Writing Right with Dmitri: Getting Past Our Projections

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Writing Right with Dmitri: Getting Past Our Projections

Editor at work.

Today, in between loading photos, preparing Post copy, and driving over to the chiropractor's to have myself readjusted in the vain hope that someday I'll be as good as new (ha), I've been noticing the rest of the world through the miracle of Twitter. Not only does Twitter keep the chatter to a minimum, even if it isn't always civil, it allows people to put up little videos, so that I can keep track of events and admire animals, wild and domestic. The animals are more fun than the people, most of the time.

Human activity, when it didn't involve playing with the aforesaid animals, was mostly of the arguing sort. A whole lot of Harvard students quietly walked out on the Israeli ambassador when he tried to give a talk justifying Israel's 'settlement policy'. About half of the people on Twitter thought that was a classy move, since they did it silently. The other half accused them of not listening to 'both sides'. I imagine they were like me. I have my personal view of what the Israeli government does, and I seriously doubt that the ambassador would say anything surprising. I wouldn't be inclined to change my mind on the topic.

Hear me out: I'll get to the point in a minute, and you won't have to hear any political opinions you disagree with.

Another set of arguments on Twitter today involved reactions to the EU Parliament's ratification of Brexit, followed by cutting off Mr Farage's microphone and everybody else singing 'Auld Lang Syne'. Opinions varied as to whether this was a cool move, how cool a move it was, and whether Guy Verhofstadt had managed to decipher the Scots text. Again, I have my personal view of these goings-on. You couldn't change them if you wrote me walls and walls of text. I'll bet you could say the same about yourself.

To sum up: we don't talk about these things to one another because we are aware that:

  • We all have opinions. These opinions are probably strongly held.
  • We like each other, anyway, and we don't want to get into pointless arguments.
  • In spite of our mutual respect and tolerance, we are all uneasy about this.

The reason we are uneasy about this is twofold:

  1. When we know a friend disagrees with us on an issue, we think we know why, and it makes us think less of our friend.
  2. We are perfectly well aware that our friend feels the same way about us.

Now, those are facts. What we don't know, however, is that what we may think our friend's reason for believing in/supporting/opposing X, Y, or Zed may be completely different from what we surmise. In fact, we may be projecting our personal prejudices onto them and their opinion.

Which makes it kind of a shame, really, that we can't talk about it sensibly. Because we might clear up a whole lot of misunderstandings if we could.

But we can't. So don't try. Don't put your political opinions at the bottom of this page. Really. Just don't. I'd probably yikes them.

That's not what this is about.

So What Does This Have to Do with Writing?

When we can't talk to each other about something that's important to us, you know what we do?

We make art.

We write. We draw. We make music. (I was going to say 'musify' and realised it wasn't a word. Germans can musizieren, why can't we? Phooey.) We find a medium for expression, and work out what we think that way.

This, children, is known as a workaround. Humans are good at workarounds. They have to be. They're so good at creating roadblocks.

Try this sometime: try writing a story in which you create a character who doesn't think like you. Try like H to stop projecting. Let the character find their own motivation in the story. See if they can teach you anything about another point of view.

A warning: this is a stretching exercise. Don't overdo it. You don't have to start out by trying to create a sympathetic mass murderer, for heaven's sake. Just move out of your own set of assumptions. Just a little. A few feet, maybe. Don't project onto them your personal feelings that anybody who thinks like that must be doing it out of some awful motivation which you find thoroughly despicable. Maybe there's a fear, or a desire, or a consideration that you haven't taken into account. Maybe they've had different experiences from you?

I am absolutely not saying that you should come away from this exercise with a different opinion on politics, or religion, or human rights issues, or the morally uplifting nature of multiplayer online games. I'm just saying that trying to figure out where other people's attitudes are coming from is a worthwhile endeavour in this life. It may help you live with your neighbours. It may cause you to emigrate. But you'll deffo be a better writer.

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Dmitri Gheorgheni

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