This is a story about social violence, and about shame, and why the world is choking on both. Before we get into it, I’m going to ask you to do something uncomfortable. I’ll do it, too.
Ready? Right, then –
I want you to think about a time when you hurt someone. A time when, looking back, you know you behaved badly. Don’t tell me what happened. There’s no need for explanations or excuses. Right now I just want you to remember how you felt, and how you handled it. Were you guilty? Embarrassed? Maybe a bit angry, too? It’s alright. This isn’t a test. Nobody likes to hear that they’ve hurt someone else.
Now, take that feeling, and stash it in a safe place. I promise it can’t hurt you. We’ll get back to it soon. Meanwhile, I said I’d do this one with you, so here goes:
It was a month ago. I pottering about in the kitchen, chatting to my partner on my headphones, and delivering some extremely useful, entirelh unsolicited advice about some aspect of his life that needed improving. That’s when I heard him go quiet. And I realised that what I’d thought were helpful suggestions was actually a barrage of unsolicited critique. I was right, of course, definitely, but right now I can’t remember what I was right about or why it mattered.
I do remember the excruciating moment of realising that, in the process of being right, I was also being a gender-non-specific dickhead. To my very favourite person. Who was very far away.
All of that happened in one awful second. What was worse was the minute or so afterwards, when I knew I was being petty and unkind but was too embarrassed to admit it, and the guilt had to go somewhere, so it went into reflexive, private rage. How dare he see me being my worst self? How dare he make me feel guilty? He hadn’t said a word, but my stomach sloshed with cold self-loathing, and that had to be his fault, didn’t it, because I couldn’t handle it being mine.
Moments like this feel like hanging on to the basket of a hot air balloon. Watching the moral high ground disappear below you. Knowing that every second you hold on, you’ll have further to fall.
Thankfully, I have read a lot of books about nurturance culture and the revolutionary notion of not being a wanker if you can help it. Because of that, I was quickly able to own what I’d been doing and say sorry, and land with minimal wobbling on the solid ground of being a flawed human trying to love another flawed human.