One day, I woke up and my favorite author (and person) in the world had died.
A Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate, writer for peace and tolerance, foe of hatred and bigotry—he left the world better than he found it when he died last June. Most people in my age bracket have never heard of his name, but his words still linger on the world’s conscience and in mine.
For fellow bookworms out there, I’m sure you can relate to the feeling of reading so many novels that you tend to lose track of the stories as they fade into the background of your mental library. But there will always be a few books that’ll stay at the forefront of your memory even months after putting it down. For me, that book is Night by Elie Wiesel whose words shook the world—and that’s an understatement.
It was Wiesel who taught me that there is power in words. When crafted together, words form the quiet voice in your mind that silence the deafening noise of the world beyond. But few answer the calling to pick up the pen, or more accurately, open Microsoft Word. Most are disillusioned into thinking that writing is reserved for writers—as if their voices will only be drowned out by billions of others. What most don’t realize is that we write for the same reason we read: to hear what others have to say, because our voices are not the only ones that demand to be heard—or the only ones that matter.
Some people write to be famous, or worse, to discover their inner genius and all that crap. In my case, I write to put thoughts into words for those who couldn’t do so for themselves, to put their voice before my own; and as long as there are still hard questions to ask and truth to fight for, I’ll keep at it. Yet I often wonder why the hell I write in the first place when there’s no glory in a penniless profession with a dwindling readership, an abundance of all-nighters, indignity from harsh edits, and thankless efforts. As Ernest Hemingway sarcastically puts it, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
But whenever I question the path I chose, I recall another quote from another epic writer, Anton Chekov, who once said that “A writer is a man who signed a contract with his conscience and his sense of duty.”
“…it’s never about what we write, but why we write in the first place.”
Overused as it is, that old saying that the pen is mightier than the sword couldn’t be more precise. Like Midas’ touch, the words we choose—and we must choose wisely—have a profound effect on everything and everyone around us. When crafted as Wiesel had, words fight to keep memories alive in the world’s collective memory so we may never forget joy or suffering. Yet, we’re never the heroes; we only follow the people who are the real heroes in this story. In some ways, we help the heroes fight back against indifference with words that reverberate across the silence.
As a student journalist, I’ve been bombarded with mandates to be objective since I started this journey. Yet the more I learn, the more I realize that objectivity is dead—and it’s been dead for a while. To be objective would in fact conflict with our very purpose—to inform and serve the people. By default, we are biased not to a person or a party but to the social aspirations of the people. As Wiesel once put it, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Whether from between the pages of a hardback or scrolling down an article on your phone, the words we write and read bear witness for those who can’t. Just as Wiesel’s words stirred the writer in me, they move some to better themselves and others to leave the world a better place than they found it. And the best words teach us that it’s never about what we write, but why we write in the first place.
What’s worse than not believing that your voice matters is withholding it to begin with; “for silence and indifference are the root of injustice,” as Wiesel puts it. Regardless of your occupation or interests, messengers come in all shapes and forms, and the best ones are at the grassroots, experiencing what the masses and marginalized do, to share stories in the most authentic way possible.
It’s probably cliché for a writer to write about writing for their column, but I do it with the hope that someone reading this might identify as a kindred soul—a fellow writer underneath the wretched uniform, seeking to join our ranks, and find the stories yet to be told.
So to those bored enough to find themselves reading my column, I dare you to grease the wheels of the universe, make things happen, and leave a mark—and words—that matter.