A Snowball Effect

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It’s been a pretty regular week in the life, more projects and classes and work shifts to attend to. Nothing special, not really.

At least not directly.

There is one news story that did catch my eye, one that got me thinking about my career and what it could look like. It has nothing to do with me, but it was about an author I used to read a lot of; I idolized her and her work. Sure, my tastes changed over time, but she does her job well regardless.

Most people do, that is, until they begin to abuse the position that job may give them.

I’m talking about Sarah Dessen and the slew of authors that got involved after the resurfacing of a commentary on her work. Here’s a quick rundown of what happened and why it matters on a larger scale to the rest of us:

As a junior in college, Brooke Nelson volunteered on the selection committee for the Common Read program. This program selects certain books for incoming students to read on Northern State University in South Dakota. As her reasoning for joining, she spoke out against the selection of Dessen’s books, as they were not on par with Common Read standards.

The reaction to this, however, was not as small as a single opinion. Dessen took to Twitter in order to say that authors are still people and that this opinion hurt her in a time that she is going through a lot. Many of her fellow YA authors backed her up, also offended by Nelson’s words.

So that’s the summed-up version of what happened. Here’s why I think it matters to the rest of us:

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On one hand, we need to remember that everything we do ultimately impacts someone else. What we say, what we do, when we do it… It all matters. In the words of author Jay Asher, “Everything affects everything.”

We only ever know our own circumstances and some semblance of how we impact our own lives. There is no real way to predict what skipping one class or getting gas another day or breaking routine will do for the people you may have come across. We don’t know, I personally don’t think I’d want to know all those possibilities.

In that vein, be kind when you can and pay attention to the world around you. Maybe it’ll make a difference, maybe it won’t. You can’t really know.

Now for the other hand: we are all in a position of power somewhere in our lives. Whether it’s with siblings or coworkers or just someone that friends look up to, that gives you power. With that power, the more you have reflects what you say or do on a much bigger stage.

You are never off stage.

By speaking out as someone whose work is widely read, beloved, and admired by fans and authors alike, Dessen found herself on a large stage. And a lot of other people decided to join her. Other popular YA authors then chimed in and supported her, therefore speaking down to Nelson. 

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Unfortunately, Nelson is now just a graduate student and when angry fans and authors came mobbing at her through social media, the impact was a big one. Because not only did Dessen back herself up, but she had a whole lot of other people to join her.

In the end, there was a lot of harm done to the girl and a lot of support for the author. As someone who writes and wants to be successful in that aspect of my life, I recognize that not everyone is going to like everything I write. I mean, I don’t even like everything I write; that is not an expectation I can hold over other people.

Beyond writing, it also extends to relationships and jobs even. Not every job is a good fit, nor are people always the right people. Though I used to try to get everyone to like me, that isn’t possible. So why bother? Ultimately, it’s not supposed to be possible. There’s a reason for that.

The adversity we face oftentimes opens up to other perspectives or opinions that we do not have. Sometimes that can hurt and sometimes it can help. But every time, it is also a chance to learn from what we didn’t see the first time. It’s almost like hindsight but seeing it from a different direction than looking back.

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So maybe this didn’t happen in my life, no one told me (directly) that they don’t like my writing this week. But it did happen somewhere. One person was punished for having an opinion when that is what she volunteered for in the first place. And the other took that opinion as a reflection of her own person.

Writing is personal, yes. I think to a certain degree, everything we do is. The question is whether or not we pay attention to how what affects the world around us.

So, think about it, what have you put out into the world today?