Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Unspeakable Things

My wife’s family plays a game that I call “One More Terrible Thing.” It’s not really a game at all, but when the family gets together, talk will inevitably turn to some horrible news story that one of them read or heard about, and then that will remind Cousin Jane about some other tragedy that she now has to talk about, and that will remind Uncle Bob about a horrible thing that he has to tell everyone; and it all goes on in a tragic version of “Can You Top This?”

When the game starts, I leave the room. The tragedies I know about, I prefer to keep to myself; and I don’t want to add any new ones to anyone’s collection.

Why? Have you ever heard the old saying that if I have a good idea and I tell it to you, then we both have a good idea? It means that telling that good idea spreads it. Well, similarly, I believe that the same thing applies to misery; and that spreading a tragic story that you have no real connection to, merely spreads the pain. Why should I tell you about a horrible thing that happened to a friend of mine in Minnesota, just to “make conversation?” Why should I add her misery to what you already have on your plate, and then have you spread it later on to some other totally unrelated person.

Maybe I’m just too sensitive a person, but I really believe in spreading no more misery than is absolutely necessary.

Which brings us to the workshop.

A while ago I was at a workshop in which the speaker asked one of the attendees to read few passages to the audience from a book that described in gruesome detail some of the unspeakably horrible things that are being done by both sides to women in the Congo in the midst of war.

As I sat there listening to a game of “one more terrible thing” that would make my wife’s family sound like pathetic amateurs, I wondered just how much of this detail was necessary for us to hear in order for the speaker to make her point, and spur us to want to change the situation. At what point did it become overkill, making some of us think, “Just kill them all and let God sort them out,” or even to question God’s existence in the first place? And not to try to make our discomfort seem at all equal to the very real pain of the people we were being told about, did giving us all of the gory details simply end up spreading the misery further?

You will notice that I mentioned “unspeakably horrible things” that were being done. I didn’t give you the details, because to my mind, just that phrase should be enough to make you wince at what the possibilities could be, without putting actual images in your head that can never be erased.

I also used that phrase because the things that were read to us that day were indeed unspeakably horrible. As I posted on Facebook later on that day, “We need to know that the Holocaust happened, we don’t all need to know every gruesome detail of what the Nazis did.” To force people to see and hear every detail of what was done is to spread the pain that they inflicted even further.

I believe that there are some evils that should remain unspeakable, unless you have specifically asked for the information, or have a real need for it. I have heard more than I needed to know, and starting with me, it will become unspeakable, so that I don’t spread the pain any further.

And yet, it remains that something does need to be done about the situation in the Congo.

1 comment:

  1. Keith: I am with you in spirit. I refuse to watch those tragic movies that I call the "Sunday Night Social Worker Movies." I try to skip over the gruesome details of very sad newspaper stories. However, as any descendant of the Holocaust will tell you, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Never forget.

    There was an article written about how Powerpoint caused the last Space Shuttle crash. Apparently all potential problems for a mission were put into a slide show, and gone over by the group. However, ice puncturing the foam on the hull was reduced to a mere bullet point on one slide, therefore also reducing its importance. Making it easy to gloss over.

    I agree with not wanting to hear horrors. But I lean towards defending those who want to speak about them, because not everyone is like you and me. Some people need to learn by hearing and repetition, or they might repeat those same mistakes.

    We need to be reminded about genocide in the Congo until there is no genocide in the Congo.