I often find myself in the quandary of whether something I do will hurt other people, even if if helps me. Now, I’m not talking about these situations where I could swindle someone naive for a million dollars or where I could drop a bomb on another country simply because it gets us oil (I have no bias, right?). But instead, I’m talking about situations like the one that happened in my creative writing class yesterday:

A student had written a story about politics, one that was loosely based on an experience he had with a family member. This family member – let’s call him Javier – has a slightly antagonistic persona, and thus, the student had put Javier in the position of being a rather angry person in the story. Now the representation was not exact, and perhaps Javier would not have made the connection – but this student was very concerned that Javier would be hurt by what he had written. Here is a common problem when we write (and as we live.)

Sometimes saying our truth requires hurting other people. I deeply believe that, and while I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s wise to go through life believing that you can walk around without hurting anyone or anything (even the Jains inadvertently hurt other life and must abide the karmic consequences). Sometimes what we do and say hurts others – this is a consequence of living in a fallen world.

For writers, especially for people who write out of real experience, this dilemma is pressing because we are balancing our need to say our own experiences as we see them with the desire – selfish or truly compassionate – to protect those around us. Sometimes our truth will hurt others; sometimes we have to not put what we’ve written out there because of this; sometimes we have to put our writing out there despite this. These are individual choices that we need to make with care.

But in the end, here’s what I believe – if we are being honest and doing what we have sought to see as right, then we should put our work into the world because, hopefully, it’s presence will do more good than harm. And I believe that if we do not tell our stories, if we hold our truth in ourselves always fearing that someone else will be hurt, we can end up hurting ourselves deeply – and surely those that love us would not want us to do that.

Writing is always this balancing act where our stories sit on the center of a see-saw – our friends and families at one end and us at the other. Sometimes we launch the stories onto their side and fling them all into the ether; sometimes we pull our stories to us, tucking them back into our jacket pockets for a later day when we may send them across the see-saw again. But as a woman who believes that is always better to speak the truth in love rather than to fester a wound inside where we grow bitter, I tend to err on the far side of the see-saw, trusting my words and myself to be true as much as possible.

Now if only I could manage this in the rest of my life.

How do you guys handle this question of what to say and what to keep silent?

Happy Halloween.