Writing As Respect

Recently I wrote a short story in which my main character took a position I personally completely disagree with. The details were unimportant; what is important is something that happened after I finished the story. Even though I ended up critiquing the mindset my character had, writing from his perspective brought something to mind.

Even though, by the end of the story, I still disagreed with the viewpoint, I respected it a bit more. It wasn’t that writing from his perspective had changed my mind, but rather it had shifted my perception–even if only a little bit. I saw the rationale behind the ideas he espoused. I understood the frustrations the ideas were born out of.

And really, this shouldn’t surprise me. It’s not anything new to say that writing is empathy–in fact, I’ve written on it before.

Pablo Picasso is often quoted as saying, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” I want to take that in a way that Picasso probably didn’t intend. When I wrote this character, which all his flaws, with all his opinions I disagreed with, I thought that he was lying in many of his declarations.

To put it simply, I thought, and still think, that many of the things he said were wrong–in the sense that they were not accurate representations of reality. But now let me apply Picasso to this story to explain precisely what I’m trying to get at. While this story was hardly art, it was, in a sense, a lie to (hopefully) tell the truth. My character may have been wrong, but through displaying the opinion of my character, I understood a little bit better the rationale behind that opinion.

Through writing what I believed to be a lie, I understand better the reality of why people hold the idea, or at least I hope so. So perhaps this is something else we can add to what is quickly becoming a list of “Writing As [Blank]” posts. Writing is thinking, writing is empathy, and maybe writing is also respect.

Could I be completely misguided in this? Absolutely, and because of that I’m curious to hear what you have to say. Is it valid to think of writing as respect?