantasy with its teeth sunk into reality, mystery that delves into the paranormal, and (as Kerry Anne King) women’s fiction that explores the nooks and crannies of family and forgiveness. More about Kerry on her website.

6 thoughts on “I Have a Strong Opinion – Now What?

  1. It’s rare I read a writer’s Twitter stream or Facebook or, in the old days, newsgroup posts and find myself shocked and offended by what they espouse politically. I think that’s because what we believe about right and wrong and many moral and ethical dilemmas is inherent in our work. I’m always surprised when agents and other publishing folks tell people to keep their mouths shut for fear of alienating readers. They do know that those same readers will likely be just as alienated by those ideas in fiction form, right?

    That being said, there are lots of ways to speak up, and the internet is only one of those ways. I share more things on Twitter than on Facebook, because I have a sense of who follows me, and I know it will be better received on Twitter. I also tend to share things I’m *not* seeing other people share. If my whole timeline is blowing up about something, I probably don’t need to share information about that topic. It’s out there, and my choir already knows it.

    Meanwhile, on Facebook, I don’t share things that I know will just incite argument from hard liners in my life. They’re entrenched. I’m not going to change their mind on social media. I do believe minds can be changed, but I think it happens in other ways, like the subtle encroachment of normalcy that portrayals in television shows and movies can lend a formerly taboo lifestyle.

    For the people in my life with diametrically opposed positions on politics, well, our relationship isn’t based on those things. It’s often based on other random, shared experiences. Frequently, those experiences were outliers in my life, and they brought people into my sphere I wouldn’t normally meet. I value those experiences and I’m not going to sever a tie forged in some personal fire over how we choose to vote. If I grew to care about someone, I’ve seen them be a good, decent, caring, person in everyday life. It helps me to accept that they’re in a different place in their journey to understanding.

  2. Kerry, this sums up many things I’ve been thinking. I believe I should keep my political opinions to myself, but some days that means biting my tongue every ten minutes to keep from clicking on the share button. Great post.

  3. I agree, it is a hard choice, I vasillate between days of posting things I think are thought provoking and positive, and my desire to be a hermit and never have an opinion. To garden and write, and just grow things. Maybe it’s my gen-x mentality combined with ambivert personality, I don’t know. I do think a lot can be said by example, by having a quiet opinion. Not that I’ve always had a quiet opinion 😛 For some reason, suffering fools kindly is still a battle some days.

    However, what people see and hear on a daily basis on the internet is over-whelming. I’ve had ideas of starting a movement that floods social media with facts and good stuff (hey, programs like Tweetdeck and hashtags were created for a reason), and then the next day wondering if it would do any good. And wanting to bury my head in the sand. Or garden.

    Over the last few years, and especially the last few weeks again, it has been driven home that all I can do is be positive in myself and the energy I put out there. Because there truly is a great big black hole in positivity out there.

  4. I’m another one who avoids posting controversial stuff on social media, although I do occasionally put up a blog post with a general discussion of things like propaganda. Preaching to my own choir while offending those who sing with a different choir makes no sense to me as a writer or as a human being. I feel I serve best by doing good in my local community when and how I can. I do no good spouting my strong views on Facebook or Twitter under the guise of “freedom of speech” just because I can.

    You’ve generated a great discussion on a sensitive topic, Kerry. Well done!

  5. One of the things that makes the world such a fascinating place is the the different ways people approach the world around them. Wading into the fray on social media certainly isn’t for everyone. But if you think about your social media platform as an extension of your brand, then it certainly *is* for some. Chuck Wendig is a perfect example. He is brash, loud mouthed, and more than willing to jump into the fray wielding a very effective and very sharp word-sword. It works for him because it’s part of his brand, his readers expect it from him, and part of his wild success is this wild personality.

    I also feel we have a moral imperative to call BS when we see it. If we want things to change we need to actively engage in that change. What’s that quote by Gandhi? “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Of course it doesn’t need to be immediate, it doesn’t have to be on social media, it doesn’t have to be angry or antagonizing. It should be in a way that feels right for you. Maybe it’s in a donation, or a vote, maybe it’s a character or plot in your next story.

    Literature changes people. I am who I am today in large part because of the lives I lived through books. If those writers hadn’t been courageous enough to write those stories I’d be a very different person today.

    • I agree with much of what you’ve said here. Chuck Wendig, though, really makes my case. He’s had to pretty much back out of his social media accounts because the trolling has been so severe. I think we have to choose our battles. Chuck is a warrior, and that’s awesome. I’m a peace lover, and it’s extremely difficult for me to write when I’m in the middle of conflict. I prefer to let my beliefs find their way into my books, rather than putting them out on social media.

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