Sometimes it takes more courage to be the victim. To admit that we were hurt or betrayed or deceived. To admit that we were wronged.
What frightens us about these situations is the knowledge of our own vulnerability. What if we cried out and no one listened? What if the person who wronged us couldn't care less? What if we were the ones who ended up being abandoned, ended up alone? Better to put a brave face on the whole thing, to preempt being let down by others by letting down ourselves.
Sometimes we say "It's okay, I understand", not because we truly understand but because we are too frightened to reveal how bewildered we are. Pretending to understand denies the other person power over us, makes us look less helpless, more in control. Sooner or later, we come to believe it ourselves.
Believing it ourselves requires having an explanation though. Which is why we now have to take the questions we were too afraid to ask and find answers to them on our own. This sounds harder than it is. Driven by our need to find reasons for everything, we move easily from the plausible to the certain, selectively finding 'evidence' for whatever theory happens to appeal to us. This sort of rationalisation not only gives us a basis for the understanding we have already laid claim to, it is also a wonderful way of occupying our time - numbing us to the emotional reality of the hurt and helping us experience a sense of self-efficacy based on our 'superior' powers of observation and thought. And if the explanations we come up with happen to be the ones most flattering to us, so much the better.
This, incidentally, is where faith comes from. God is an attempt to justify the unfair.
And should evidence contrary to our theories arise, we deal with it by positing a special relationship between us and the person who has wronged us. "Nobody else understands him / her the way I do" we tell ourselves. This not only lets us ignore what everyone else is saying, it also creates a special bond between us and the person who mistreats us - a bond that compensates for the relationship we thought we had. This is the love of the oppressed for the oppressor - every slave knows his or her master's needs better than anyone else. And believing in this unique connection allows us to look down on other people, to return scorn for their sympathy, disdain for their support. It is the armour in which we fight against the hands reaching out to help us.
People who have a real connection understand how little they really know about each other, how different they are and how poorly they understand those differences. It is what keeps them interested in each other. People like that don't need to rationalise.
When we finally get around to forgiving the other person it is because we wish to establish our own dominance over them. Forgiveness is a claim - it not only suggests that we have enough emotional distance from the situation to be able to forgive, it also implies that the person we are forgiving cares about us enough to value our forgiveness.
Sometimes we choose to be the bigger person simply because we need to feel bigger.
Sometimes dignity is just another cop-out.
And sometimes the opposite of all this is true and the other person really is sorry and we really do understand and really could forgive, only then we go read Kierkegaard or Greer and we think maybe we should be asserting ourselves more and we refuse to trust our instincts and end up alone and unhappy.
Only thing is, you end up alone and unhappy anyway. At least this way you have the satisfaction of knowing you fought back.
P.S. Don't ask. Let's just say it's been that kind of day. The beginning of a new term always gets you asking the big questions.
Categories: Life, Whimsy