Right now, America is made up of two kinds of people.
No, I don’t mean Democrats and Republicans.
As a citizen of the interwebs, you’ve made a choice: you’re either someone who posts about the election or you’ve decided to keep your personal and professional feed free of that political stuff.
Maybe you stay silent because just don’t really care about who ends up being president. If you’re in the transformation business , however, I bet that you care deeply about how America’s leadership affects the individual and the collective.
You either add to the conversation or watch from the sidelines based on your personal tolerance for controversy. And, you likely decide to speak up or shut up based on how you think publicly picking the blue team or the red will impact your professional online presence.
How is it working for you? Is it tough to stay quiet or are you regretting the last time you hit “share”?
But 2016 is different and the stakes seem higher (for real this time)
Oh, but wait a minute. You might be part of the third camp.
You might not be broadcasting the latest video from your preferred candidate’s campaign, but you might be taking a stand on hot topics from the latest rally.
In 2016, issues like sexual assault and the treatment of disabled citizens are shot with political nuance. Addressing them at all seems to say a lot about whether you lean left or right.
Suddenly, if you’re a therapist and you’re talking about something you’ve been trained to detect and heal, like the repressed memory of sexual trauma, it means you’re “getting political.” And while you may have a vast community of colleagues and allies who will support your statements – and share what you write – you also open yourself to a whole tide of partisan fervor that you just don’t have the bandwidth or the stomach to handle.
But it’s not political, it’s personal
Just this week two clients – who both tell me they generally prefer to ignore all things political – have sent me pieces about Trump’s comments and how they opened past wounds and how the election is hurting their clients, especially the kids.
These women and I have built a great deal of trust. They sent me raw drafts that dove deep into the pain and the confusion that so many experience every time they look at the news.
Clearly, they needed to explore this territory. And, because the issues were so timely and so painful, it wasn’t enough for these therapist-bloggers to keep these thoughts tucked away on a private page.
Let’s be clear: we all need to explore this territory. Divisions run terribly deep in the US these days, but at the end of it all, we all share a country. We need to do that with greater grace and decency after November 8.
All of us who dare talk about taking a “holistic approach” understand that when one of us bleeds, we all bleed.
Telling and sharing tough stories helps more people understand what that really means.
You needed to write it. Does that mean you have to publish it?
My first task as a writing and storytelling coach is to simply take in what’s being said and then reflect it back to the writer. Sometimes, that’s enough.
Typing it out and sharing it with a trusted audience of one may take the charge out of the idea so the writer can let it rest. It may also reveal that the topic is too intimate, unprocessed, and unhealed to go any further.
But, if the writer still feels like she has an enduring passion for the topic and trusts that the words come from “scars, not from gaping open wounds,” we begin the editing process that leads to publication – somewhere.
To be sure about whether it’s worth taking the time to really untangle the ideas and perfect the rough draft, I ask a few questions:
- Is this something that belongs on your blog? If your professional website’s main job is to attract parents seeking play therapy for their elementary school kids, a post about how adults can deal with old memories of assault that get triggered by watching CNN is going to be out of place.
- Is this something that belongs on your Facebook wall or elsewhere on social media? If the post is relatively short and would require minimal editing, you might want to use the social media soapbox. After all, it seems like everyone else is, right?Just be prepared for anything… a longish post about a controversial topic could either go unnoticed or become a lightning rod for friends and trolls you never imagined would find you.
- Is it something you want to see on HuffPo or another big site? The decision to seek publication depends on whether you have the time and whether it will help you reach other goals… Would you be able to leverage that new exposure into building your business or growing your community? Your website would need to be ready for the traffic and you’d need to greet them with a relevant email opt-in offer to make it a list builder.Keep in mind that time is not on your side when it comes to writing about issues that are making headlines right now.
Writing about the issues “everyone is talking about” is mostly about timing
Let’s dive into the question of timing for a moment. Ultimately, your decision to invest yourself in a piece of writing that relates to the shock of the moment is largely reliant on the clock.
The election season will end soon – thank goodness! The release of Trump’s Access Hollywood tape is now considered the turning point in the election, but the headlines have moved on to Wikileaks and talk of rigged elections.
