Discourse / Editorials / May 29, 2014

Growth through discourse

It’s the final week of the Knox school year, and I want to write a little on what it’s been like to be a columnist for TKS. This is in part self-serving: having spent a lot of time on knotty political/social issues, it’s a relief to take some time to just write about the process itself. I also hope, however, that this is helpful for anyone who wants to write for TKS. If you’re thinking about it, you should do it! It’s immensely rewarding and challenging. Here are some things I have found.

Opinion writing makes you vulnerable. If it doesn’t, you’re not doing it right. The goal of persuasive writing (as I’ve come to see it) is to douse the mind in cold water, wrenching it out of the myths that run our culture, and then hold it in consolation, with hope for a better way of being. That’s difficult for a variety of reasons. Challenging society’s popular myths isn’t easy. You won’t always feel safe sticking your neck out. You may be uncertain of how to really make the issue resonate with people, or unsure of yourself and your angle on the issue. But writing it out anyway is incredibly rewarding. Your views on difficult issues will grow, expand and change as you’re forced to elaborate them on paper. Writing on gender stereotypes earlier in the year was difficult for me because I had feelings of insecurity about them; however, I gained more perspective through exploring the topic through my own biases, and then moving beyond them.

I have a lot of admiration for my fellow columnists who have tackled incendiary topics, Tom Courtright and Shannon Caveny in particular. While I’ll be clear that I don’t necessarily agree with both of their worldviews, I hold a lot of respect for both of them in having the bravery to raise their voices on the discourse page. When we don’t hold back with what matters to us, we make a more compelling discourse section.

The other thing about opinion writing is that it’s messy. Sometimes you look back at past columns and realize that now you don’t know what you were thinking. You may write up a piece and find that it doesn’t say at all what you wanted to say. You may at times struggle to come up with a topic. Sometimes, you realize that you’ve missed a lot of opportunities to offer really meaningful writing to your readers. Having the results of your writing journey, with all its glories and all its lesser moments on public display can be a little intimidating. But it’s important to remember that writing happens continually. It evolves. Old newspapers become compost for the richness of your writing as it evolves and becomes more powerful.

I’ve had some of these realizations during my past year. For example, I’ve written a lot of columns about large-scale social problems/change, something that I think is very important. Yet I’ve realized that many of these columns have left unanswered the basic questions of how these topics should influence the way we deal with the world on a personal level. It’s fine to write about the injustice of government surveillance, but most people are just trying to get through their day. And being able to get through your day is an essential prerequisite to making an impact in the world beyond your personal life.

Making an impact in the world has become my biggest priority as a writer. Next year I hope to keep a strong dual focus on personal issues (like emotional health and social issues) and on larger problems (like white supremacy and the future of our world), and to work on tying them together. I’m very thankful for TKS in giving me fertile ground to explore these issues further. I encourage you, too, to explore your views and make them heard through writing for TKS! You can write weekly, biweekly or just submit guest columns. Think about it over the summer.

Leland Wright

Tags:  discourse Leland Wright opinion writing tks

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