It’s the 21st century, and we all know how this little dance goes. Finish book. Feel inspired. Exclaim “MY LIFE IS SO CHANGED!!!!” Then do nothing.
We all have those books, the ones that really made us understand something important, or feel inspired to bring change, or that made us feel like we could make a difference. In the acknowledgements for Children of Blood and Bone Tomi Adeyemi even had a call to action to go do something. And yet, is it just me, or are we not doing anything?
I think that it’s easier to feel inspired than it is to act. Especially because a lot of times a book doesn’t actually tell you what to do. A lot of the social issues that are so important to so many Americans right now just don’t leave us with that many options. Yeah, we can vote, and yeah we can march, but not TODAY. And yeah, we can tweet, but what is that really doing anyway? Maybe a book leaves you feeling inspired that you can do something to change the world. And then maybe you try to go do something and can’t figure out what to do after all. And then a few days go by, then a few weeks, and next thing you know you aren’t so inspired anymore.
So did anything really change?
This isn’t new. Books have been challenging our beliefs and pushing us to act since, well, forever I guess. In the 60s there was To Kill a Mockingbird, in the 1800s The Scarlet Letter, in the 1700s Moll Flanders. Shakespeare, Thoreau, Voltaire, they all wanted to make people FEEL something, to make people DO something. And yet the world was still slow to change.
Frankly, I’m skeptical that a book can inspire someone to act. (Gee, can’t you tell?) I read once somewhere that passion is like a match flame: quick to ignite and burns brightly, but quick to burn out too. It seems like maybe just reading something in a book can’t quite fuel your fire the way experiencing something day in and day out can. Or maybe I’m just a traitor to bookworms everywhere.
But what I think a book can do is help you empathize, help you understand. I think books can help you wish for and believe in a better future, even if you don’t know what to do to make it happen.
And when enough people read a book, that wish and hope becomes part of the culture.
I think maybe the power of books like To Kill a Mockingbird aren’t in the hand-full of people they inspired to take real ACTION. I think maybe the power there is in the change in the mindset of two entire generations who read it in school and are better because of it.
Martin Luther King Jr said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” When we expect to change overnight (or in one short book), I think perhaps we’re holding ourselves to a standard we can’t meet. We’re only human. I’m okay with watching books inspire small changes. And I’m hopeful that some day all of those small changes can add up to big change.
Has a book ever inspired YOU to take action? What book was it? What did you do?