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Writing with Justice—and Tact

Jaine Toth | Nov 16, 2015

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Jaine Toth | Nov 16, 2015

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Someone once asked me, “Why do you write?”

I thought to myself, Why is the sky blue? Why does the sun shine? Why does the grass grow? And my answer to myself was, Because that’s what they do. That’s why they were created to do. That’s the way God made them.

Which made me wonder, again silently, Is that who I am? A writer? Am I meant to write something significant and lasting? Or do I simply write because it helps to put my thoughts down where I can look at them, sort them, move them around, even delete some or add to them, and then consider them? Why do I write?

I don’t recall my verbal answer, but I did go home and ponder the question for a while, writing my thoughts down as they came to me. When I finished, I read this back to myself:

young-woman-writingWhy do I write? Curiosity. Wanting to get to know Jaine. Who is she really? Is she someone I’d like to spend time with? Alone? That’s why I began writing, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. That understanding came gradually, as I read and reread what I’d been writing over the last several years.

Even when the story is about someone else, it really is, essentially, about me. If I didn’t find it interesting, if it didn’t move me, speak to me, challenge me, scare me, hold promise for me, I wouldn’t bother to write it. Each foray into writing is an adventurous journey into my subconscious. I quite surprise myself sometimes at what comes out. I have found on occasion that I began to write about one subject and suddenly the tale changed to another topic, or the same one emerged, but from a very different angle.

When first writing a story, there’s an adrenaline rush—a heightened sense of excitement. Rewriting is calmer, devoid of the sense of creation, but the challenge to tighten, polish and clarify the piece is a joy unto itself. Reading each new version, considering its flow, its impact, brings a certain satisfaction, yet once I’m through with it, I’m ready to start right in again editing the piece. No matter how many times I reread, I find something to change or rearrange. Finally there comes a point I just have to stop reading!

It’s great fun to capture a memory, share a tale, express an opinion, whether in prose or poetry. I feel I’m a more complete being since I first picked up the pen.

After rereading this recently, I thought back to everything I’ve written over the years: a book of anecdotal family stories, several binders full of poems, essays, tributes to friends, newspaper columns and articles, pieces for the historical society newsletter and Chamber of Commerce magazine, and speeches.

When I wrote the family stories, they came out “warts and all.” I didn’t write the so-called negative items as a means to hurt or attack, but just to put things down as I recalled them, citing them as historical fact, nothing more. Reading some of them disturbed my sister; she insisted I had my facts wrong. Her memory differs from mine.

The Baha’i teachings have a lot to say about this act of creation. Baha’u’llah admonished us to take care that: “…whatever is written in these days does not cause dissension…” – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 141.

He also wrote:

Whatever is written should not transgress the bounds of tact and wisdom, and in the words used there should lie hid the property of milk… – Ibid.

In trying to reconcile these wise teachings with the need for honesty and integrity, I found that Baha’u’llah also wrote:

In this Day the secrets of the earth are laid bare before the eyes of men. The pages of swiftly-appearing newspapers are indeed the mirror of the world. They reflect the deeds and the pursuits of divers peoples and kindreds. They both reflect them and make them known. They are a mirror endowed with hearing, sight and speech. This is an amazing and potent phenomenon. However it behoveth the writers thereof to be purged from the promptings of evil passions and desires and to be attired with the raiment of justice and equity. They should enquire into situations as much as possible and ascertain the facts, then set them down in writing. – Ibid., pp. 39-40.

As I did further research, I found that the first two quotations were initially addressed to those writing in defense of the many erroneous things said and written about the Baha’i Faith during its earliest days, some out of ignorance, but others with the intent to distort and discredit the Baha’i teachings. But I consider these admonitions as good advice for personal writing, as well. Therefore, I will attempt to write honestly, but tactfully, and pray for guidance in the editing phase. Because I must write. That’s who I am.

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