Snippets

What Would You Have Said?

Responsibility is a challenging theme right enough.

I’d like to share a quote and a question that Wendi Kelly from Life’s Little Inspirations put to me a week or so ago.  I think it fits well with the theme of responsibility - and some of the conversations that follow on from Blog Action Day.

Here’s the quote:

It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.
~ John Baptiste Moliere

And here’s the question:

As a citizen of the world community, I agree with this statement. However, as a writer, how much responsibilty do we have to always speak up? What happens when we as writers look the other way?

This was the answer I suggested at the time:

That’s a good question and one I don’t pretend to have the answer to. I guess ‘it depends’ is what I’d say.

We can’t any of us as humans take responsibility for all the world’s woes or we’d lose our voice under the weight of it.

Many people write to stay true to deeply held values and principles that might not have any direct impact on ‘world events’ but help us to build a better world in the long run - like artistic freedom, or the ability to play and experiment, or engaging people in stories.

Maybe it comes back to your own values and principles - and that your writing responsibility is to stay true to them?

I’m still turning over this question, and my answer to it.

What would you have said?

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count

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25 Responses to “What Would You Have Said?”

  1. On October 16, 2008 at 11:35 am Brad Shorr responded with... #

    Joanna, on a side note … have you been reading a book about titles? Your post titles have been outstanding lately. (Not that they were bad before, just striking me as up a notch.) Anyway,that is a tough, tough, question. Here’s my take … I believe there are sins of commission and sins of omission, so I’m with Moliere. Yet we can’t take the world on our shoulders, and I don’t think God or any human rightly expects us to. Intention has a lot to do with it. If a writer reflects thoughtfully and “picks his or her spots” where he or she can make a difference, contribute to a greater good, that writer is absolutely on the right track. All a person can do is his or her best. Reflect thoughtfully and your heart will tell you how much time and effort is enough.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..What Can John McCain Teach Us about Branding?

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  2. On October 16, 2008 at 12:20 pm Robert Hruzek responded with... #

    What he said! Picking your battles is the key to winning the war, as any General worth his salt will tell you. We simply aren’t capable of taking on the entire issue, especially when it’s something so overwhelming as yesterday’s topic.

    Being true to ourselves is the only way we, as individuals can survive and prosper. Otherwise we may end up powerless.

    Robert Hruzeks last blog post..It’s Time

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  3. On October 16, 2008 at 1:13 pm Ulla Hennig responded with... #

    “We can’t take the world on our shoulders” - yes, we cannot. I have some very dear friends who fight economic fights every day - be it that they are unemployed or working as freelancers. I do what I can to support them - trying to encourage them, give emotional support, to organize some work for them, to show them that they are important to me. I am not going to change the world doing that, but I hope that I can change something in their lives…

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..Fallen Leaves

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  4. On October 16, 2008 at 2:58 pm Karen Swim responded with... #

    Wow Joanna, this is a great question and I share your answer - it depends. I suppose being a writer is no different than any other profession. A CEO would not be expected to speak up about every leadership injustice or corporate governance issue (outside of his/her company)due to their position. However as a human being, they may be compelled to use their talents to speak up about issues that intersect with deeply held values (for example using their gift for leadership to organize a non-profit). For me personally, I used the internal barometer to choose when to speak up and when to be silent. The fact that I’m a writer is always secondary.

    Karen Swims last blog post..Blog Action Day 2008 - Poverty

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  5. On October 16, 2008 at 4:02 pm SpaceAgeSage -- Lori responded with... #

    For me it boils down to living this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Everything else sorts itself out from there. I write in a way that hopefully gives insight, uplifts, and makes people think about changing themselves or the world for the better.

    SpaceAgeSage — Loris last blog post..Yes, I survived the week-long media fast — and learned lots!

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  6. On October 16, 2008 at 5:19 pm Scott responded with... #

    I read this early this morning and have been chewing on it now for about 6 hours. The one thing that keeps sticking in my mind is the serenity prayer…

    God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference.

    Maybe it’s sticking so because it’s what I wrote about yesterday in my personal blog. I think though it can apply here.
    Applying this to yesterday’s topic, there were how many thousands of blog entries wrote yesterday about poverty, and I wonder if anything will really change with the issue.
    That’s my shallow mind throwing in its 2 cents worth. I hope something can be done about poverty in the world, don’t get me wrong, but had I written anything yesterday in my blog about it, would it have really “changed” the world?

    Scotts last blog post..Serenity Revealed

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  7. On October 16, 2008 at 8:37 pm Janice Cartier responded with... #

    Edmund Burke comes to mind first about good men doing nothing…but it is a matter of picking your battles.

