The world is a terrible place.
It’s hardly worth referencing a specific incident to support this statement. Just turn on your TV. Turn on the radio. Log on to any social media platform. Open your front door. You could spit and it would land on something awful taking place. The reasons why are too numerous to count.
I’ve written a version of this post before. I feel like I think about a version of this post every time some preventable tragedy occurs in the world.
I often wonder if I’m doing enough to stand against these sorts of actions. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone out to a protest or a vigil, although I almost always discuss the issues with others and try to convince the unconvinced why they matters. Always, I send out thoughts of solidarity. Sometimes, I send in money.
Sometimes I despair of humanity in general, myself included. We can be such a cruel, intolerant species. We care too much about our own selves and too much about how we’re perceived by others that we don’t even really like. We’re complicit in the harm and oppression of others, often without either meaning or wanting to.
Sometimes we do want to.
So many times, instead of accepting our differences – let only the nominal act of tolerating them – we act on our dislikes because we can. Because it gives us a rush of power in the face of the truth of just how very weak we can be – weak-minded, weak-spirited, weak-willed.
The weak, however, can be made strong and effective if we want it – if we believe it. If we’re given the opportunity to see it.
Stories can instrumental in bringing about this vision.
I’ve quoted many times on the blog how reading is scientifically proven to make people more empathetic. According to the November/December 2011 issues of Scientific American Mind:
[R]eading stories can actually improve your social skills by helping you better understand other human beings. (p. 63).
This occurs by improving Theory of Mind, which is described as,
The ability to attribute mental states – beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. – to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own. [Source]
That’s an incredible amount of power, the power of a story. Among many people, more often than not, the word “story” merely brings to mind the image of a child at bedtime.
I truly believe that stories will play (will continue to play) a fundamental role in making the world a better place. Be it fiction or nonfiction, they’re an opportunity to create for ourselves the sort of world we want to live in. They’re an opportunity for us to understand different perspectives, and become the type of people we want to be.
They’re a chance to practice creating that very same change in real life – for helping make reluctant people ready for it so that in time, they’ll come around to help you too.
Stories are the training wheels of social change.
Martin Luther, the German monk and father of the Protestant Reformation said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write” – something else I’ve previously quoted on this blog.
In a lot of ways, it’s the very reason this blog exists. My writing has always been in response to things I dislike in the world – those of a more personal nature when I was younger, and now, while firmly enmeshed in my third decade of life, issues of the wider, more unjust world.
I believe this to be the case for all writers, whether they realize it or not, for art emerges from our deepest psyche and necessarily imitates life, and stories by definition trade upon conflict, longing, and loss.
A story can be a subversive offering that blatantly challenges the status quo. Or more subtly, it can remind us of our humanity and our emotional similarity. It can be both at the same time.
One of my favourite musicians, Enya, sings a song of hope and perseverance in the face of persecution called How Can I Keep From Singing?
I feel much the same way about writing – not just for myself, not just for everyone else who’s currently writing, but for everyone who’s ever wanted to write as well. For everyone who’s ever wanted to do something else to help the world but was unsure of what that should be.
Write. Write with passion and without fear. Write about the world, not just as it is right now, but how it could and should be better for everyone. Write your finest works of heroism and discovery that will open up eyes and minds. Write with bold vision and with subtly of character stories that people will keep pondering long after reaching the end. Stories they’ll want to live and people they’ll want to become.
Not every writer will manage to reach everyone, so we all have to do our small part.
The world needs your stories. All types of stories:
We need fantasy set free our imagination and to show us that the structure and circumstances of mainstream society isn’t the only way it can possibly to be.
We need romance to show us that love is a positive force of change and personal transformation.
We need mystery to reveal the power of ingenuity and persistence, and to demonstrate that complex problems can, in fact, be solved.
We need historical fiction to remind us of our mistakes of the past to help prevent our repeating them in the present and future.
We need literary fiction for its close examinations of the human psyche to help us understand our pain and yearning, and help us learn to channel these things for good.
We need nonfiction – also stories – to call our attention to the world beyond our limited perception of it – to the stories of people who superficially seem so different from us but at the core are so much alike.
We have to believe a better world is possible. What hope is there for any of us if we don’t?
To all writers of everything everywhere out there, the world needs you now.