Celebrating Banned Books Week
29 Sep 2006, 6:09:46 pm
Banned Books Week draws to a close, but readers, collectors and those who value intellectual freedom will remain aware of banned books.
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Like many celebrations I believe in, I find it hard to say good-bye to this 'holiday'. Like Christmas, I want it to go on forever and ever.
I enjoyed remembering the banned works I've read. It was like remembering old friends who had taught me much. It reminded me of the gift my parents had given me and how I have a huge responsibility to create a safe environment for my children to read in. It allowed me, as a publisher, to thank libraries for all they have given me -- and all they continue to do. Like going 'round the table at Thanksgiving and saying what we are each thankful for, I am struck by the feeling that this should be done everyday.
On the other hand, I wish it didn't need to be an issue at all. The intolerance for ideas, opinions and differences; the lack of retaining and claiming personal responsibility for our own entertainment, education and habits; the fear of 'other'; this is childish and immature -- and in turn, keeps us thus. Banning books, censoring ideas, stunts us.
The dismissal of our responsibility to do this for ourselves and our children teaches our children to do the same. And make no mistake, banning works that children read or have access to at schools and libraries is the laziest shirking of responsibility. We should be there for our children both in showing them the way, and in being available for and present to conversations about what they read and ideas they are exposed to. Thinking we can or should put them in a bubble and shield them for everything ill-prepares them for life. No one is immune to ideas, good and bad, being thrown at them. Our jobs as parents, teachers, and/or adult citizens of the universe is to teach and prepare children for the rest of their lives. Heady stuff, but we do this for them and know they will do so as they mature; it is the cycle.
Words and ideas are powerful stuff. The old "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" chant isn't right and we all learn that soon enough. To quote Gracie Passette in a message board post, "The word banana doesn't sustain a starving person like a banana does. But Freedom, as a word, an idea, will." Words do have power.
Should the words be the sustenance of what you define as 'wrong' or even 'evil', they still have the right to exist. Hiding the idea won't stop it from being thought or acted upon; nor does merely being presented with an idea require or force you to adopt it in thought or action. Prohibition did not stop drinking; nor does legal alcohol force you to drink. Book banning, censorship, isn't any different.
The way to reply to this challenge of facing new, startling, opposing, or even scary things is to face them. Placing your head in the sand doesn't protect you -- it only makes you more vulnerable. When faced with ideas and books which are not agreeable to you don't ban them, discuss them.
If you are still feeling the need to knee-jerk in fear to the unknown or ideas you find undesirable, if you find your growth has been stunted, remember this school-yard chant:
"I'm rubber; you're glue
Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you"
(Thumb on nose with wiggling fingers is optional.)
You are always allowed the right to reject the ideas. Let them bounce right off you and reflect on the person who spat them out. If that's too passive for you, let the offensive works hit you hard and play rubber by returning a volley of your own opinions in equal force. But allow them their right to say those words; no matter how hurtful, frightening, or inappropriate they seem to you.
The idea need not be accepted by you, nor the person who articulates it, but the right to have and express the idea or opinion is -- and ought to remain so.
Banned Books Week may end, but the fight to keep our rights continues.