Hell-Raisers and Truth Chasers

write to change the world
Photo by Stuart Chalmers via Flickr

You don’t have to be a firebrand to change the world, just aim for the truth and write from the heart.

“You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” James Baldwin

There is nothing more humbling that meeting someone with a mission. While lately many of us have felt the spirit of activism tingle through our limbs searching for on outlet, we’re really nothing more than dilettantes – Johnny-come-lately’s mostly concerned about threats to our home turf. We’re guided by the need to secure the safety of our friends and families. Perhaps we can point to a higher purpose – freedom, peace, inclusivity – maybe even decide we’ll try to find a way to give everyone access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Listen…I’m knocking our collective ambitions and heartfelt campaigning. I’m a big believer in incremental progress and a step-by-step approach to affecting significant, universal-level change. It all starts with the smallest actions, the letters written and the phone calls dispatched. We can march and harangue each other on Facebook, maybe even drop a dime or two into the collection box of our favorite charity. I know I’ve recently sponsored some of my favorite causes, decades after I believed they no longer needed my pennies. I’ve also put pen to paper, left voicemails and engaged in more than a few heated (and ultimately dispiriting) debates.

I think any action intended to make the world a better place is laudable. I just wonder if it’s enough.

If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As writers, we have a mighty weapon at our disposal. We all know our pens can take down the biggest swords. We’ve all probably unleashed our inner savage at one time or another – that vicious Yelp review, the angry email, the snarky tweet. There’s that moment of vindication – a sense you fought the good fight – before the cringing sets in. All that energy and vitriol let loose, but to what end? To get a free dessert from that harassed waitress? For an apologetic tweet from the cable company?

Can’t we do better?

We can do better.

The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting in what you sincerely and reflectively hold to be the best interests of your community. Susan Sontag

With all the dust that’s been kicked up since…well, let’s just say it seemed to start sometime around November…I’ve been running into some committed folks that put my meager protests to shame. These people walk that proverbial walk and talk that proverbial talk, and while they too know the power of language, they dispatch their missives with deliberation and purpose. They know what they want, and they go after it, methodically, step-by-(ever-loving)-step.

That doesn’t mean we’ve all got to join the latest march on Washington or spend our weekends making protest signs. I’m not trying to shame anyone who doesn’t feel politically inclined. We don’t all have to be firebrands.

Nevertheless, creative expression is rooted in connection and compassion. Storytelling allows us to connect with the world in a deeper, more meaningful way. Through the art of the narrative, we can help communicate a different perspective. After all, characters merely serve as proxies for all the different people we can be: sad, angry, joyful, heroic. We can be villains, and we can be saviors. From the first scene to the final conflict, the plot takes us through our paces, and along the way, we actively engage with all the potential outcomes, wondering, what would we do in similar circumstances? Would we try to save the city? Would we drive the getaway car? Would we pull the sword from the stone or sweep the leg in our final match?

While watching the Academy Awards over the weekend, my friends and I discussed the films that filled us up with the possibility of heroism and making a difference. One friend said Karate Kid made her feel like she could conquer the world. For my nephews, Rogue One triggered a sense of the heroic, as if they too could take on the Empire and win the day. I can relate, years ago Princess Leia showed me you could be a girl and still kick ass, nab the handsome scoundrel and defeat Darth Vader.

Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world. Malala Yousafzai

We live in a time where it’s easy to feel personally affronted on a constant basis. We are encouraged to feel under constant attack by the choices others make. Those trussed up, false equivalences and fake (yeah…I said it) facts touted by our leaders seem to exert undue influence on our friends and family. Public discourse is dominated by complainers and self-appointed morality police who have so little imagination they only experience everything at face value. Everyone is angry, but no one is listening.

My mother’s favorite response to my childish complaints of “I’m bored!” and “there’s nothing to do,” was always some variation on the cliché “only boring people are boring.”

“Use your imagination!” she’d answer.

“Make up a song or write a story,” she’d suggest.

“Your head’s not just for decoration!” she’d declare.

Her reaction may not have always been what I wanted to hear, but I’m grateful that she pushed me to find creative solutions to my problems. Even now, I find myself looking for the unimagined alternative when confronted with a person or situation I can’t quite comprehend. My imagination is an invaluable tool, helping me find different ways to resolve a crisis or encourage someone to see things from another angle. At it’s most basic, it’s simply the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes – and to have them try out what it feels like to stroll down the street in a pair of your stilettos.

We should never expect the world to cater to our neurosis and pet peeves, but I also feel it’s essential we fight against lazy thinking. We must call out people who expect the world to conform to their point of view instead of making an effort to look beyond the surface of things. One way we can do this is by using our voices thoughtfully and ferociously.

We don’t have to affect change on a global scale, but if we add our voices to the chorus, we can help make the world a better place.

Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. President Barack Obama

Cover photo by alexis mire via Flickr

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