"Soul Ascending," double-sided weaving in pale green & white, by Mary Warner, early 1990s.
action ideas writing

My Values – Because I Can’t Control How People (Mis)Interpret My Work

I’ve been blogging steadily since 2006, writing publicly in other venues long before that, and creating art since I was a child. I often write about complex topics that have multiple viewpoints. No matter how carefully I present my thoughts on a subject, there’s a likelihood that people will misinterpret what I write or create.

My first experience with this was with a piece of art, a reversible weaving I had done in pale green and white that I thought of as a soul ascending to heaven. Someone looked at the piece and said, “Jesus!” thinking I was illustrating Jesus ascending to heaven.

Nope, from my perspective, it was just an ordinary soul.

Here’s the piece in question, still in my personal collection.

"Soul Ascending," double-sided weaving in pale green & white, by Mary Warner, early 1990s.
“Soul Ascending,” double-sided weaving in pale green & white, by Mary Warner, early 1990s.

It was an important lesson in understanding that I will never be able to control what another person thinks about my work or how they will interpret it.

I experience this lack of interpretive control online over and over when I put writing out there and allow it to be open to commentary. The trolls, they are fierce and will purposely misconstrue your work for their own nefarious purposes. A pox on them! The only way to keep a troll from getting the upper hand is to ignore them because engaging them escalates their mischief.

If you attempt to control the interpretation of your work by limiting your artistic creation in some way, you will never satisfy those experiencing your art because they will sense your insincerity and attempts at control. Further, you will have cheated yourself out of expressing your own artistic vision. That way lies madness, so stick to expressing your artistic vision the best that you can and allow people their interpretations of your work. Some people will get what you are trying to express, others won’t.

Lest you think this means I don’t care what other people think so I’m just going to throw any old thing out there, ha! Nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to my work (writing especially), one of my goals is to present ideas in such a way that people will expand their thinking, normally along progressive lines. In order to do this, I try to write as clearly as I can to get my ideas across. Just because I can’t control how people interpret my work doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to help them understand where I’m coming from.

However, with complicated topics this becomes more difficult. The flow and length of a piece don’t necessarily allow me to provide the full context of my life and values. You’ve gotta know me personally for a while to understand that context.

Most people who read my work online won’t have that opportunity, so I thought it might be useful to give you a sense of my values, my personal moral code. Then, if you read a complex piece of mine and wonder where it’s coming from, you can reference this for further context. (I’ll put a link to this on my About page.)

My Values

The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you,” is a guiding force for my life, reminding me to put myself into other people’s shoes and show them empathy.

From this flows my sense of kindness and compassion for human beings in general and more specifically for those who are suffering in some way. That doesn’t make me a wilting violet, waiting to be trod on by bullies. I cannot tolerate injustice or the wanton use of threats, force or violence and will work against these evils however I can.

That means honesty, integrity, fairness, and courage all rank high on my list of values.

Equality is also one of my cherished values and I believe we need to find a way to finally realize that value within the United States, starting with nationally acknowledging and making amends for past and present wrongs. We need to figure out equity strategies that help to promote equality permanently.

I believe that everyone, no matter their race, religion, gender, sexuality, age, abilities, cultural background, skills, education, etc., should be free to live their fullest life, so long as they don’t impinge upon the freedom of others to do the same. And they should have enough support in the way of food, housing, healthcare, education, and other necessities to do so. That means providing people with a living wage (a truly living wage that is indexed to inflation) and collecting enough taxes to support society.

I’m opposed to any economic system that allows a relatively few people to hoard all the power and resources in a country or on the earth to the detriment of everyone else. (We’re there right now with our worship of capitalism in the United States.) When it comes to personal wealth, I believe in lagom, a Swedish word that means “just the right amount.” If we had a proper social support system in the U.S., many of us would be happy with just the right amount of income rather than longing for excessive income.

Because democracy has suffered serious threats over the past few years, starting with actions that occurred several decades ago, I have come to more fully value it. Isn’t this what happens when you’re about to lose something important?

Along with the rights and freedoms of democracy comes responsibility. If we want our country to live up to its highest ideals, we all have to be willing to take responsibility for that through civic engagement, caring for others (wear a mask during a pandemic!), and being willing to compromise for the good of the whole. (Sorry, selfishness, greed, and corruption, there’s no room for you here.)

Creativity and free expression are lifelong values that I try to exercise daily and hope that others can experience as well. I have an open-ended view of creativity, believing that it is not the sole domain of the arts. Creativity is to be found in all cultures, fields, and types of work.

In addition to the above, I value the natural environment, which leads to valuing preservation of historic resources and other material items. I’ve written a lot about preservation on this blog. I also value history for many reasons. You’ll find my thoughts on these topics by typing “preservation” or “history” in the search box.

I hope this provides enough context on what I value that you can apply it to my writing on other topics and will understand it from a broader perspective.

Have you ever written down your values? I found in writing this post that I had to sit with the subject for a while because this is a topic that takes some thinking. Just when you feel you’ve written down everything you value, something else will come to mind and you’re examining how it fits into the rest of your value system.

Are there 2 or 3 values that rise straight to the top of your values list?

Comments welcome! Let me know what you think.