Dot writes: earlier today I posted this as my facebook status.
[Dot] has just been very nice and polite to someone she is starting to dislike intensely and whose side, insofar as there are sides, she is definitely not on. Is this hypocrisy? Or just good manners?
There’s a bit more to it than that, in fact. This is a person who, while being effusively and indeed embarrassingly complimentary and warm towards me, constantly causes me work of one sort or another – rearrangements, clarifications, answers to misguided queries, tidying up of messes. Moreover, this is a person about whom I have heard some very bad things and who has acted very poorly – possibly quite maliciously, though the worst is a rather third-hand rumour – by people I care for. On the other hand, I think this person is quite vulnerable and probably a bit mentally unstable. Very clever, in his/her way, but erratic, over-sensitive, apt to make extreme statements, prone both to over-analyse and to utterly misunderstand others, and also in a delicate position in terms of status and (I suspect) finances. So I feel sorry for this person and yet I also am very wary of him/her. And, let’s face it, I wish he/she would go away. I am polite, because I have to be politic. But I find myself practicing tiny cruelties which he/she may possibly not even notice. Silently correcting the apostrophe errors in a document s/he sent me. Deliberately keeping to the surface of an issue and not responding to the fears and expectations that lie underneath it. Being terribly sensible.
You could even say I’ve been gossiping behind this person’s back. I think there is a real problem building, so I talked to a couple of people who weren’t previously aware of it, but who are people I respect and trust. One of them used the phrase I’ve put in the post title. I should stress that I tried to be as kind and fair as I could and to acknowledge what was unsubstantiated and what was purely subjective.
I think I am a hypocrite, but I’m not sure directness would be better. I am making soundings, trying to work out what’s best to do. I think it is going in one direction, but it may eventually turn out differently: so it’s best not to be confrontational, best to keep the cruelties tiny.
There’s a campaign in Ireland at the moment to remove the stigma around poor mental health. I thoroughly approve of it. People need to be able to be honest, to be treated kindly, to get help, and not to be ashamed. But on the other hand, right across the scale from raving psychotic to simply weak and erratic, people’s personal difficulties carry over into their dealings with others. I’ve been there – I’ve been a miserable self-pitying cow and I’ve treated people badly when I was like that. It was understandable, but it was also wrong. So where’s the cut-off point? How much do you have to excuse in a person who may be in a bad place mentally? And how much should you just not take from anyone?
I’ve been following the Anders Breivik trial as it’s reported in the Irish Times. (This is a bit of a leap: I’m not trying to imply the person under discussion above resembles him in any way whatsoever.) It is a very odd trial indeed, and a testimony to the painstaking fairness of the Norwegian legal system, because nobody denies that he committed the murders, least of all himself: what it turns on is whether he is sane and therefore able to be sent to jail, and he wants to be found sane. He wants to be found sane because he needs to continue to believe in his own view of what he did and what it meant. There is an awful coherence to his vision; it simply fails completely to coincide with the values of the rest of his society (and, I hope, most of humanity). How is one to assess a person who is just so askew from the rest of us? – askew in that he is going in his own divergent but completely straight line towards something horrible. I feel almost as though the real purpose of the trial is to break him: to break the connection of that horrible straight line and find a point of confusion and show that his ideas do not make sense, that they do not hold together, that they are not an alternative reality but just no kind of reality at all. Otherwise there is no point of communication with him.