Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: brainpickings

Vulnerability is the Endless Way Back

Twitter is like someone  sitting next to you while you write. And as soon as you look up, she winks at you. Then you go back to writing again. Until you stop and she winks at you again.  Until you put down the pen or stylus and return the look.  For you realise that she has been waiting for you. And when you do, you have to stop yourself from staring. For something new has appeared.

As happened to me when I looked up after Twitter winked at me. That Twitter eye catcher was Trust, and the Only Fruitful Response to Betrayal in Intimate Relationships Maria Popova’s review of Martha Nussbaum’s book, Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice (public library).

I can only rely upon the book excerpts in the blog. And similarly to the blog, my experience was eerily similar.  Except I’m now staring aghast at this new thing I’ve learned.

Yes I was betrayed. My trust was utterly vapourised. And me being me, I told myself it was my own fault for being so vulnerable. And not being watchful enough.

Yet vulnerability as that blog above states is the way back. For me, the other ways didn’t work.  If there are better ways, I’d be happy to  learn.

I falsely thought I had forgiven the betrayals.  No I had simply coloured over the incidents. And yet I remember many things clearly, for instance, the pattern and colour of my baby high chair.  Until four years later when the perpetrator recalled them. Then my life was a video replay of the content that I won’t divulge here. When challenged, the perpetrator denied them completely. I was still focussed on the act rather than being angry at the person who did it as Nussbaum states.

That betrayal still constantly denied,  found me and made its home in me. Have you ever had anger turn in on itself and feed itself? Still my response was repression, ignoring the video replay in my mind and the taunts in my ears the best I could. Nussbaum refers to my feelings as a status injury, which made me an ex-husband well before I separated!

Then three years later, she admitted the betrayal was true! I still recall the date, the time of day, the light that afternoon, the trees in the driveway, where the car was, where she was standing, where I was standing and how I reacted. I chose suppression. I said nothing and walked away. I had to.

But this time the anger was different. It wanted truth over revenge. It took me eight or nine months. Until I confronted her. She denied it again. This and every other time I had focussed on the first incident. That night, for the first time, I described the exact details of the second incident including the danger I experienced. There was no response. For all defences had collapsed.

This time, no answer was an admission of truth. She knew it too. Afterwards, I would joke to myself that like the spies say, “Everybody talks”, that is everyone tells the truth eventually. Yet the truth can also be told by omission. For what had been excluded had finally formed the real picture.

After the admission, came the explanation. I shook my head and walked away from that too.  It was a contradiction of present words versus previous actions! I can laugh at its inanity now. Then I was too sad. When I was angry afterwards, I had nothing to feed now I had found out the truth. And being angry just made me tired and sad. I suppose I had met the truth at last.

That was the way out. And in time I left.

But the problem with grief is that it is so easy to keep it at a distance. I was simply afraid that if I didn’t it would overwhelm me and crush me. Then I would have to admit I was vulnerable.

Which it did. It took another relationship for that. And this is where Maria Popova’s  blog devastates me. For one cannot ignore grief. I had read about grief in Kluber-Ross On Death and Dying, but I never really had it happen to me.

Grief? It’s the wave taller than you that flips you and lifts you then throws you down to the sea floor until you become sand.

It leaves you with nothing. But I knew that. I just didn’t want to experience it!

From nothing, all I could do was renew. I think what I was doing was Kintsugi reassembling broken pottery with gold!

That was the way back. I did what I needed to renew and review. From that nothing, I studied, I wrote, I walked, I listened to music, I had people appear and help me, I made friends and I started a charity. Every day I looked for joy. And nearly all the time, I found it although I was still unexpectedly surprised!

I consider myself lucky that I could get through. Not all of us can. It is better to admit vulnerability and ask for help. I have done, I still do, although I find it challenging. The road is not ending anytime soon.  And as I have found there are switchbacks and recurrences.

So often, one forgets those times and are then unprepared for its recurrence. And still unprepared to recall the resilience that saved.  Besides I don’t like fairy tale endings. Living happily ever after almost certainly is death by boredom!

Now that I’m out of the fairy tale, there is learning ahead. I learnt and am still learning to trust myself. I learnt and am still learning to accept my vulnerabilities. Then I learnt and am still learning to forgive myself.  It sounds so trite and easy but it’s ruddy well not!  I have not always succeeded either and there are relapses. That’s what the self-help books don’t tell you. The road is endless.

In there, somewhere, I don’t know where exactly, I learnt to forgive the betrayer, the betrayal and free myself. And leave them to deal with it.

In truth as Nussbaum writes, all of this runs closely together. For I had chosen all this. I was therefore responsible for the negative consequences. I know better why I chose it and I’m the wiser (not yet wise) for it.

I’m also responsible for the positive consequences which is, once you get through the worst, you know what you can get through, then you look back and discover life has given you a bonus. That was last week’s truth.

Now I’m left with today’s truth. Betrayal, misusing trust and taking advantage of the vulnerable is too difficult a life to bear isn’t it? Yet such behaviours are an admission of vulnerability from the perpetrators too.

For them, the road hasn’t yet begun. For me it has yet to finish.

 

Wait for the Silent Moment (Talk To Me : The Art of Listening)

As a fan of Brainpickings, I was drawn to a wonderful article called How to Listen Between the Lines in which Maria Popova interweaves the art of listening with a review of Anna Deavere Smith’s book also called Talk to Me : Listening Between the Lines.

There was one line that leaped out of that web page at me. It was “the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear.“You know,“I thought to myself, “that occasionally happens to me.” But before I indulge myself in an exultant surge of self-congratulation let me share that it doesn’t happen often enough !

Yes I can start and sustain a conversation. I do follow my mother’s advice to me as a teenager. I allow the person to talk about themselves.  As I’m naturally curious I ask questions  (which really helps me professionally when I’m training or interviewing subject matter experts). The sequence of questions follows the active listening path of open questions, specific questions, reflected statements or closed questions. If I have shared experiences or can step into their shoes momentarily, the conversation can take a more personal course. I’ve learnt little by little that I don’t have to offer my advice or wisdom. I’ve learnt to be even more silent and learn from them. Occasionally I become a facilitative problem solver encouraging and occasionally suggesting solutions (which really helped when I was a desktop support person). But I still have more to learn. And the key is silence.

For if I wait for that silent moment something happens.  What happens resonates with Deavere Smith’s words, “We can learn a lot about a person in the very moment that language fails them.” From reading her book, I realised that I’ve had it happen to me. It happens when the subject touches strongly upon the heart of that person.  And in that moment there is a momentary revelation of that person. The real person. For me that revelation is their real story. Which is what Deavere Smith seeks as well as myself.

In time I downloaded the book and gradually worked my way through it. It is an oral history written in diary form which moves backwards and forwards from the early 50s and 60s when Deavere Smith encountered the discrimination rife in America at that time to through the 70s and 80s culminating in the Clinton scandals of the late 90s. There is much wisdom in this book. I’ve only scratched the surface.

 

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