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Writing What You Don't Know

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How to avoid this? First, start by assuming that members of the "other " group have the same hopes and dreams and needs that you have. That, as Sting once said about the Soviets, they "love their children, too. " Give them the same soul, the same intellect. THEN look at the differences in their behaviors, and ask yourself what circumstances would induce YOU to behave in that way. Yes, you will occasionally be wrong. Sometimes there really aren 't equivalences. But more often than not, there are.

1) Black rioting. Confused by riots? Then look into history at those conditions that have triggered whites to riot. Usually, they involve a perception that their lives are at risk, and that the system has broken down.
2) White Racism. Believe this is disproportionately present in white culture? Look at tribal warfare around the world. Look at Religious wars, and class wars, and the social pressures used to keep women in their "place. " Human societies fight not to change. And about 5% of any group are simply bad, bad people. These will do the nasty work, and about half the remaining society will turn its head and let it happen.
3) Illegal immigration. National boundaries are artificial. Human beings moving to where the resources exist is a natural fact. It is also natural for any group to attempt to protect its boundaries and definitions of self. When these two drives collide, there will be problems. Yes, protect your boundaries, but be aware of that 5% who will try to "stir the troops " by demonizing the behavior of others.
4) Sexual competition. We 're currently flooded with cinematic images of white men seducing black and Asian women, during a period when black and Asian men are presented as relatively sexless. It is infuriating, and totally predictable. If the shoe was on the other foot, black males would create a fantasy universe in which they were the only desirable Alphas.

And on and on. When you see unfair hiring practices, splintered families, disproportionate crime, higher dropout rates, massive cultural denial, or whatever ...before leaping to the conclusion that this means that group X is terribly different from group Y, FIRST ask yourself what would induce you to behave in the same way. What would make you that angry, that dysfunctional, that hateful, that despairing.

And if you don 't believe anything would, look into your own life: are you really that balanced and healthy? Have you really mastered your body, your finances, your relationships? If not, what damage stopped you, what pain? If you can answer that question, extrapolate from the individual to the social, and you 'll begin to understand human history at a whole new level.

As a thought experiment, try wrapping your mind around some additional positions:

1) The far left and far right, politically.
2) Gay and Straight.
3) Christian and Moslem
4) Atheist and Believer.

There are so many more dualities. I invite you to look into them. Yes, there are types I have trouble with: child molesters, rapists, serial killers, Nazis, Klansmen, etc. But to deny their humanity is to fail to understand humanity itself. To grasp their inwardness is not to excuse their behavior or decline the responsibility of punishment.

As storytellers, purveyors of fiction, parents, merchants of worthwhile goods and services, or whatever ...we must understand each other, even if we disagree. If we cannot, there will simply be more wars, more violence, more hatred. And that is not a legacy to pass to our audiences, customers...or children.
Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author who has published over two million words of fiction. Get a FREE daily writing tip at:

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