Just the other day I was at a writing meeting where an author whose books and stories are often categorized as erotica was going to speak and share her publishing experiences with us. The author seemed a little nervous (which passingly made me wonder if speaking to a group ever gets easy). There was a new woman in the group who, upon learning what the author’s genre was, became agitated and expressed how inappropriate she felt the topic was both in words and, more powerfully, with her tone and expression. I understand that we all have our differences and this woman was deeply religious so erotica was a poor fit. However, she also seemed either oblivious to or unconcerned by the effect her words were having on the author who had poured her heart and soul into the work now being publicly condemned and was looking on with a vaguely mortified expression. I found it hard to believe that someone could be so completely self-absorbed.
It got me to thinking about how we interact with people.
Thou Art God
This isn't a new idea and I borrow the phrase specifically from Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. I think there is truth to this phrase in a sense. Thou Art God, as I choose to grok it, refers to a very basic fact of life. That is that you can only ever truly perceive the world around you through the filter of your own unique personal experiences. In that respect, each of us is the god of our world. We are the center of our own universe.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
If not for the internet, I wouldn't have know that this was originally a quote from Voltaire, but I don’t mind in the least if you happen to remember it from Uncle Ben in Spiderman as I do. Regardless of its origin, the quote makes an important point that I think applies here. If we are the gods of our individual universes, then we each have a responsibility to that universe. At the very least, we should try to be aware of the effect our actions have on the people around us (and the rest of the world, but this isn't that conversation).
Don't get me wrong. I don't think we should tiptoe around each other (seriously folks, I think we’ve taken political correctness way too far). Offend people. Argue with people. Just be aware of the situation and don't be pointlessly cruel.
Now, let’s look at the original situation again. You go to a writers meeting. There is a guest speaker whose work delves into human sexuality. This goes against your personal morals. Do you:
- Scathingly express your disapproval of the subject with no regard for how your words might stab into the heart of the author (who was expressly invited to speak at the meeting) and then leave?
- Politely state that you aren’t comfortable with the subject and dismiss yourself?
I know, obviously A because I just told you that it’s your universe, right?
This is the primary reason I have a problem with zealots of any kind, religious, political, whatever. There simply isn’t room in their universe for people who think differently. They don’t allow for the uniqueness of each person’s life experiences and how those experiences have shaped them. They believe their way is the only way. I could be wrong, but I suspect they miss out on many great things because of this narrow view just as the woman at that meeting missed out on a chance to learn from the author's experiences and get to know someone who turned out to be quite a fantastic lady.
Interacting with Your Minions
Admittedly, you probably shouldn’t think of the other people in your world as minions, but it made me giggle so there it is.
Our differences are part of what makes human interaction so fun and interesting. We aren’t a bunch of robots with the same programming. If we were, it’d be a damned boring place (and author's would have little to write about). It doesn't take a lot of effort, however, to think before we speak. With a little awareness, we can determine if the venue is right and if what we are going to say is merely going to offend someone or if it might honestly hurt them.
I haven't got a problem with the woman being religious in this scenario. When I meet someone, I don't care about their race, religion, sexual orientation, or shoe size (though sometimes really tall people make me nervous). What I'm interested in is their attitude and how they interact with other people. If you're willing to talk down someone's life work in front of a group without having ever spoken to that person or seen their work, then I might use you as a character study for an antagonist in one of my novels, but I won't be asking you out for coffee.
In the end, it's rather simple. If you don't like someones views, don't hang with them. Alternatively, you could challenge them to a gentleman's bike joust and sell tickets, because that’d be pretty awesome.
How would you have handled the situation in the meeting? What similar situations have you been in or observed?