Talking Ethics in Ubud

Today we’re leaving Ubud after a hugely stimulating few days at the Writers and Readers Festival. Our final event yesterday was our workshop on writing and ethics. We had thirteen or fourteen participants – a nice mix of Indonesian and non-Indonesian writers – for a leisurely three hour exploration of how to get in and out of trouble with words. It was a massively stimulating afternoon, with a huge breadth of experience and insight around the table.

We started out with the question of discomfort and how (as the truly brilliant Clementine Ford put it in her talk here the day before) for there to be ethical change, it may be necessary to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable. From there we went on to explore the various issues that we faced as writers: everything from balancing personal and professional or institutional ethics to cultural appropriation, from ensuring the well-being and safety of those we write about to the difficulty of writing and reading that crosses between seemingly incommensurable value systems.

As Socrates knew, once you open up these kinds of cans of worms, things get complicated, and ethical questions are not the kinds of questions that are easy to resolve. But by the end of the workshop, we hope that the participants had a sense that there are better, deeper, more careful ways of asking ethical questions about our work as writers (as we certainly did), as well as having a few concrete ideas about how we might respond better to (if not resolve) some of the ethical issues that trouble us all.

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