March 17, 2017

A Bit of Hope

        Maria Popova of the blog Brain Pickings says that “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism.  Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.”  We need them both, of course, and strangely, they both seem in awfully short supply sometimes.  In the world of fiction writing, however, the balance often seems to fall away from hope, with anything that isn’t 100% cynical being labelled as too naively happy.  Happiness and hope are often accused of being unrealistic.  In 1969 E.B. White laid out the role of the writer with comments that seems absolutely spot-on for 2017.  He says,
        A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation. I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me.
        I’ve written about this before, particularly in my post on Happy Endings, where I point out that newspapers are full of bad news not because bad news is more “realistic,” but because newspapers operate under the belief that a problem generates more sales than its solution and sudden disaster generates more sales than the slow process of overcoming disaster.  As a writer I believe that I have a job to do in accepting and reporting the warming rays of the sun whenever they strike me, not mindlessly or naively, but in an effort to serve up ample helpings of both critical thinking and hope.
        Maria Popova concludes beautifully,  Yes, people sometimes do horrible things, and we can speculate about why they do them until we run out of words and sanity. But evil only prevails when we mistake it for the norm. There is so much goodness in the world — all we have to do is remind one another of it, show up for it, and refuse to leave.

[Picture: O What A Beautiful City, wood block print from Walk Together Children: Black American Spirituals by Ashley Bryan, Atheneum, 1974.]
Quotations from The Paris Review Interviews, vol. IV, and Brain Pickings, where you can read Popova’s whole article “Hope, Cynicism, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves.”

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