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The Price of Banning Books

Banned Books Week is coming up, September 18th-24th, during which people all across the nation are invited to discuss the importance of books, the dangers of banning them, and the reasons that bans are implemented. At Path To Publishing, this is a topic near and dear to our hearts as we believe that all voices should be given an opportunity to be heard – even those voices we do not agree with.


The idea behind banning books is simple: Ideas can be dangerous. Books are a vehicle for ideas. Those who choose to ban the books hope to prevent the ideas from spreading.


That idea is based on several points of flawed logic. First, that ideas can be dangerous. Second, that you can stop the spread of an idea by stopping people from reading about it. Third, that the banning of books is a good idea because it does some social good.


Let's begin with the first point: Ideas are not dangerous. As long as an idea remains merely a thought, it has no power. To assign the idea power is to attribute to it an agency it does not have. It removes the blame from the people implementing the idea and places it on the idea itself.


The idea that some people are better than other people isn't dangerous. It flows out of our natural tendency to believe better things about ourselves than we do others. What we do with that idea can be very dangerous.


The evils of slavery, the Holocaust, and the genocide of people were all born out of the idea that some people are better than other people, and they have caused a great deal of harm to humanity from the very beginning of time. Human action must be taken on an idea for it to gain legs or become dangerous.


Now, let's discuss the second point: You cannot stop an idea from spreading by preventing people from talking about it or putting it in print. This is much like attempting to stop people from thinking about something by telling them not to think about it. You'll only end up encouraging them to think about it even more.


What happens when you try to stop people from talking about something or putting it in print is not that they stop talking or stop writing about it. Instead, it goes underground where it has no opportunity to be met with resistance because the only place it gets discussed is with people who are of like mind.


That's dangerous to society because it doesn't remove the problem. It hides it. It gives that problem time and room to grow from a tiny seed that can be easily plucked up into a giant, toxic forest fed with anger and hostility by those who feel their voices were shut down and not heard.


This brings us to the third point. Banning books that discuss ideas we don't agree with or like doesn't help society and it doesn't stop people from having those ideas or acting on them. The idea you read in a book didn't come out of a vacuum. It came from the mind of a human being, and that idea flowed out of some aspect of human nature.


It might be nice if we could ban some aspects of human nature so that people didn't feel the need to harm other people, but that's not within our power. Nor should it be. Free will matters in a free society. Freedom is exactly what we are trying to protect by giving everyone an opportunity to make their voice heard and ensuring that there is open access to books of all kinds. Banning books undermines that freedom.


Banning books gives people the idea that there is something powerful in this idea, so powerful that other people were afraid to let it be shared. Those who are looking to feel powerful will be drawn to that book like flies to honey, and you'll end up helping the idea to spread farther and faster than if you'd have not opposed it at all.


The best thing to do in the face of books that contain ideas which might, if acted upon, bring harm to individuals or society itself, is to discuss the ideas and the potential problems they create openly, honestly, and in a mature fashion. Let the book become a tool for public discourse about the kind of society we want to create and whether or not this book lends itself that direction.


Even young children need to be taught how to have those conversations. Parents need to take the lead on that discussion, but it does need to be had. We can't shelter our children from negative or destructive ideas, but we can shield them from the worst ideas by teaching them to see the flaws in that idea and the potential damage it can do.


Parents simply must take responsibility for this aspect of their children's education. They cannot outsource this to teachers or administrators, or even librarians. Parents must keep themselves informed about the books their children are reading or being read at school and take the time to read along with them so they know what their child is being introduced to and can have that discussion about the ideas it includes.


There is another, even more chilling aspect to the banning of books: It can discourage those whose ideas are good but unpopular or that seem strange on the surface but would be of great benefit to humanity if implemented from finding the courage to speak up and contribute to the social conversation.


Ideas that can become harmful if implemented are in no shortage, but these good and beneficial ideas are not so abundant that society can afford to lose them. If the price we pay for our efforts to silence bad ideas is that we stifle and silence the good ones alongside them, can we truly afford to pay that price? That's a question we all need to answer.


For information and resources on how to support Banned Books Week, visit https://uniteagainstbookbans.org/toolkit.


By Brandy Miller


Globally recognized author, entrepreneur, writing coach, and business leadership strategist, Brandy M. Miller is not only a valued member of the Path To Publishing team of Literary Companions, but she is the founder of the Writing Problems Into Profits movement where she helps aspiring authors claim their power as thought-leaders and innovators while building successful businesses.



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