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Agreeing to Disagree

You don’t have to be liked, but you should try to be read. I know that today, people tend to read writers who represent their own point of view, that is, those whose political or religious or even intellectual leanings align with one’s own. But that’s limiting.

I confess I do this, too – I so often disagree with writers on the op-ed pages that I find myself ignoring what I consider to be their idiotic positions on the issues. By doing so, I deprive myself of a certain perspective. I may not agree with a writer, but I should at least know what the writer is saying.

The recent Nobel Prize laureate Mo Yan, who won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature, put it eloquently in his recent acceptance speech in Oslo, when he said, “I would like you to find the patience to read my books. I cannot force you to do that, and even if you do, I do not expect your opinion of me to change. No writer has yet appeared, anywhere in the world, who is liked by all his readers; that is especially true during times like these.”

I was particularly struck by the phrase, “I do not expect your opinion of me to change.”

We can do what we can as writers, but if someone dislikes us, well, they dislike us – but at least we can try to keep the audience engaged nevertheless. If you’re building a platform to disseminate your ideas and attract an audience [link to, you can be sure that not everyone will agree with you. But if you are honest, forthright and lively, people will likely read what you have to say nevertheless.

Mo Yan said that he’d like people “to find the patience” to read his books. Now that’s important, too: we can’t just inhale literature as if it were air and expect to breathe in ideas. We have to engage with it, suit as an author wants to with his or her reader. Information is everywhere, but true engagement is harder to come by.

So, in addition to trying to spread your message, take a look at the messages of other writers, columnists, journalists, novelists, poets around you, whether or not you like what’s being said. Take the time to read something rather than skim. You may find yourself thinking more clearly on a subject if you can see other points of view.

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  • Anonymous

    I’ve always admired authors who are able to speak their mind without self-censorship because of fear of what others will think and say. And you’re right, writing off other’s positions simply because they don’t align with our own can cost us seeing a new perspective.