Lessing’s own experiences make her a wise voice. She grew up in Rhodesia and observed firsthand the fanaticism behind white supremacy there. Later, in England, she joined the Communist Party until — repelled by its tyranny in 1956 — she abandoned the ideology.
But she never became cynical about hope, politics or human thinking. She says that the slow march toward justice and objectivity evidenced in the long arc of human history is proof that we repeatedly defeat bouts of blindness.
She believes in western democracy and its freedoms, openness and practices. Though it is imperfect, and though it can be gripped by lunacy, it offers the possibility of reform, and it eschews coercion. Democracy at its best does not imprison us.
Lessing believed in the power of books (among other things) to open our minds. She says that the best fiction — which is akin to anthropology — can develop in us empathy, equanimity, perspective and humility. In a good novel, we are challenged to meet and comprehend individuals and ways that we would not otherwise come across.
Lastly, to see more, the role of language is critical. To learn, to grow, to compare experiences with others and — not incidentally — to sustain a democracy, takes productive communication. The quality of our words — clear, well-chosen, dignified, fair and seeking, as well as asserting — is critical to engendering both self-awareness and our comprehension of others.
Brian T. Watson is a Salem News columnist. Contact him at email@example.com.