The Dallas Morning News
Break out of your echo chamber and be curious
Iforget how I’ve purposefully sheltered myself from hateful rhetoric — until I inadvertently stumble upon it and realize all over again why a cocoon is crucial.
Long ago I gave up on cable news; there’s too much shouting, not enough context, too much anger from all sides. I stopped reading unmoderated comments on online news stories, troubled by the bravado of people hiding behind screens, keyboards and false names. And I avoid radio talk shows that peddle only one side because they often lack civility and ignore the nuances that make balanced decision-making messy yet necessary.
A recent news story, though, prompted me to listen to a local talk show, one that I had forgotten even existed. I lasted about eight minutes. The rhetoric was hostile and the host condescending. I recalled that hate sounds louder in an echo chamber.
The antidote to all that hate came just in time. I spent nine hours at the North Texas Teen
I am seeking spaces where curiosity trumps judgment.
Book Festival, an annual event in Irving that has become one of my favorite days of the year. Thousands of readers gathered to celebrate our shared passion for books, and my soul was filled with the joy of being surrounded by my people.
To be sure, all bookish people don’t subscribe to the same beliefs. Just as we have our own favorite genres and authors and opinions on screen adaptations, we have our own religious, social and political persuasions. What unites us, though, is stronger than what could divide us.
This is a space where folks feel free to wear whatever makes them comfortable — hoodies and leggings, overalls and knee socks, costumes of characters I’ve never heard of, and lots and lots of literature-themed T-shirts. It’s a gathering of strangers with no shortage of conversation starters. It’s where readers of all ages can learn from authors and one another.
Jenna Yoon shared the story of her young daughter, who was obsessed with the Disney princess Elsa and wore a blond wig to look more like the Frozen heroine. She eventually cried out in frustration, wondering “how many sleeps” until she would wake up and look like Elsa for real. That moment launched Yoon’s journey to create characters who shared the looks and culture of her Korean American daughter. Her middle-grade fantasy novel Lia Park and the Missing Jewel was published last year, and its sequel will be released in May.
If you don’t find the stories you need in the world, you can create them.
Adrianna Cuevas spoke about writing her dad’s exile story while she still had time. He was dying of cancer when she was drafting Cuba in My Pocket, and he had passed away by the time the book released. Cuevas shared that while she was on tour promoting the book, talking about her father helped her cope with her heavy grief. She tearfully advised young writers to “think of the stories you don’t want to forget” and to share them while there’s time.
That’s what we all want — someone who encourages us, someone willing to listen to our stories, someone to share our journey with.
Elizabeth Eulberg, author of more than a dozen novels, spoke to young people gathered for the “Kids Rule the World” panel. “You use your voice for good,” she said, complimenting their strength, empathy and activism. “You have to use your voice.”
My default optimism, dampened earlier in the week, was rekindled in that room, surrounded by people of all ages who ask tough questions, who are eager for civil conversations, who will speak out for good.
I’m not looking for my own echo chamber, where all voices sound like mine. I am seeking spaces where curiosity trumps judgment, where personal choices aren’t condemned by fearful people, where there is more listening than speaking. Let’s make those circles wide.