by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador
Are you practicing your freedom today?
Happy Independence Day America!
July 4th is almost here. It’s a great day to relax, enjoy time with loved ones, do something American like go on family picnics (invented by the Victorian English), eat hot dogs (invented by the Germans), corn on the cob (first cooked by the Maya Indians), slurp snow cones (invented by Italians, specifically Roman emperor Nero), go to the local amusement park (invented by the Danish), blow up fireworks (invented by the Chinese), and attend a baseball game (uniquely American). A true celebration of America’s melting pot philosophy. I hope you and yours enjoy the holiday.
Americans are adept at waxing nostalgic and patriotic about our country, its amber waves of grain and purple mountains majesty. We love to talk about how hard work can accomplish the American Dream, neighbors always help their neighbors when bad things happen, and anyone can grow up to be President. Those are good but occasionally naive sentiments. It’s not all as simple as apple pie, and never really has been.
But despite our shortcomings, we have freedoms here in America that we take for granted and are so ingrained in our society that we have a hard time realizing how millions live without them.
I want to tell you about a friend of my dear Keeper Hubby. Hubby participates in some online gaming. He loves those team strategy games and has made a coterie of friends from around the globe. One of his friends lives in a certain Middle Eastern country that shall remain unnamed. We’ll call him Fred, because I can’t reveal his name either.
Hubby and Fred were having one of their online chats the other day and Fred let it slip that he doesn’t like his country’s current leader. Hubby asked about his grievances, wanting to understand more about his friend’s culture. Fred said that there was no way Hubby could understand, but he had already said too much. If Fred said anything else about his country and its leader, he could be killed. It would be no trouble for authorities to track him down, and he would disappear and die. It was a common occurrence where he lived. Fred apologized and said several times that there was no way Hubby could really understand the situation, since he was an American. And Fred was right.
Americans have the right to an opinion, even if it disagrees with those in power. We don’t have to cower in fear that we will disappear in the night for our opinions and beliefs.
Americans have the right to speak our opinion, even if other people don’t like it, or it happens to be a generally unpopular stand.
Nowadays it seems like giving an opinion has shifted into hyperdrive with the ease of sharing them via social media. Social media enables instant feedback without filters, so viewpoints appear as status posts like swarms of locust. This can seem overwhelming, but that doesn’t dilute our right to speak our minds. And the flip side of the same coin, people’s right to accept or reject our opinions.
Respectful disagreement and debate are a sign of a healthy public square of ideas. Today’s digital citizens instead see it as a license to wield the barbed weapons of intolerance, hate, and shame. Dignity has been forced outside the gates of discourse in today’s society. Worthy of its own blog post, but we’ll leave it at that for now.
Writers and other creatives can express their opinions or reflect how they see our culture through the lens of their craft. This is not only an ability, a talent, but a right.
Did you know that every day you create, you participate in this grand experiment called America?
Every free thought you write, whether in a novel to be published, blogging about your favorite celebrity or nail polish, or a personal journal that will never be seen by another pair of eyes, you are practicing your freedom. Every song lyric, every sketch, every painting, every photograph, every blog post, even every Tweet, takes a stand for freedom.
A lot of people don’t understand this privilege. People and groups go so far as to keep others from using this privilege when they don’t agree with someone’s thoughts and words. Banning books from public venues like libraries, purposely editing news stories and books to avoid offense, social media shaming campaigns, even self-censorship by the authors themselves.
Works considered classics now were in the past subject to calls to keep them out of the public’s grasp: everything from Steinbeck to Hemingway, from To Kill A Mockingbird to The Great Gatsby. Contemporary writing is not immune to censorship challenges: the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, novels by Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Isabel Allende, Anne Rice, and Stephen King, to name a few.
Despite those possibilities, every person has the right to write about whatever they want. The writing may promote lofty ideas or abhorrent ideas. It may be beautiful prose or terrible grammar. Publishers have the right to accept it or reject it, for whatever reasons they choose. And writers have the right to bypass those publishers and publish themselves.
And as writers have the right to write their words, readers have the right to read them or pass them by. We have the right to read what we like. Romance, science fiction, classic literature, or contemporary literary fiction. Bad storytelling and good storytelling. From 50 Shades to A Thousand Splendid Suns. It’s messy at times, but freedom has never been neat and tidy.
You have the right to write crap.
You have the right to publish said crap.
You have the right to sculpt beautiful words.
You have the right to make people happy with stories.
You have the right to call people to action with stories.
You have the right to voice your opinion.
You have the right to create worlds.
You have the right to share your heart through your words.
You have the right to change your world with your words.
How did the thirteen colonies convince one another that freedom was worth fighting for?
“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated”
– Thomas Paine, The Crisis
How did abolitionists convince others that slavery was evil?
“I am aware that many object to the severity of my language; but is there not cause for severity? I will be as harsh as truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or to speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.”
– William Lloyd Garrison
How did women get the right to vote?
“I declare to you that woman must not depend upon the protection of man, but must be taught to protect herself, and there I take my stand.”
– Susan B. Anthony
“We women of America tell you that America is not a democracy. Twenty million women are denied the right to vote.”
– Alice Paul
How did civil rights activists convince the country that separate but equal was never equal?
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
“You cannot be afraid to speak up and speak out for what you believe. You have to have courage, raw courage.”
– John Lewis
“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.
– Mahatma Gandhi
With speeches, and songs, and poems from the heart.
I , too sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen.
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
– Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967)
Words are containers of power. More powerful than we take time to comprehend.
“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”
– Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 – 1864)
“Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.”
– Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)
“Words kill, words give life;
they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.”
-The Message, Proverbs 18:21
The next time you feel worn down, frustrated, or disappointed about your current creative project, think about the privilege that you have to affect your life, your world, and THE world. Think not that you HAVE to write, but that you GET to write. You get to write, to create, in any form, in any place, any thing you want.
And the world needs your writing, your art, your words.
“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.”
– Neil Gaiman
A friendly Independence Day reminder.