The Art of Connecting

The world, as you all probably know, is filled with large-scale problems that deserve the attention of writers and artists everywhere. Race relations, gender equality, gay rights… the list goes on and on. These are all also topics that I care about myself, and want to speak to in my own writing. However, as a white heterosexual male, most of these problems are not ones that I have to personally confront frequently, if ever. I can’t write, therefore about what it feels like to endure these kinds of injustice, even though I want to write about them in some way. So I am faced with a problem: how do I write, either in slam poetry or short stories, about topics that I am not directly affected by? How do I confront these topics while still being honest?

The answer to this complicated question is actually somewhat simple: I have to realize these issues actually do affect me. Not directly, of course. I’ve never had to experience the pain of unequal pay or the frustration of being unfairly targeted by the police, and I almost certainly never will. As such, the poetry or stories I would write about those issues can’t be written from the perspective of someone suffering from them; that writing would be vapid and dishonest. However, there are people that I care about deeply who do have to deal with these issues every day, and who have stories well worth telling. And while I might not be able to write about my own experiences, I can definitely write about theirs.

In other words, I can write about important issues by realizing that I connect to them through the people I care about. I can’t write about how race relations make my life harder, but I can write about the struggles I know the children form low-income backgrounds I taught over three summers will face because people will judge them based on the color of their skin and not their brilliance. I can’t write about the gender equality would improve my prospect, but I can write about  how heartbreaking it is to be asked by a friend to walk with her to Walgreens so that people won't catcall her. I can’t write about the struggles of homosexual from a first person perspective, but I can write about how the people who taught me sex-ed never once mentioned homosexuality, and wonder if that makes some of my friends feel unspeakably lonely. I can’t write about what it’s like to have these experiences. But I care about those who do, and I can write about that.

I suppose if this answer can be boiled down to one sentence, it’s this: if you want to write about an issue that doesn't directly effect you, find the way you’re connected to the issue. Whether it’s a person we know, an event we witnessed, or simply the fact that we live in a world in which these things matter, we all have a way that the important problems of the world connect to us. We can, and we must, find the ways in which we connect to these real problems and speak to them. Because after all, change doesn’t happen when the most afflicted minority are the only ones talking about. To make the world a better place, we all need to speak up.