12/17/2015 – Happy Holidays and the best to you in the New Year!
Holiday messages surround us. We hear of Hanukkah candles lighting the stand against oppression; the Christian carolers singing of peace and brotherhood; and the Kwanzaa message celebrating family, community, and culture. Muslim festivals are at other times of the year, but their message of celebration and good wishes also spring from the well of kindness, hope, and good cheer.
But the most powerful tool we have toward peace and a better world is the written word. As Martin Luther said, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” In his book on screenwriting, author Robert McKee said, “Artists threaten authority by exposing lies and inspiring passion for change. This is why when tyrants seize power, their firing squads aim at the heart of the writer.”
Most of us can point to books that changed our lives or, at least, had a significant effect. I give thanks to books as banal as the Nancy Drew series I read as a young girl. Nancy was always taking classes and learning new things. She inspired me to pursue lifelong learning. I also read Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis, also known as the musical Mame, at an impressionable age and that book kindled a spirit of anti-discrimination. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” provides heart to the risk-taker:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The poem inspired me to leave a good job, sell my house, and live on a boat for three years, a decision I have never regretted. This road (okay, channel) less traveled by did make all the difference in my life.
The novels of Charles Dickens spurred reforms in England. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin inflamed the Abolitionists and lit the cannons of the Civil War. In the early 1900s, Upton Sinclair’s muckraking novel, The Jungle, exposed conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry, causing a public uproar that contributed to the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. In 1919, he published The Brass Check, a muckraking exposé of American journalism that publicized the issue of yellow journalism and the limitations of the “free press” in the United States. This resulted in the first code of ethics for journalists.
So I suggest that in this holiday season of joy and gratefulness, we extend that gratefulness to the many writers who have changed our world and helped us grow in spirit and understanding.