Why We Must Write: A Reflection on Last Week’s Attacks on Paris
In the wake of the unexpected and horrific attacks on Paris this past Friday, it felt trivial, selfish even, to return to my desk and continue writing and studying fiction. I’ve always believed in the importance of stories, but how can they stack up against the tangible need for physical safety?
For me, this event demanded a reflection on why I spend so much of my life devoted to writing stories when such real human terror exists, and the answer I’ve come to is this: entering the experience of another is necessary if we are to see and honor our shared humanity with the many diverse people around us. Writing (or reading) a small story about a single emotion/loss/trauma/hope of one human is worthwhile because each small story adds a new facet to the singular diamond of human experience, and each new facet lends prismatic light to the inner core of our collective humanity.
In her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi speaks to the danger of having only one definitive narrative, rather than many:
I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar….
Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.
Writing stories matters because it expands our collective understanding of other people, other cultures outside of our own (or even, perhaps, within it). As humans, we will be capable of more mercy towards other humans if we understand the humanity we share with each other, and in light of the many real terrors of daily existence, this mercy is necessary.
Creative writing can be used as propaganda meant to raise one people group above another—(see Robyn Cresweel and Bernard Haykel’s article, “Battle Lines,” published in the June 8, 2015 issue of The New Yorker for an interesting read on jihadist militant poetry)—but creative writing can also work against cultural biases to create human equality.
I write this as the candles are still burning in Parisian streets, as men and women kneel at makeshift vigils, as many words are spilled mourning human life, to suggest that our own spilling of words into stories (poems, essays) might bear more power than we’ve been taught to think. How will we choose to use them?