    Janice Cartiers last blog post..Primary Colors Put To Work

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  8. On October 16, 2008 at 9:35 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Brad, no I haven’t been reading a book, though I do follow a really great marketing and copywriting blog called Word Sell, do you know it?

    Your answer is very thoughtful and wise. Pick your spot is good advice (echoed by some other commenters) and probably the most effective way to make that critical difference.

    Thank you.

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  9. On October 16, 2008 at 9:37 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Good point Robert, about holding on to our own power. I like the battle analogy - it’s a reminder to think tactically and strategically about what we’re doing whether with our words or in other areas of our life.

    Thanks!

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  10. On October 16, 2008 at 9:39 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Ulla, I know you are very kind and supportive to your friends online, and I’m sure you extend that to your ‘real life’ friends and colleagues too. I’m sure that does change things for them.

    You’ve reminded me of times when I drove myself crazy asking myself about ‘what difference am I making?’ I thought very hard about some small (ish) things I had done for some friends, then thought about their children, and the friends of their children, and people those children might work with or teach, encourage and inspire in the future… and suddenly the answer looked very different.

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  11. On October 16, 2008 at 9:40 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Karen, I wonder if it’s because writing is so closely linked to our sense of identity that this kind of question comes up? Maybe also the realisation for good or ill that our words can make a significant and lasting difference.

    Internal barometers are great when we learn to trust and rely on them - or recognise when they need a bit of adjusting. Mine has been known to be wonky!

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  12. On October 16, 2008 at 9:42 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Lori, that’s brilliant - having a single, unifying sense of purpose like that is a powerful way to stay true to your values and yourself, and to make a difference with your words. The intention will keep on shining through even if you’re not explicitly stating it.

    Hmm, links to an idea I have for another post on responsibility, thank you

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  13. On October 16, 2008 at 9:46 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Scott, I think the serenity prayer probably is the right answer to the question. I guess we don’t always have the wisdom to know the difference though…

    I don’t think your response is shallow. I thought long and hard about taking hard in Blog Action Day, and had some concerns it would be tokenistic. I had a fear that people would give their attention to a topic for a day, and then switch back to whatever else was in their minds (me included).

    And yet, I don’t know. Some of the posts I read yesterday moved me deeply. They made me think about things I could do differently, and contributions I could make not just with money but with my time, skill, and ability. I think that will lead to me doing things differently in the future. And I’m just one reader of millions. If we all shifted our perspective, our sense of commitment, our willingness and determination to do something, even on a small scale.. wouldn’t that change things?

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  14. On October 16, 2008 at 9:47 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Jan, indeed. I’m still thinking about your piece from yesterday, and the work you were describing. That seems to be a good example of picking your battles, and doing what can be done, rather than agonising over all the things you can’t.

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  15. On October 16, 2008 at 10:14 pm Scott responded with... #

    Joanna, I’m sure it would change things, just not sure of the scale. Maybe on a personal level, I’m sure it would make “us” feel better, and yeah, something would be getting resolved pertaining to the issue itself.

    Let’s bring this back around though, the way I read the questions you were asked, they appear to try to be putting more “responsibility” on writers. (I do tend to have a problem reading tone of voice in a post still, so maybe the voice I’m using in my head to read the questions, isn’t voicing it right…whew..). I’m not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t think I can say…OK writers, we have an issue, (nuclear crisis, poverty issue, insert your own here) now ya’ll go fix it. Or your writers, tell “us” how to fix it. We humans all have an equal amount of responsibility to take care of our own.

    Maybe I’m just looking too deep into it. I dunno. I just don’t want our society to keep moving toward that “Someone Else Will Take Care of It” mentality. But there I go, trying to resolve another issue….

    I’ll quit blabbering now.
    You really got me thinking today. I needed it. Thanks so much.

    Scotts last blog post..Serenity Revealed

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  16. On October 16, 2008 at 10:25 pm Janice Cartier responded with... #

    Well, Joanna you have power in your words and the skill of them. That is tailor made for some literacy projects. What if you were with some children just trying to help them make a better “first sentence” for a story, or to find their voice in a themed project? We combined my project with English, History and Art. I got POEMS in thanks from the kids. It’s a replicable project…

    Janice Cartiers last blog post..Primary Colors Put To Work

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  17. On October 17, 2008 at 8:42 am Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Scott, thanks for the follow up. I think the question was asking whether there are particular responsibilities associated with writers. Maybe because it’s powerful medium, or because it’s closely connected to our sense of self, or because we have that sense that words can make a difference. Maybe because if that’s your unique gift that’s part of what you could be doing.

