“All totalitarian governments achieve their ends by frightening and isolating people, and by preventing honest public discussion of important matters. The way to promote social and economic justice is by doing just the opposite: by telling the truth, and by encouraging civil public discussions.” Mary Pipher wrote this (and many other things worth reading) in her 2006 book Writing to Change the World.
I pulled that book off my shelf again after watching the movie The Help (based on Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel). As I watched the movie, I was struck by the role writing can play in bringing about change. The first effect seems to be change in the writer. Then, sometimes, writing can change the world.
The world is changed for good when people have the courage to speak and write the truth. The Help beautifully illustrates this. It also shows the risk that’s often involved. In the 1960s, people knew they could be fired, beaten, evicted, even killed for speaking out about anything related to civil rights. Yet some weren’t afraid to pay this price.
Aibileen is one of the brave maids who was willing to tell her story. She found the courage to do this by first writing her story. And she was comfortable writing her story because she had long ago begun the habit of writing her prayers every night. This habit was her lifeline to Hope in her despair-filled world.
The result? Not only were her prayers answered so remarkably that she developed a reputation as one who had a direct line to God, but she also became articulate. She wrote easily, clearly, honestly. And when the world was ready to hear her story, she was ready to tell it.
Her writing gave her a voice. Her voice gave her confidence. The confidence gave her freedom from fear. Freedom allowed her to hold her head up no matter how others treated her. Someone who knows how to write is a force to be reckoned with.
If you want to change the world, keep writing.