Aside from ignorance (choosing to remain uneducated rather than the state of lacking in education- vastly different), there is one other thing that will raise my ire. Intolerance. I have an intolerance for those who are intolerant.
How’s that for irony?
For all of my mother’s faults (and who, I ask, is perfect?…Not me.), she did an excellent job of imparting something very important; that it was not my place or any other human’s to judge another. I do not refer to courts and juries, because we are judging acts in those cases, not what resides in that person’s heart and mind. We are all guilty of judging at times, even I am, as I would not get so steamed when reading about intolerant people if I was not judging them as “stupid” or “close-minded” in that moment.
I remember at about the age of four or five I noticed the television would refer to people as black or white, etc. In my eyes, people were people and our skin color simply happened to be one of many variable traits. My mother wisely explained that people felt comfortable describing and categorizing people, but no matter the label or what we looked like on the outside, it was not what really made us who we are.
The lesson stuck, perhaps more than even she intended, for as I progressed and learned, I felt confident she meant for me to extend her lesson beyond skin pigmentation. Of course, there are some morals, like murder, stealing, etc, that society on a whole condemns, but there are plenty of practices which I do not agree with, but which others still support. I learned to separate customs and points of view from the individual, but admit that sometimes it can be difficult.
Needless to say, my insistent questioning of “Why?” led me to a more accepting view than even my mother could have foreseen, as I filtered not through Church dogma, but reason. She’s a good person and will offer sincere prayers for anyone, no matter who they are, and so in her way, she is accepting. I learned to accept that there are some things we will never agree upon, and thank her for teaching me not to listen to the voices that cast stones at anyone they deem different.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about fiction, be it literature, television, or movies, is that life can be examined in such a manner that our pre-existing biases are removed. I grew up watching re-runs of the original Star Trek, a show which regularly explored social issues, but in fantastical far off worlds. Sure, some stories merely entertain, but if that is all they do, at the end I feel like a kid who ate a candy bar instead of a meal.
As a writer, my characters compel me to explore emotion and life. How do two characters find common ground when everything they’ve been taught tells them the other person is not to be trusted? What about strict customs or societies which deem one sex as inferior to the other?
Of course, no one wants to read a lecture. I certainly don’t. Writing about social issues does not need to be preachy. To Kill a Mocking Bird explored racism by telling a story about a town and a man accused of a crime he didn’t commit, but it’s seen through the eyes of Scout, the daughter of the lawyer appointed to represent him. The character’s actions tell the story and how Scout thinks and feels about what happens makes much more impact than any lecture. I can’t claim by a long shot to compare my work to that wonderful novel. The point, though, is that I do try to convey messages of tolerance and love, of acceptance of oneself and others, and that working together accomplishes far more than trudging alone through life.
One concern writers face when dealing with inflammatory issues is the fact that not everyone may like what they have to say. I’ve struggled with this is well, and can only say be true to yourself and your characters.