Writing to Change the World
By Tom Peterson
“Give me twenty-six lead soldiers and I will conquer the world,” wrote Karl Marx. His ideas (however mangled) conquered about half of it. An alphabet army, formed into compelling ideas, is powerful without limit. From marine biologist Rachel Carson, who launched an environmental movement with her book Silent Spring, to thousands of citizens leaning into social media to launch Arab Spring, people writing down their thoughts, passions, concerns are changing our world.
But The Movement could use more people writing. Each of us has a unique voice that the world needs.
The best guide to help us focus this power is Writing to Change the World by therapist and author Mary Pipher (2006). It’s a great how-to—not so much how to put sentences together, but how to remember that we’re empowered, we’re connected, we have responsibility. Pipher explores with us how to find our own voice, how to grow our soul, how to be honest.
She offers insight on the practical aspects of interviewing, organizing, point of view, audience. And Writing to Change the World offers thoughts beyond books or articles: speeches, music and poetry, personal essays and, yes, blogs. The technology exists to solve society’s greatest challenges; it’s affordable; the social infrastructure is in place. What’s lacking most is the groundswell of support to scale up the proven solutions.
Your voice matters! Here are a few questions Pipher asks to help you find it: “What makes you laugh, cry, and open your heart? What points to you repeatedly make to those you love? …What do you know to be true? What do you consider to be evil? …What do you want to accomplish before you die?”
A few Nuggets from the book:
As a therapist, I usually suggest action…. As change writers, we can offer readers ideas for action. If readers take our advice to work in a soup kitchen for the homeless, they are likely to become more sympathetic toward the poor. We humans are hardwired to care for what we love, but we also come to love what we learn to care for.
Stories make people laugh or weep because they engage the sensory and emotional systems of our bodies. I urge you to be selective and parsimonious in your sue of numbers or statistics. Most readers quickly grow bored with them. As Stalin put it, “If you kill one man it’s murder, if you kill a million it is a statistic.”
On Preaching to the Choir:
The truth is, most preaching is to the choir. Choirs produce almost all the important social action in our world. The people most likely to read us are the people who think like we do. And readers generally seek reinforcement of their beliefs, not arguments or challenges. When writing for compatriots, we hope to energize an sustain them. We want to deliver new thoughts and information to them, strengthen their beliefs and mobilize hem to action. Often, we will cite common history and heroes, and employ shared, meaning-laden metaphors. This kind of “to the barricades” writing enjoins communities of believers to make things happen.