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|Fostering the Moral Imagination|
Fostering the Moral Imagination
By Mary Pipher
Mary Pipher devoted her keynote address at the 2006 Networker Symposium West, held in San Francisco this past October, to exploring how both good writing and effective therapy rely on the ability to move beyond the self to understand how the world looks and feels to another person. She argued that this quality of "moral imagination" was crucial to our ability to face the enormous challenges that face us, not only in our consulting rooms, but in the wider world we share with one another.
I became a writer in my forties. As a girl, I'd always loved books. I read old-fashioned books by Willa Cather, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and Pasternak. I learned the poetry of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg and worked constantly to build a better vocabulary. I was surprised when my friends in high school didn't flock to join my club to read all the Great Books.
When I was 10, I told my father I wanted to be a writer. He was a child of the Great Depression and very security conscious. He said, "Writers don't make any money. Be a doctor, like your mother. Then you can support your family if your husband dies." That same year, I wrote a sonnet for my teacher. She gave me a big red C and wrote
I didn't attempt another creative piece until 35 years later. Finally, my children were old enough and my clinical practice sufficiently established that I had some discretionary time. I pondered what to do with it. I certainly didn't want to work more, clean my house more carefully, or take up golf. I realized with a jolt, that, damn it, I wanted to write! I didn't expect I'd be any good at it. I didn't hope to be published. I just wanted to do it. I signed up for a college course in Creative Writing and joined a writer's group.