“To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.”
These words were spoken by the aging Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa in 1990, as he accepted an honorary Oscar for addressing with his movies on such themes as racial intolerance, physical disability and raw human courage with the question, “Why can’t people be happy together?”
The words went straight to my heart as both journalist and leadership consultant and have never left, although at times life might be more comfortable without them.
Writing is a way of endeavoring to make sense of the ambiguities of this life. To understand the constant change about me as I write about what is in relation to what has been, as an assurance to me, if to no one else, that all that is being replaced or discarded was not insignificant.
To look at the wonders as well as the problems of today, the challenges and the possibilities of the future into which my children’s children and their children will move, with faith that the world will keep on turning. To look beyond the limits of this finite time given me, as writer and human being, to see beyond the faces and into the hearts of those whose lives touch mine, in person, virtually or in my knowledge of a shared planet.
It has been an honor and a privilege for this past year to make that effort as a community columnist for the Herald-Leader in one of the most confusing, frustrating and divisive times in the history of our country.
But the privilege and honor go far beyond whatever contribution I might have made to others’ search for meaning and understanding. I am extremely proud to stand with journalists at a time when those who literally put their lives on the line, as the Annapolis shooting recently showed us, to tell the story we are living; to be sure that the facts are available to those who are willing to hear them.
I have always taken seriously the responsibility of putting something on paper that others might take to heart. But never more so than today, when this precious freedom of our democracy is under serious attack.
Kurosawa’s words could also say, “To be fully human means never averting one’s eyes.”
In these chaotic times, it is tempting to shut our eyes, to protect ourselves from the grief and pain around us, way too close to home as well as far away. In a 1990s column for my newspaper responding to Kurosawa’s words, I wrote: “ There are sublime moments in art and in life; there are also moments of light-hearted relief from the pressures of life.”
When seeing or hearing are too painful, most of us would gladly settle for either the sublime or the ridiculous. We have to have a way to catch our breath, in order to make reality bearable; that we continue to be capable of seeing fully what is around us, whether we believe it directly impacts us or not.
History tells many sad stories of eyes that were opened too late. We cannot afford to write that story again by averting our eyes, whether our reason is exhaustion, defense or believing one person’s closing of their eyes won’t matter.
I am grateful for readers who reached out in response to columns, in both agreement and disagreement, for this is a part of what makes journalism necessary in our country. It is a conduit for connection and conversation and, perhaps, better understanding of each other as well as issues. I will write in my own continuing need to process the world around me. And I would suggest that we are each, in our own way, writing the story of life in this time and place.
To come face to face with the hard stuff, the unpleasant messes we make of life, is the beginning of changing the world for the better. It is my hope as I sign off that Kurosawa’s words become both invitation and mantra to a commitment to see fully the needs of our world, and to know that transforming it begins within each of us as we respond to what we see.
Kay Collier McLaughlin, an author and leadership consultant, lives in Nicholas County. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call for community columnists
The Herald-Leader is looking for volunteers to write at least a column a month over the next year. The work will appear primarily online and on social media, with promotions in the print paper. We are especially eager to hear from conservatives, women, minorities, young adults and those who live outside of Lexington. Send to email@example.com: a column of no more than 650 words, two other column ideas, a bio and a face shot. Deadline: July 31