Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Shades of grey.18.03.15

How do you tell a story of evil between people, not archetypes?

People tell me their stories, and I'm honoured. The problem is that then they want me to make sense of them, and as often as not I can't. What they want is a summary version that encapsulates what has happened, straightens it out into black-and-white details, and neatly apportions blame where it belongs. They want something they can file away. I can't give them that.

It's not a bad thing, in a way. It shows that the tales people bring to my door are less about naked, sheer evil and more about people being people; doing the best they can with faulty programming, non-infinite cognitive abilities, and sometimes a frightening level of obliviousness (yes, it's a word, I checked). It also shows that people are more resourceful, more flexible, less easily broken than we often give them credit for. I'm hardly ever faced with Red Riding Hood vs. Big Bad Wolf stories. I find that reassuring.

Where this doesn't help me is in telling those stories. It's almost impossible to summarise them without losing so much of the nuances as to make the story untruthful. 
"X was in an abusive relationship" is a story.
"X's partner tried to be psychologically abusive towards her, but thanks to her personal resources none of the abuse hit her" is another story.
"X's partner tried to be psychologically abusive towards her, but because she had grown up in an abusive environment, she was immune to anything he could throw at her" is another story yet.
"X's partner, who had grown up in an abusive environment, tried to replicate the relationship his parents had with X. But because X had grown up in an abusive environment too, she was immune to anything he could throw at her."

Where do you stop? Which is the 'true' story? I meet so many people that just want the first version: simple and black-and-white. X is the victim/survivor and her partner is the abuser. The fact that this doesn't reflect the reality of the situation for its participants seems almost inconsequential. The fact that the truth is in the details, because the event happened to people, not cardboard characters, is utterly rejected. At best I'm 'muddying the waters'; at worst, I'm 'justifying abuse'. 

Meanwhile, more often than not I find myself having to sum up stories as "fucked-up people doing fucked-up things", which leaves everyone terribly dissatisfied.

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