I re-read the words of Orhan Pamuk, the youngest person to have received a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2006. He’s one of the contributors in Burn This Book, a helpful gem of a book that I come back to now and then. He’s talking about the freedom of thought and expression and how they are universal human rights. He says that the suffering of poverty in shame result not because of freedom of expression but lack of that freedom. Here’s a quote from him:
But to respect humanity and religious beliefs of minorities is not to suggest that we should limit freedom of thought on their behalf. Respect for the rights of religious or ethnic minorities should never be an excuse to violate freedom of speech. We writers should never hesitate on this matter, no matter how “provocative” the pretext. Some of us have a better understanding of the West, some of us have more affection for those who live in the East, and some, like me, try to keep our hearts open to both sides of this slightly artificial divide, but our natural attachments and our desire to understand those unlike us should never stand in the way of our respect for human rights.
He goes on to say that people can, in a very short time, become both a victim of tyranny and a tyrannical oppressor. He says that that contradictory ability is a “difficult entreprise,” and then he says this about writing novels:
The pleasure of writing novels comes from exploring this peculiarly modern condition whereby people are forever contradicting their own minds. It is because our modern minds are so slippery that freedom of expression becomes so important: we need it to understand ourselves, our shady, contradictory, inner thoughts, and the pride and shame that I mentioned earlier.
Writing is that exercise, in some ways like living, where we try to put aside one impression for the sake of two. We write the antagonist with all our hearts when we prefer the protagonist. We finish a scene from one character’s viewpoint and then push to write it better from the opposing character’s perspective. It’s empathy in words.
I’ve been thinking about holding two or three or four contradictory viewpoints at the same time and how writing is a discipline for enabling me to do that juggling. Just yesterday I sat listening to things I didn’t agree with, and I tried to hold my view soft enough to hear another, perhaps more, convicing one. Have you ever had that happen? Hearing someone say something you thought wrong, watching someone do something that you wouldn’t. Between my writing projects, my preparation for the next class while finishing this semester, my work with the boy as a dad–this feels like my life right now. Holding contradictory viewpoints gently is, like writing, a difficult entreprise. What about you, when you’ve experienced these things? Were they opportunities for you to hold tightly to what you already had? Or were they opportunities for you to ease your grip and gain something?