A friend of mine recently expressed concern about a new novel he’d written—a tongue-in-cheek political satire that irreverently explored political correctness.
Did it not run the risk of being branded as too conservative, he wanted to know? This got me thinking about to-mah-tos and to-may-tos.
We live in a time of cultural, spiritual, and racial upheaval, a time where the received wisdom is being questioned by an increasing exposure to alternative beliefs and practices, fostered by social media and specialist studies championed by institutes and universities.
Religion, gender, ethnicity, the environment, are all hotly debated, and even divisive, topics. Language, too, is changing. Words no longer seem to mean what they once did and are being dropped from the common lexicon.
“Let’s agree to disagree, shall we?”
Championing one side often results in disdain from the other. Name-calling, or stereotyping, is the order of the day. Once branded, it is difficult to get rid of the mark, regardless whether it is justified or not. The idea of no-smoke-without-fire seems to hold sway. It would appear far safer to have no opinion at all than to risk soliciting the wrath of the opposition.
Yet, as writers, we don’t have a choice but to adopt a point of view. Our stories are filled with characters who stand for something. The endings we craft betray our themes and concerns. Besides, our beliefs and preferences will emerge whether we like it or not.
So, how do we avoid the misunderstanding and prejudice that our point of view may solicit?
There are many answers to this question, supported by ample research and competing opinions, but let me give you mine — the short version: We treat opposing views with dignity and respect, or failing that, with good humour, and we demand the same in return.
Which reminds me, do you have to-mah-to or to-may-to with that cheese and ham sandwich? It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other to me.
As writers we can to agree to disagree, but we should do so respectfully.