I have a pro-life friend whose passion for defending human rights is only matched by her love of writing. She recently shared an interesting New York Times column with me, in which essayist and cartoonist Tim Kreider laments the tendency for writers to go unpaid.
This idea is not completely baseless. Our society teaches us to be dissatisfied, constantly craving the latest and the best of everything. When those cravings are not instantly sated, we have two options: complain (noisily, if not effectively) or move on. Technology has made these tendencies worse. I am part of a generation for whom purchasing an entire album, let alone waiting to make that purchase, is now unthinkable. We would prefer to have only the songs we like, and have them now. Many music lovers give no thought to compensating the artist who has slaved over her masterpiece for two to three years. What frightens me most is the implication that if something has no immediate and practical value to the society that surrounds it, it is disposable. That “something” could be a song, a play, a newspaper column, a painting, or even a person. Don’t we delete songs from our iGadgets when we tire of them?
Kreider advises writers to turn down opportunities where one is paid in potential exposure instead of cash. In today’s information-based economy, “‘paying for things” is a quaint, discredited, old 20th-century custom,” according to Kreider. Since every John and Jane with access to a keyboard can now call themselves a “writer,” an exchange involving money has become a sign that one’s work is valued. The buyer is willing to give up something meaningful in order to have access to you.
The problem that fledgling writers face seems all too familiar. I am reminded of my many pro-life friends who work full-time educating, activating, and inspiring their peers. They – we – do not see the point of holding beliefs without examining and then living them, and we want the rest of the world to feel this way about the pro-life position. However, there is a deeper question that we must contend with.
An article published in August by Maisonneuve magazine describes these world-changers as “more like news anchors than activists.” As one person who saw the story quipped “It’s nice to know we have a future in broadcasting.” What, though, does this work really entail? I know some pro-lifers who give public presentations, others who work with media, and more who are active in politics. Some equip university students to handle the unique challenges of campus environments, and others run crisis pregnancy centres. Like writing, all of this work requires time, effort, and sacrifice. The “behind the scenes” elements that serve as building blocks to changed hearts and minds are often unappreciated by the wider world, if they are known at all.
I have a feeling that if more people knew how the mechanics of the pro-life movement have changed in the last few years, they would ask a lot of full-time pro-lifers why they can’t follow their passion for free. It is easy for people to dismiss them as pointless, just like unpaid writers. Here is the split between the writer and activist: the former has a medium to spread her message without personal cost or support from her community, while the latter usually does not. We know, as Gregg Cunningham of the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform states, that “there are more people working full-time to kill babies than to save them.” We know that the abortion industry has seen so much success because they can afford to keep people working unceasingly to achieve their goals.
In contrast, most pro-lifers are occasional volunteers. We do not have free access to the same platforms as pro-choice advocates in a society that thinks the abortion question is settled. We make up for it using sheer ingenuity and determination. Most of my brave friends live as full-time missionaries, raising their own salaries. They are filled with gratitude because some people see their work as valuable and know the lives they touch are worth saving. Most aspiring members of both professions will not be as fortunate as I was this summer. It’s hard to get paid while tackling the issues that hardly anyone else wants to deal with. Am I the only one who thinks we have a solution that these writers should take advantage of?