Sunday, December 10, 2006

More on Telling Stories

"Aftermath" is becoming even more difficult to read.

This is a semi-political observation: I don't like or respect 'activists'. At some point in the last thirty years or so what the people labeled 'activists' do has changed. If memory serves, the activists used to go into the deep south and sign up voters. They used to form neighborhood watches and clean up litter and graffiti.

It seems that these days, the people who call themselves activists (the protestors and letter-writers and 'research groups') whine or scream or block traffic or sue all in the attempt to get someone else (usually the government) to fix what they see as a problem.

In case I'm going too fast here: you see a problem (even if I don't agree that it's a problem) and you put your time and sweat and blood and money into fixing it, you have my absolute respect. You see a problem and begin screaming or waving signs or orchestrating protests to force me (or the taxpayers in general) to fix the problem, you have my absolute contempt. Adults fix problems, children whine for adults to fix problems. That's a basic difference.

Re-framing is a very powerful tool. It is the ability to ask, "What's the real question here?" Or "What does it mean on this level? On this level?" In "Aftermath" the author, in my opinion, has taken this to potentially destructive and counter-productive levels.

Caveat #1: Susan Brison has survived something that might well have killed me, and has survived the aftermath, which could have destroyed many people. She has done this with courage and insight. She has my absolute respect.

Caveat #2: However she phrases it, she survives the aftermath by telling stories, re-framing the question, not seeking meaning so much as creating it. She is, like any of us, telling this story with respect for the remembered beliefs of her pre-trauma self and with the constant reinforcement of her peers.

Two of the things she did to make herself feel comfortable were to lobby her employer to make changes- lights in the parking area, locks on a door at the gym. Not bad things.

But she describes these things as acts of autonomy. They aren't, they are acts of dependence. They are asking for succor from a paternalistic exterior entity. They are delegating responsibility for her safety... and she is deciding to see it as autonomy. (Honestly, it irks me a little that throughout she writes about the uncaring masculine-centered establishment but her first instinct is to turn to the same establishment and demand that it make her feel more comfortable). By deciding to see it as autonomy, she is telling herself a story, and (this is what I fear and why I would never recommend this book to a rape survivor) convincing herself that there is no difference between strength and growth from within and security provided by others.

The difference is huge.

Not everyone writes their stories with an eye to peer reinforcement. Kai writes:

"I have felt so empty because I won't force my identity into the story I feel compelled by other people's expectations to tell. I am left with "I don't know. I did this and I am this regardless." And they hate it: I contradict their world view both by existing and by refusing to tell their story as my own. "

That is a lonely road, but it requires and creates strength from within.

1 comment:

Mac said...

Re-framing - discovering the true question, and the real answer - "I'm afraid". So we have wars, pestilence, famine, death, psychiatrists and teen angst, all to protect our tender hearts. Interestingly, the thing most tender is the source of our greatest strength.