Noblesse oblige. I came across this phrase a few years back and it’s stuck with me. Translated literally, it means nobility obliges. It suggests that if you’re a lucky person with a fortunate life you should try to understand what it’s like for other people who mightn’t be so lucky. A bit like “With great power comes great responsibility” from Spiderman. It’s an idea I try to live by (with varying degrees of success) and one that I thought about a lot when I was writing Detention.
Simply by being born in Australia, I’m privileged and have access to opportunities that some people in other parts of the world do not. Trying to acknowledge my own advantages (although most of them I probably can’t see), and the biases that come with advantage, made me wonder if my benefits come at the expense of other people’s. Or if it’s possible to work towards a world where both I and they enjoy privileges like peace, health, freedom-of-speech and so on that I take for granted.
As a writer, and just as a person, I’m interested in understanding what it’s like for people in difficult situations. When I was writing – and for all the years I was thinking about – Detention, I was made aware of the role chance plays in life. Through Jasmina and Hassan from STARTTS, I read and heard stories of child refugees and asylum seekers who had experienced devastating things because they were born in a part of the world that was at war or in a country that was ruled by a government who persecuted people or because they prayed to a different god or looked different.
By reading and watching and listening, thinking about ideas like ‘noblesse oblige’ and asking questions I’ll only ever, really, know maybe 10% of what life might be like for someone else, but it’s made me reflect a bit on my ‘first world problems’ and the things I whine about every day that, in the scheme of things, probably don’t matter so much. As a writer, you get to ‘walk a mile in someone else’s shoes’ but you get to do it as a reader, too. One standout in my mind was reading John Wood’s Leaving Microsoft to Change the World which taught me about kids in developing countries who had no access to books and inspired me to actually do something and start the World Change Challenge with Room to Read’s writer-ambassador team, which has been running for six years now.
Which book have you read that cut through, made you care more about an idea or issue or person? Or which book made you take action? Love to hear in comments below or on socials.
If you’d like to read the first few chapters of Detention, you can do it here.
Or you can find out more about the Room to Read World Change Challenge here.
Image at top includes illustration from Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Pic by @HulkDzn. And second pic with my favourite beads by Amber Melody.