Thursday, January 14, 2010

Our Responsibility

What is our responsibility as writers and to whom are we responsible? The other day, I fellow writer posted a letter she received from a dissatisfied reader. She also posted her response and asked for comments. Within those comments, a question was raised about an author’s responsibility to a reader. If you read the post, you know that the author attempted to be gracious in her reply, even though the reader accused her of “defiling her daughter.” As writers, we’re going to offend some people and some of them are going to write us letters. They make rack us over the coals for something we said that they dislike. What we must be prepared to address answer is what our responsibility is in these situations and why.

The Basis of Responsibility

Before we can determine what the writer’s responsibility is, we must first determine the basis of that responsibility. Perhaps we could say that the writer has a responsibility to the readers because they purchased the book. (At least we hope they have. Most of my readers have borrowed the books from someone else or from the library.) If having paid for the book is the basis for responsibility, then we have as much of a responsibility to the dissatisfied customer as we do to the satisfied customer. Though we prefer to bend over backwards to please our fans, we have just as much responsibility to our critics. But the fact that a reader paid $10 for a book doesn’t seem like a very good basis for responsibility. That $10 buys a good book, not contact with the author.

Suppose there is no basis of responsibility. Then we could say that the writer is free to respond however she pleases. If a fan praises her, she can write a nice thank you. If a critic complains, she is free to write an equally nasty letter back. Right?

No, that doesn’t seem right. The basis of responsibility has nothing to do with the reader/writer relationship, but rather it has to do with how we ought to treat our fellow man. From a Christian world view, we have a responsibility to treat them as the Lord would have us to. In other words, the basis of responsibility is based entirely on the will of God. Our responsibility isn’t to the readers, but to the Lord himself.

What the Lord Would Have Us Do

As much as we would like to respond in kind to our critics, that is not what the Lord would have us do. No matter how harsh the words of our critics may seem, the best thing we can do is assume that they have a right to treat us that way. Suppose someone uses some offensive word to describe you or your children. The natural thing to do is to respond in kind. The right thing to do is to surrender your right to be offended. Tell yourself that the person has the right to call you something nasty. But that doesn’t mean that we must remain silent. Rather than responding in anger, we can inform the person that they have hurt us by saying what they did. But we do not have the right to retaliate in any way.

Seek Reconciliation

Our responsibility to God is to seek reconciliation. That is often very hard to do. It is compounded by the fact that some of our critics are just flat wrong. But our responsibility is to go out of our way to seek reconciliation, without compromising on the important issues.