Drama alert – don’t laugh. The recent RWA conference in New York changed my life.
Okay, laugh. It’s an outrageous statement. True, but outrageous. Oh, I’ve been writing professionally for decades, but thousands of writers in one location made tangible the abstract of what it means to tell stories.
These committed, passionate, driven human beings (mostly women) stunned me with the positive web of support and warmth. I have never experienced this in any venue – wait, I take that back. With the exception of my critique partners, I’ve never participated in a group so concerned about the well-being of its members even as individuals strive for success and recognition.
To make this point during a breakfast conversation at the conference, I offered the most dreaded of moral philosophers – Samuel Freiherr von Pufendorf (or Puhfendorf depending upon your source). And my dining companion, goddess that she is (trust me on this), didn’t even flinch.
Pufendorf’s thoughts aren’t mainstream. This circumstance is due more, I think, to his name than his message. I don’t mind the name; writers gravitate to words that roll through their psyche onto their tongue (newbiety, epiphany, and . . . poo-fen-dorf). This philosopher holds my added affection because he distilled right from wrong by describing moral obligation as a hierarchy.
Now, in full disclosure, I don’t care for everything he said in the late 1600s. The man held the same barbaric women-as-subordinate-chattel opinions as most of his contemporaries (shared, unfortunately, in the centuries since, though I refuse to fixate on how depressingly common these beliefs are in 2011). But, he articulated three fundamental human obligations worth considering for writers: duty to God, Self and Other.
I won’t touch a discussion of duty to a higher power as I believe it a deeply private matter. As to Self and Other . . . prepare to get naked – in a cerebral sense, of course.
Duty to Self. We have a responsibility to nurture our souls as much as our bodies. Pufendorf argued we wouldn’t be much good to anyone unless we were good to ourselves. As a writer, this means that I’ve a duty to hone my craft and temper my skills as a story teller. I also must devote sufficient attention to my health and well-being. Without a healthy body and mind, I’ll default on the first duty to my soul. For the record, Pufendorf would exempt Lays classic potato chips, hot chocolate chip cookies and wine consumed in the presence of other writers.
Duty to Others. My duty to others begins first with my family, but within a heartbeat I look to my friends. Pufendorf divided duties to others between absolute obligations that transcend particular relationships and responsibilities that derive from the agreements we make within those relationships. My blogging/writing friends encourage me with honest critique and advice. I have the happy charge to offer the same to them. I find attending to other writers feeds my soul and scours away guilt that comes from doing things for myself (every caregiver out there knows exactly what I’m talking about).
Will you join me . . . in saying ‘poo-fen-dorf’ and sharing your thoughts on a writer’s duty to herself and to others?
P.S. If you are compelled to learn more about Pufendorf (and really, I gave you the good stuff, but feel free), please visit http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pufendorf-moral/