Writing is a rewarding and a dangerous endeavor. To dare to submit words before others – words that may spread and exist far beyond the scope of my life – is to risk folly, scorn, and the danger of influencing others for evil. Whatever a person’s religion or philosophy, most think that setting oneself up as a teacher or a sage is risky business.
On a related note, I think the Hippocratic Oath is a really beautiful historical artifact. Developed by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates as an ethical guide for the practice of medicine, it’s been handed down in some form or another for almost two and a half centuries as a standard for physicians.
There should be a Hippocratic Oath for writers: a similar ethical commitment that anyone aspiring to deal with matters of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty with publicly shared words. To that end, and in the hope that someone might one day formulate a better one, here is a Hippocratic Oath for writers based on the modernized Oath attributed to Louis Lasagna of Tufts University:
Before God, to whom I will give account for every word I write, I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
I will respect the insights of the literary forbears in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such insight as is mine with those who are to follow.
I will seek to communicate truth, goodness, beauty, and charity in my writing, by whatever means best conveys them.
I will apply, for the blessing of my readers, all insight and skill within my power, avoiding those opposite traps of pandering and disdain.
I will remember that writing is an interaction between two humans, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh polemic or rhetorical craft.
I will not be ashamed to say “I understand not,” nor will I fail to refer to writers who bring clarity and blessing to their readers.
Most especially must I tread with care in matters of eternal significance. My words may impact the ultimate destiny of a human being; this responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
I will remember that I have two audiences: first are human beings, who have dignity and relationships and the need for truth; and second is God, who is the source of all truth, goodness, and beauty and the judge of all words. My responsibility is to give proper honor to both of these audiences, if I am to represent truth through words.
I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those who understand truth, goodness, and beauty as I do as well as those who do not.
I will expose error, evil, and ugliness when I discover them, in a way that does the greatest honor possible to those who might live under them.
If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of sharing truth, goodness, and beauty with those who read my work.