    I suppose that comes back round to your point - we all have an equal responsibility. I agree with that.

    And we all need to work out how best to take that forward. For some of us that might include how we can use our words. For others that might be pressing on with the other contributions we make as members of the human race.

    I’m glad the question gave you some valuable food for thought. Your contributions did the same for me. Thanks

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  18. On October 17, 2008 at 8:42 am Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Jan, you have really got me thinking. Thanks. Will be in touch.

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  19. On October 19, 2008 at 4:17 pm Cath Lawson responded with... #

    Hi Joanna - tough question. As you say, we can’t take all the world’s problems on board.

    I think that if we uncover social injustices, or problems that the rest of the world needs to know about; we do have a responsibility to share our knowledge.

    But I guess it depends on the situation too. If what you wrote had the potential to put yourself or those around you in danger, you’d have to decide whether you were prepared to take that risk.

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  20. On October 20, 2008 at 12:21 pm wilson responded with... #

    Joanna, I would probably say, “Although life is so short, but we still need to responsible for what we’ve done in our life, so that we don’t regret even after we rest in peace in the graveyard!”…

    wilsons last blog post..You Should Be Done it Before it’s Too Late!

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  21. On October 20, 2008 at 1:45 pm Wendi Kelly responded with... #

    Joanna,

    WOW,

    I was intentionally silent as I chose to read through everyone else’s opinions here to that question. What a great group of thoughtful responses. You have such a wonderful community.

    Thank you for linking here and bringing up my question for discussion, I am very touched.

    This isn’t just a random question for me, it’s an issue I really struggle with, so when I asked it, I don’t have a clear cut opinion myself as I struggle with it. I believe we have to take responsability for every word we DO write. That is one of my core beliefs as a writer, but then when I get to the things that I chose to look away from putting to paper, like not commenting on social unjustice, or election choices, or things that I belive I would have the power to call others to action and make a difference…if I don’t do it…have I left my part un-done? Have I not answered the call to help? Have I turned and walked away? Have I expected someone else in my community to pick up the slack while I myself live my life in the comfort zone? Am I being selfish? OR wise….

    Individually…we can’t solve ALL the world’s problems. True. We are not a mountain. But we are all a pebble.And we can toss in our stones. WE can speak up when we feel led. When the things that weigh heaviest on our hearts cry out to us…then I think…I think…we have a responsability to pick up the pen and do our part for those unique things that touch each of us. If we all do that…collectively, we can make a tremendous difference.

    Wendi Kellys last blog post..Speaking From the Heart

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  22. On October 20, 2008 at 4:26 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Cath, thanks for sharing your perspective. I know those are principles that you practice, and I admire your courage in speaking up so openly about things.

    I can’t imagine writing things that would put me or my family in danger - unless it was an issue of such vital importance that you’d know it was still what you had to do. I guess I’m lucky not to find myself in those kind of situations.

    Wilson - a life with no regrets… that’s a tough one, but certainly a good principle to live your life by.

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  23. On October 20, 2008 at 4:31 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Wendi, thanks for reflecting so thoughtfully on this issue. I too find it a big, challenging question.

    I know when I write here I want to connect, motivate, inspire, teach, encourage… I try and focus on the positive, and what’s possible, and I don’t think it’s my place to tell others what I think or believe… rather I’d want all of my readers to plunge into working that out for themselves.

    That does still leave the question of what I do with all the other things I believe, care about, worry about, want to help change… where do those words go? I’m still thinking about that too.

    I love your last paragraph about pebbles - and writing from the heart. When we write that way, from that place, it’s also the way we can make the post powerful of connections.

    Meantime, I hope we can keep learning and sharing together.

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  24. On October 26, 2008 at 5:00 pm Debbie Yost responded with... #

    I think you can compare this to charity. There are so many wonderful charities and causes in the world. So many that if I were able to I would support, but I simply can’t. So, I choose those that are closest to me and support them. I simply have to turn decline to support other charities and depend on others to support those wonderful causes. If I spread myself too thin then I don’t really make an impact on any of the charities. In the same manner, I have to concentrate my writing on a small amount of causes. Those I know best and those I can support and hope others will take up the causes of other issues that I am unable to give attention to.

    Debbie Yosts last blog post..Two Request

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  25. On October 26, 2008 at 5:17 pm Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson
    responded with... #

    Debbie, that’s a helpful way of looking at it: a useful litmus test to see if we’re using our time, energy and skill to best effect, and making an impact in one area rather than spreading ourselves too thin. Both in charitable donations, our use of time, and the things we write about.

    Thanks.

    Joanna

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