“To hold a pen is to be at war”

Emma Stadelmann, Opinion Writer

“To hold a pen is to be at war.” This quote is attributed to Francois-Marie Arouet, more commonly known as Voltaire. Voltaire was a controversial French Enlightenment writer who became famous for his satirical poems, plays and books, which mostly challenged the French government and Roman Catholic Church. Usually, his writing earned him time in the Bastille or exile from France. Though I certainly wouldn’t agree with Voltaire on many issues, I have long admired his unflinching attitude when challenging authority or systems he viewed as corrupt. In my eyes, “to hold a pen is to be at war” is a comment on one’s power to challenge societal problems, simply by bringing light to them.

Many people underestimate their power to make a change in the world. Perhaps they don’t feel confident enough to call out problems. They may think it’s a waste of energy or time. Oftentimes, I will hear people complaining about a problem in their life that is caused by an unjust, inefficient, inappropriate or corrupt system. Perhaps a teacher isn’t effectively communicating with them. Maybe they are suffering punishment for things that aren’t their fault. These are everyday examples, but it could be more serious. They might oppose a large, seemingly untouchable organization, process or standard. In return, I will ask them why they put up with it. They usually tell me that it’s easier to just let it go. I understand this perspective. It’s difficult to challenge something when it involves effort and time, not to mention risk. However, this also prevents progress. If you don’t speak out, who will? Acquiescing never solves any problems; it allows them to continue.

If you truly feel as though a system is unjust, inefficient, inappropriate or corrupt, challenge it! In a hypothetical situation, let’s say that you constantly need to rush to your first class, sometimes resulting in tardiness, because of a coach keeping you in practice for longer than they should. This is inconvenient and unfair to you. Maybe you and your teammates will grumble but no one will actually talk to someone about it. After all, it’s not a “big deal,” so why make it one? Wrong! It clearly is a big deal if you must complain about it, so act on it! Nothing will change if no one speaks up.

If you truly believe in your cause and have reasoning for your belief, express your belief! Many will say “that’s just the way it is,” and move on from issues, but why should you allow it to stay that way if that way is unjust, inefficient, inappropriate or corrupt? Don’t let others muzzle your complaints if they are valid, no matter how insignificant they may feel. Bystanders don’t make progress.

Now, I do realize that it’s a lot easier said than done. I’ve definitely been there. Sometimes it seems so much easier to let things go, even if I know that I’m suffering by letting whatever is going on continue. Believe me when I say you won’t regret saying something instead of nothing. Even if you make no difference or cause changes for the worse, you still gain something. The practice is also important. Developing a voice is key and will not only make you more confident but inspire others to hear what you have to say. Of course, I recommend respectful confrontation if at all possible when exposing various issues. There’s no need for unsavory actions in most cases. Expressing your concern truthfully yet professionally is far better than dragging anyone’s name through the mud. The distinction is important, and usually, conversation is much more efficient than accusations. All I urge you to do is to start that conversation. Don’t simply allow the issues you see to continue; take up your pen and go to war with the problems of the world.