Bottum Line – Selfish Acts

It’s a profession of conflict and ethical dilemma. If you’re not ready for it, pack your bags. No one is saying goodbye.

Joseph Bottum, editor of “First Things”, came to speak to us today. He was supposed to come last week and he ended up coming today because of a delay. For some reason, many people didn’t seem to understand what he was getting at when he told us he was going to convince us of why we shouldn’t go into this business. What a point to make to a bunch of students who have wasted away for three weeks trying to furiously fight our ways into a career in journalism field. Should we go home now?

“Writing, in essence, is masturbatory. You do it by yourself. Your family will hate you. What do you do when you write? It’s a selfish act. Writing is the self-elevation of the self’s point of view,” said Bottum.

It’s blunt and it’s harsh, but it’s never been more true. It may be done with intention aimed at other people’s enjoyment or understanding, but it’s like personal poetry. It’s selfish and closed off. I suppose I feel free to say this because I am a victim of a personal code in my writing. My poetry can be horribly selfish. I don’t do it intentionally. I just mindlessly focus in on my words and on the flow of the language. My heart is on paper, and no one except the surgeon who removed it is going to recognize it.

If you want to appear to be a selfless writer, with only the reader in mind, never put your name on anything. That’s not the world we live in. We live in the required world of accreditation and claim. We give our words to people so that we have our ideas in circulation. Even in news writing, you are jotting down your personal perspective and observations. There is no such thing as subjectivity. Even in pure factual writing, unless copied from another source, there is objectivity. We can’t escape it. We can avoid it and try and be purely neutral, but is there ever such a thing as pure neutrality? Is there ever an option to isolate completely from this horribly public thing? No. Or at least, I cannot find one.

What’s more moral: doing your job as a journalist and taking a photograph of a wounded and dying girl, or stopping to calm her from her screaming? You sign your own death warrant when you’ve committed to this work. I’m not saying to just dive fully into the work and silence all other influences. But how do we, as Christian journalists, have any right to argue that God placed another caregiver on the scene to deal with the hurting? Who are we to pinpoint God’s will? We could be the caregiver. In order to be a totally subjective Christian photographer, it feels like the subject must be silenced and we must make them objects.

If you are writing as a selfish act, it doesn’t mean you are selfish. It’s like stupidity. Someone can do a stupid thing, but it doesn’t make them stupid. Does the repeated act start to have its effects? If I repeatedly write, which is proven to be selfish, does it make me a selfish person? Who am I to write to change people? I have no right, in my equally created humanness, to write with the purpose of influencing people’s lives. My writing or my presence will have some influence of some kind. If I write with the intention of changing the world, I will fall in my pride and my expectations.

Moreover, if this is the end I am resigned to, how do I incorporate my Christian perspective? Am I a journalist or a Christian? Where do those lines meet? This has been the purpose of the course – to intertwine the two and recognize the symptoms of passiveness. Thus far, my solution is as follows. I do the task set before me, I go about it morally and pray that God forgives me.

This isn’t right. Why do we think this way? We’ve been told to be machines. We vomit what we know best onto everything around us, killing everything that grows. We need to get ahead and we need to stay the course. Does staying the course mean putting a cold camera lens in between myself and the starving child, or does it mean snapping a picture and handing the child a piece of bread?

We can’t separate ourselves from this idea either. We must either be truth-seekers through photos or missionaries. Missionaries take photographs, but photographers don’t usually minister. The act of the photo-taking is a ministry in that is offers truth in one of the most permanent ways possible.

This entry was a result of my immediate thoughts after Joseph Bottum’s talk this afternoon. I will add to it at a later time. Right now, I just need to take a deep breath and focus on my video.

I don’t need an ethics class to tell me where I ethically stand. It may help to focus that ethical thinking in one area or another, but who am I if I don’t know ethics? I shouldn’t touch this career with a ten-foot pole.

About SisyphusFalls

I have been writing ever since I could read, and before that simply using my imagination. I write, think and love deeply.

Posted on June 2, 2010, in Angst, Confusion, Reflection and Observation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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