A writer friend of mind is asking writers in her blog how we use our talents to lift up the world and make it a better and brighter place.
Am I under any obligation to do this? Or, to put it another way, is the ultimate intent of fiction the creation of a bully pulpit from which writers preach, persuade, editorialize and badger readers into changing their minds about one thing or another thing?
Joseph Campbell has said that our true focus as individuals is changing ourselves rather than trying to change the world. One can infer many things from his view, one of them being that as each of us becomes better, the world becomes better.
Blogs and social networking sites give writers and non-writers a chance to speak on behalf of their causes and to comment on the good, the bad and the ugly in the daily news. I'm likely to make positive comments online about advances in literacy, keeping the arts in the schools, saving the environment, etc. I say less about politics because the whole mess has become too polarized for sensible debate,
That said, am I--as a writer--supposed to be any more or any less of an advocate through my work on behalf of my causes and beliefs that those in other professions? Some schools of though say "yes," going so far as to say that fiction is bankrupt if it isn't overtly conveying the belief system of the political party, nation, religion or social/political organization(s) or group(s) to which the author belongs.
Novels, short stories and plays have often made very strong statements on behalf of the hungry, the oppressed, the misunderstood and the forgotten. But must they?
I don't think so.
However, in trying to make myself a better person, I am likely to write about the process. So, my fiction typically portrays individuals who discover ways to triumph over adversity and/or become more at one with themselves and the environment and the other creatures with whom we share the planet. Readers with similar views are likely to like what they see. When I read their work, I feel less alone with my beliefs, so perhaps they feel less alone when they read my books.
Readers who have strongly opposing views will probably continue to believe what they've always believed when they finish reading my books.
Perhaps my work positively influences a few fence sitters from time to time.
My writing has always been very personal. I always write what I care about. So my fiction is an extension of myself, reflecting my successes and my failures. But I try to avoid having overt agendas because I've always thought that people who try to set an example can easily become vain and inauthentic. Sooner or later they will lose themselves in their pretense.
Making the world a better place is rather a tall order for those of us who are still trying to figure out how to do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing. We all see each other struggling with becoming the best they can be, and there's a great deal of comfort in knowing others are seekers on the path and that from time to time, we can learn from their bad days and good days.
My fiction is rather like that, I think. Readers see the bad and the good in me and from time to time find notions they can adapt (or avoid adapting) for their own lives.