Sunday, January 9, 2011

Words and Violence: A Reflection

I had something totally different planned for my post today. For anyone who knows me well, this will seem odd. I’m a planner. I love my to-do list. I love making schedules, tracking details, keeping everything organized. Sometimes though, things don’t go according to schedule. Life buffets us and blows us off course. Health scares. Car accidents. Political violence. The to-do list falls to the wayside. Instead of wondering “what I am going to do today?” you ask yourself “what am I doing this for?”

My parents raised me on books. I read everything. Books about animals, books about people, books about other worlds, books about our world. I read books about hope and despair and love and courage and death and playfulness and kindness and depravity. I read about fair and unfair. I read books about what divides us. I read books about how we all fit together.

Books taught me to place myself into the shoes of others, to love justice, to abhor violence. Books taught me mercy. Books taught me that villains can be misguided and that good doesn’t always triumph. Books taught me that people can read the same thing and come away with different ideas. Books taught me to read between the lines, to judge the messages for myself, to understand what their authors are saying and not saying.

I’ve learned about the blurry line between fact and fiction. I’ve learned that unserious books can have serious meaning and that profound ones can been rendered silly. I know how powerful words are. I’ve been moved emotionally by them, and I’ve sometimes been moved to act. I’ve also learned that words are just words. No inherent goodness or badness in any of them. Apply them, string them together. Now, we’re talking, reading, listening, thinking. You have a weapon. You have a hand reaching out. You have a way to soothe, you have a way to muddle.

I like my words to create connections, to spur possibilities. I dream that one day I can make something of myself, disseminating my own words or the words of others to heal and to help. I want not only to stave off harm. I want to actively feed hope. I’m not sure how to do it yet, but I can feed my own hope that I’ll get there.

C.S. Lewis said it best in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”: Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker…For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime.

Children who read books can grow up to become anything. Children can grow up to become anything. Let’s tip the scale toward empathy and maybe we’ll get lucky. Maybe they’ll grow up to be the “immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones.” Maybe we’ll reach a critical mass of light and compassion. Maybe it’ll all blow up in our faces. Maybe it all hinges on two words: may be.


  1. Fairy Tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten -- G.K. Chesterton

  2. Thank you, my dear! I was thinking about this quote when I was writing, but I couldn't quite remember it. <3