Last week I talked about the ferocious world of extremist views out there lately and how people are getting very emotional, jumping to conclusions and verbally attacking each other. Might make you a little afraid to write your memoir. What if you say the “wrong” thing and your family thinks you are an ignoramus worth forgetting?
For one thing, you probably won’t be writing many extremist views in your memoir because a memoir is not a bunch of political or philosophical essays. That would be like writing your own version of The Federalist Papers or Plato’s Republic. Fine, but not a memoir.
A memoir is a written record of a period of your life and what you thought about it. It’s okay to have opinions unpopular with your family. The point is not the opinions but the story behind those opinions. What makes you think that way? Opinions generally flow out of the stories you tell; it’s more rare to tell stories just to talk about an opinion.
My husband’s side of our family is from the South. His grandparents lived in a time of prejudice against black people. It was The Way of Thinking. They were nice to black people yet seemed to think of them as large children, even though they were experts at butchering hogs. They had been brought up to think of their black friends and farm helpers a certain way, and their black friends were probably brought up to think that’s just the way these white people were. I did not try to teach my husband’s elders a lesson with my pointer finger, nor did I disown or belittle them. If they had actually mistreated someone, I know I’d feel differently.
Do we whitewash politically incorrect views out of our stories, out of our history? Will we disown our family members who think differently than we do? Not usually. They are family, and we usually love them enough not to disown them over mere opinions. Usually we put up with really bad behavior, too!
Our opinions and behaviors are a part of who we are and usually a result of the social culture and history of the time. In times of sociocultural transition, big differences of opinion are common. When there are polar opposites in the family, it’s best to agree to disagree and avoid discussion. On my own side of the family, I’m not sure we can talk about anything important when we’re all together!
The best part of memoir is that it is the written word, so nobody’s going to stop you in the middle and have a verbal argument about your political or religious beliefs or why you shouldn’t be a vegetarian. I don’t believe in removing traditional Christian thoughts or leaving out the part where you were excited to vote for Barack Obama. Do you delete the paragraph explaining you think NASA faked the Apollo moon landings? Why bother; it makes you look colorful. It’s not the opinion that matters, it’s the story behind it, what we can learn from it, and how we can appreciate you as a three-dimensional person. We do not need to accept all of a person’s opinions before we can love them or learn from them. Most people understand this.
Here’s a related post on listening and learning and accepting: Statements or Questions, by my online buddy, Earl. B. Russell.
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Thanks for this thought-provoking post. You bring up some practical points about the importance of the story behind the opinions and behaviors as well as the impact it will have on those who differ. We need to feel strongly enough about our story to take the risk of sharing it knowing there may be repercussions. I appreciate the reminder.
Great post! If the opinions are germane to the story, why not share them? I’ve read lots of books where protagonists did things I didn’t agree with. Even more antagonists I didn’t agree with. 🙂
I think what you’re getting at is, don’t be afraid to write the truth and to be authentic. I think this is how we connect with readers, isn’t it? I know I’d rather read a memoir where the author is being vulnerable and honest. This is how I feel empathy for him/her.
Thank you for this! As someone who is starting the process and trying to figure out what to add and what to edit out, its important to remember that the most important part is the truth. I love what you said: “It’s not the opinion that matters, it’s the story behind it, what we can learn from it, and how we can appreciate you as a three-dimensional person. We do not need to accept all of a person’s opinions before we can love them or learn from them. Most people understand this.”
Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yes, the important part is telling the truth and being authentic – how else will they know it’s you?!
I have something to write. Sometimes I think that it is getting to be too late. Many time s I have no real idea how to approach it. I have two crumbling scrapbooks of my mother’s from WWII. She lived in London working for the American OWI, a civilian organization, during the Blitz. We knew nothing about it when she was alive, like any combat veteran she never spoke of it. She was not a nice person as a mother. This has caused many problems for her children. I had an experience that led me to study war. I have a keen understanding of what it does to people and how it filters down through the generations harming many. As a result I no longer have ill feelings for my mother.
That’s wonderful, Raven. We live, we learn, we grow in understanding (hopefully!). Writing the stories of our parents can really open doors into how they became the people they are and allow us to forgive. I hear this so often, and it’s true in my own case, too. I hope you do something to save those scrapbooks and perhaps even enhance them. (I’m sorry I didn’t approve your comment earlier – I totally missed it!)