It takes a lot of guts to write about people. Sometimes those guts are nothing more than misplaced confidence, a belief that what you write supersedes an individual’s right to privacy. Or their right to naiveté, their right to believe that the way they want to be perceived is in reality how they are perceived. Reading something that has been written about you can be like listening to your voice in a recording: whiny and disjoint, certainly awkward. Anything other than a whitewashed “the girl is nice” or “the girl is smart” can bruise feelings and cast an author as overly judgmental or simply wrong.

But then again, some stories are important and powerful and probably should be shared. It is possible to report on situations without including an element of human-ness, but that’s not a story. That’s a news article. That doesn’t appeal to empathy or allow anybody external to the situation to truly understand. If you want to understand the situation in Syria from a human perspective, you need to read Samar Yazbek’s “A Woman in the Crossfire” rather than the New York Times news alerts. Yazbek’s piece is a diary, recording the voice of a dissident journalist as the streets of Syria explode. The bulk of the story is hers, yet reading the book you see her daughter grapple with the fear of losing her mother, with the tension of the civil war. Her daughter paces and screams behind a closed door. You see her friends express concern and you see strangers as they are beaten or killed or tortured by the members of the regime and security officers.

This question of when you can justify telling someone else’s story has never been anything but relevant, and remains particularly pertinent today as pieces are so easily shared from sources like Amazon Prime and internet publications. Yazbek’s book proliferates a powerful sense of dignity, which helps it to go down a little more easily. But when people write from external perspectives, this sense of dignity can be harder to produce, harder to retain. Should people be able to write about things in nations that aren’t their own? If you answer no, the question broadens: Should people be able to write about experiences they haven’t experienced? If holistic empathy is a pre-requisite for writing, then biography shouldn’t exist.

I’ve always wondered about war photography. By merely living where war exists, individuals not only face risk of violence, but also risk of international fame. The next Pulitzer could very well be from the death of a woman. Or it could come from the grief of a man, the emaciation of a child. Photography published online or in the United States can seem voyeuristic, but does that make the photographers themselves voyeurs?

And of course there are less extreme journalistic invasions. The image that I cherish most from the Duke-UNC game when Austin Rivers hit the buzzer beater isn’t Coach K’s high jump nor the ensuing dog pile, but the pan of the Carolina student section. The tall, skinny guy with dropped jaw and a “Beat Duke” shirt. The brunette who clutches her head in her hand. The guy in between them with face painted half white, half baby blue and a hand over his mouth. These people have become memes and jokes, and I’m 90 percent sure that if I met them in real life I would recognize them. And every time you attend a televised basketball game in an arena like Cameron Indoor Stadium or the Dean Dome, you open yourself up to the possibility of being similarly lampooned. At the Duke-UNC home game last year, I wore a party hat in celebration of Coach K’s 66th birthday. Before the game began, my tentmate (also in a party hat) leaned over and said, “Be careful if we lose. It would be so easy to meme a disappointed Duke student in a party hat.”

I took a creative non-fiction writing class my sophomore year and lost sleep over every attempt at character development. I could imagine someone finding the writing samples and becoming outraged.

“You think my humming is ‘incessant’?”

“Did you really have to make me seem so childish?”

I quibbled over minor portrayals of some of my best friends and of people I had only met briefly. I felt invasive by writing, and each time I asserted anything about a person, each time I pinned down a specific trait or tried to describe their personality, I felt judgmental and deluded. I can’t imagine the struggle that goes into casting real issues, real hardships, in the context of the humans they affect. I recognize the power of war photography, but simultaneously recognize that I could never hold the camera.

I go back and forth. Sometimes I do find myself thinking biography shouldn’t exist. That very well may be the cowardly conclusion to draw, but it also sometimes feels like the respectful one. I’m glad others are out there to record and portray and transmit, because I do think these stories are important. I do think memes of UNC students are funny. And I hope that every time a person’s story is told, the author and subject are afforded enough credit. People are people are people, and a story written with a single voice can only tell you so much.

Lydia Thurman is a Trinity junior. Her column runs every other Tuesday. Send Lydia a message on Twitter @ThurmanLydia.