What a difficult task! We must first assume that a person has a grasp on the truth in the first place, but then we are presented with an important question: It is easy to write poorly about the truth, but how does one wield the pen effectively, so as to open the hearts and minds of many? I’ve given this challenge much thought over the rather short course of this blog, and I have some conclusions.
There’s a type of voice I’ve come to dislike thoroughly in any writing, especially my own. It is the scathing rant. Every genre of writers is guilty of such expression, whether it be those who write on religion, politics, atheism, or feminism, we all do it. I find such writing ineffective, childish, and worst of all, devoid of hope or compassion. This does not prevent it’s popularity however, but the readership for these types of articles is usually found among either those who already agree (preaching to the choir), or those who wish to pick fights in the comment reel (the trollers).
It’s one quality I’ve noticed within a particular, some-what well known blog. Though his arguments are often sound or well thought out, in contrast I don’t perceive hope in his writing. Though I frequently agree with what he’s saying, I can’t help but walk away from reading one of his articles with the sense that I’d just been rubbed all over with sandpaper, and I can’t say I like it or find it useful.
There is one type of writing that is uncomfortable to read, but in the best way possible. Writing that is written both with conviction and truth, but also with a rooting in passion for all human people. You know when you’ve come across such writing when you feel at once convicted of your own contribution to the problem being discussed, but simultaneously motivated to work towards something better. Many of the spiritual masters have this quality in their speech, thoughts, and writing. My favourite example is the profound collection of writings from various groups of monastics who, around 300-400AD, lived in the desert as ascetics and monks. They are known, with great reverence, as the Desert Fathers. Their lives were completely consecrated to prayer and good works; few have spoken so powerfully on compassion, prayer, humility, hospitality, living for the greater good, ridding oneself of addiction and vice, and many other worthy topics. One quality I’ve always noticed while reading the sayings of the Desert Fathers is the overwhelming compassion that the protagonists in their stories hold toward those who struggle. They have a firm but gentle touch, one that both guides and also comforts.
St. Augustine said, “virtue lies in the middle road,” and it is this middle road I hope to represent.
Writing that is completely lacking in any real force or power is like leaves in the wind, here today and gone tomorrow. Such writing leaves us with the feeling — ok fine, but who cares? In contrast, if it’s written with an iron fist, in a crushing and demeaning manner, it will only ever appeal to those who don’t need their minds to be changed, or those who need justification for their anger. If an argument only convinces those who already agree with it, it is useless, a lead weight resting unseen on the ocean floor. The works of the Desert Fathers are neither weak, superfluous, nor flaccid, but neither are they abrasive, ironic, or divisive. Their dissertations lift the reader, showing them their flaws in the light, all the while comforting them, granting them strength to begin again.
What a challenge to be self-aware, other-aware, before articulating and discussing the heart and meaning of the topics we’ve chosen to represent.
It is an immense battle to fight one’s emotions and to find balance between the “teeth” in an essay and also an awareness of all people, big and small, strong and weak, aware and unaware. When any writer comes off with sheer derision, slander, or irony, anyone who is legitimately struggling to understand the writer’s topic (excluding the truly stout of heart) will be immediately discouraged and turned off. If the topic is worthwhile and meaningful, it will take on a black-eye in the view of that struggling reader. It is to put forth an opinion that will cause the reader not to trust the argument.
For my own experience I have come to see, though I am a mere beginner when it comes to writing, that the only path to beneficial writing, that is writing that is of some benefit to others and myself, is continual vigilance. To fight against my own propensity to relax and to rely upon old habits, combined with an awareness of what I’m writing, why I’m writing it, and with what tone, is crucial if I am to hold a meaningful voice.