Saturday, November 1, 2014

Integrity and Fun

I was recently listing some guidelines I have for the book I'm currently writing - things like being clear and easy to understand, and what I want the overall tone and message of the book to be. One component I listed was that I'd like the book to be entertaining, fun, light and fluffy, and an easy read, even though the topic is serious. I want the book to sound non-accusatory, non-confrontational, and basically treat everyone like they have good intentions and might just not know what to do in certain situations. I don't want to make the reader feel bad about themself. (This may happen anyway, but I don't want the tone of the book to make people feel bad). I want this to basically be a fun and pleasant book to read.

This can absolutely be done - I've read lots of fun books that give good advice for serious things (mostly American Girl books). But when I wrote this quality down on my list, I did question whether or not this was the right way to go. Was I lessening the importance of the message? Was I turning something essential into something optional? Was I tone-policing myself because I didn't think people would listen to me any other way?

Well, the last one is definitely true. But there's more to it than that. Making sure my book is enjoyable to read is not just about appealing to the masses - it's actually an integral part of the book itself. One of the issues I focus on in this book is that thinking something is good for someone does not make it okay to pressure the person to do it when they don't want to. I discuss how we often don't recognize outright bullying and harassment when it comes in the form of pushing someone to do something "positive." I can almost guarantee you that if my ex-college had a discussion about affirmative consent, there would be just as much pressure to go to the event, just as much pressure to drag along people who don't want to go, and just as much shaming of people who don't feel like going as there is at all the Important Issue events at Colby. I just don't see the students hosting the event actually applying affirmative consent to the way they treat the event itself.

I understand that it is a person's choice to read my book, that they can always put it down if they don't like it, but that doesn't mean that I don't have the power to make them feel bad about themselves. I once read a blog post which claimed that there were only five types of blog posts "worth writing," and one of those types was a post that pushes people to make lifestyle changes. The blog author explained that this kind of post should make people feel guilty about whatever they are currently doing and shame them into making changes. And I'm sitting here thinking, okay, I can see how this might be alright for a blog that is about a specific kind of lifestyle change and is marketed towards people who both want to make this specific change and are motivated by this particular tactic. Otherwise, this is a direct attack on both people who do not want to make this lifestyle change, and people who do want to make it but are struggling and find this type of post berating. It was funny that this blogger was claiming that everyone should be writing posts like this, when the entire premise of my blog is about NOT doing all of the bad things that this post does.

If I'm writing a book about not pushing people, I need to not be pushing people in the book. I know that's not entirely possible with the kind of book I'm writing, but I want to be the least pushy that I can be while still maintaining the importance of the topics. People may end up feeling bad because they realize thing that they haven't been as validating or consent-conscious as they could have been (this has happened to me a lot), but I want this to be a personal realization that comes from the information presented in the book, not from me saying, "You've done this horrible thing - now feel bad about it!" (I will say this regarding specific people in my life, but I don't want to put it in a book marketed to people I don't know).

You probably know by now that I've been in countless situations at Colby where I was shamed for not doing stuff I didn't want to do - joining clubs, going to events, reading what other people wanted me to read, knowing what other people thought I should know, etc. Being part of a bunch of pretentiously-less-elite subcultures within that elitist culture taught me something about myself: I am your "average" reader. I'm the average reader who only wants entertainment and not information. I'm the average reader who only wants to feel good and doesn't want to read stuff that makes me feel bad about myself. I'm the average reader who knows nothing about the topic, who would only take an interest if it were really exciting and fun. I am the reader that everyone complains about having to appeal to. And you know what? I WANT to appeal to the average reader. Because I do NOT support telling people that they have to care about learning, read stuff that they "should" read, be okay with being called out and not feeling good, or anything like that. I am the average reader and I do not want people pushing me to be anything else. I do not want to push my readers to be anything else.  I want to appeal to them because I support people's right to like what they like and to avoid things that make them feel bad. And if I'm not going to push people, then I need to appeal to them.

Easier said than done of course. If I tell people to let others do what they like and not push them to do things they "should" do, that statement itself is a "should" statement. So...I'm not exactly sure how to mix the gentle and fun appeal with the actual content of the book. All I know is that keeping the book entertaining and fun and non-pushy does not compromise the integrity of the message - it is part of the integrity of the message.

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