This is what always happens. As devastated and incensed as people were about the death of a Syrian toddler, the Brock Turner case, the shooting of unarmed black men and police officers, the mainstream media and the majority of the population have moved on.
Like it or not, the collective attention was soon invested in the next outrage and, occasionally, the nice warm fuzzy (yes, little bird who landed on Bernie’s podium, I am looking at you.)
In the moment when these big stories take over, however, the multitudes are hungry for news, for fresh angles, for provocative opinions. But still, attention is a rare, fleeting commodity.
There’s such a narrow window of time to vie with so many other content producers – including many professional writers whose lives are built to accommodate staying up all night to be among the first to comment on the latest scandal.
Writing about the latest controversy is also about your “why”
Have I negated everything I said about passion for a topic and the writer’s natural and healthy desire to explore an idea and be seen?
I don’t mean to. It’s just that I value your time and your precious writing gift so much that I want you to be sure you’re lavishing it on the topics and ideas that feed you – spiritually, creatively, philosophically, and professionally. And I want you to be aware of the trade offs.
I want you to be sure of why you’re writing the piece.
Do you need to say it publicly in order to sleep at night? Will raising your voice about this particular topic improve your bottom line or bring you some online visibility that helps you build a platform over time?
In that case, yes. Stay up late and turn those jagged paragraphs into powerful prose.
The case for writing into your passions and daring to be heard
Robert Cox is a therapist, podcaster, and writer who sees the headline, feels the feelings, and starts writing.
I got to know him and his writing through the Practice of Being Seen community. It was June when I had a chance to edit the first column he posted over at the Huffington Post, but his response to the Stamford rape trial still sticks with me.
And all of the brave work he’s done since, standing in his power as a trauma therapist and a dad who needs to speak his truth and address the toughest issues of the day continues to impress – and reach an increasing readership.
When I decided to write about whether it’s worth writing about the election, I knew I needed to get his perspective:
Much of the reason I do it is grounded in my belief. I was inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” written just prior to his going back to Nazi Germany – even though [American theologian and ethicist] Reinhold Niebuhr was begging him not to. Bonhoeffer’s point was that I cannot claim to follow Christ if I am not willing to risk everything.
So every time I start to think about the risk, how it might be seen by licensure boards, will it cost me professionally, blah, blah, blah….I hear his voice.
I think about what the world would be had it not been for men like him. Then writing seems small, but something I can do.
Make your stories bigger than the headlines
Election topics are hard. In a few weeks will the topic still have longevity and hold interest?
She brings us deeper than “it’ll be old news so soon” and invites the writer to see the enduring personal stories that lie beneath.
That’s exactly where my writing coaching client and Practice of Being Seen community member Lanie Smith took a piece that once had the working title “Trump & Rape.”
When I sat down to write this piece, I thought that I might take a political stance. I thought I would urge you to stand up and fight back, but something has shifted.
There is no urgency. My protective armor has loosened now that the emotional threat is behind me. Fear of my own grief, tears, and pain is no longer fueling immediate action. With this experience has come a peaceful acceptance. This is the power of emotion.
Lanie’s post, Trump & Trauma: Beyond Blame talks about reactions – both her clients’ and her own – to the Republican candidate’s comments about grabbing women. Ultimately, however Lanie reminds us that memories of sexual assault plague survivors long after reporters have moved on.
Lanie evolves through reaction and brings her readers toward healing as she finds her own sense of resolution.
Remember who you are when you start to write about that next incendiary topic
That means the news is going to bum you out and piss you off. It’s going to make you want to hide under a rock and raise hell. It’s going to make you despair the state of the world.
You’re also a healer and a visionary. You’re able to take the news that broke your heart and, through the alchemy of your writing process, turn it into the golden insight that mends the hearts of your readers and clients.
Sit with your rage and your sorrow. Pour them into a selfish first draft that dwells on your pain and your personal reactions. Then, if you’re called to dive deeper and write further, ask yourself how you can move beyond exposing the madness and speak up for your values and also offer solutions.
We need bright white lights in the swirling mess of red and blue. If you’re feeling called to write and publish your response to the latest jaw dropping revelation, we need your shining voice to show us the way through.