Yes, I said the word “fuck.” It got your attention. You’re reading this blog. The question is, why did it get your attention? I think it’s because it’s one of those words we’re not supposed to say in polite company or writing. Yet, lots of us would use it otherwise, if it wouldn’t get us into trouble. It’s a good word for expressing frustration about a lot of things. What’s the harm in uttering “fuck” when you stub your toe? I know it makes me feel just a little bit better. That said, it isn’t a word I’d ever use at work, or in the company of certain people. Mostly because I don’t want to be offensive, or get fired. But, if I need to use it in order to make a necessary point, I’m not afraid.
Not wanting to offend or get fired from a job are rational reasons for not saying a particular word, or talking about certain taboo subjects. However, censorship of what we think, feel and question about the world ignores humanity’s most important tool for survival in dangerous times. Analyzing our thoughts and expressing ourselves through language are the things that make us human. Communication is how we solve problems, cooperate with each other, and maybe even change the world. Evolutionary Biologist, Mark Pagel, said the following:
“Each of you possesses the most powerful, dangerous and subversive trait that natural selection has ever devised. It’s a piece of neural audio technology for rewiring other people’s minds. I’m talking about your language, of course, because it allows you to implant a thought from your mind directly into someone else’s mind, and they can attempt to do the same to you, without either of you having to perform surgery.”
Yet, when it comes to some of the most important and divisive subjects that we need to really talk about, we clam up. You know the rule, don’t talk about things like religion, racism, war, violence and the environment. Unless, of course, you’re in like company. If that’s the case, we’re comfortable preaching to the choir. But when surrounded by the so-called “enemy,” what we want to say or question gets stifled behind concrete walls of fearful silence. We’ll ignore them like the elephant in the room in favor of being liked, selling ourselves or remaining safely on the sidelines.
Even when we have questions about the latest dogma, we’re too afraid or sometimes lazy to challenge the inaccuracies and folly of the 10-second sound bites. These bits of communication and half-truths are created by those who seek to control our thinking and divide us into an us versus them mentality. 10-second sound bites ignore the complexities of a particular issue and polarize our thinking. In my opinion, tough questions and answers are never black or white. They exist in the gray of the fog. Maybe that’s why we’re easily swayed by the swift sure message of the 10-second sound bite. We don’t want to venture into the fog. We don’t want to question our own assumptions and belief systems. We want to be right. We want to be liked.
As Psychologist, Steven Pinker, says, “When people talk, they lay lines on each other, do a lot of role playing, sidestep, shillyshally and engage in all manner of vagueness and innuendo. We do this and expect others to do it, yet at the same time we profess to long for the plain truth, for people to say what they mean, simple as that. Such hypocrisy is a human universal.”
This hypocrisy shields us from the fog. The trouble is that we’ll never find the answers to or evolve past our problems if we aren’t willing to venture into the fog.
Writing my latest novel, “Blowback,” was my attempt to wade into the fog of gun violence in the U.S. I knew that the journey would require that I leave my assumptions behind in order to tell a story not built with politics and 10-second sound bites. Instead, the story is built using statistics and facts. I chose to create characters who, notwithstanding having different views on gun ownership, were good people. As one reviewer of “Blowback” has said, “the characters have opinions that range across the spectrum of the gun control debate, including those who feel the need to keep a gun in their home for their own security, and those who would never want a gun in their home. People on both sides of the issue are portrayed as rational individuals.”
When I was in the early stages of writing “Blowback,” a friend asked whether taking on such a volatile subject was such a good idea. The question made me think long and hard about diverging from the safety of writing a lesbian romance to something dark and dangerous. But, as one of my favorite authors, Ann McMan says, “We write what we need to write.” What I needed to say was “fuck it” to my worries about not being liked, and simply write the story that I needed to write.
But, here’s the thing. Coming to that conclusion was the easy part. The real challenge was in figuring out how to tell the story in a way that nudged readers to think rather than react negatively. Most people have an instant and passionate gut reaction to the subject of guns. I wasn’t interested in poking at people’s buttons to spark those reactions. I wanted people from both sides of the issue to feel included and validated by the story. Based on reviews, I feel as though that’s exactly what I accomplished. The process has taught me a lot about communication and to not be afraid to talk about taboo subjects. Key things that I learned is that effective communication requires honesty, being knowledgeable, and always striving to be respectful of opposing viewpoints.
Whether telling a story, writing a review, talking with people or simply moving through life, I suspect that honesty, bravery, knowledge and kindness will get us far and save us from our worst problems. It’s how we lift ourselves and each other to a better place. I hope to a place with less violence, vitriol, anger and divisiveness. In that vein, whatever your convictions, I leave you with a last quote which I hope inspires your language in a way that heals rather than destroys.
“There exists, for everyone, a sentence – a series of words – that has the power to destroy you. Another sentence exists, another series of words that could heal you. If you’re lucky you will get the second, but you can be certain of getting the first.” Philip K Dick.
Cheers and Peace