Vulnerability

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

“Right now, human beings as a mass, have a gruesome appetite for what they call ‘real’, whether it’s Reality TV or the kind of plodding fiction that only works as low-grade documentary, or at the better end, the factual programmes and biographies and ‘true life’ accounts that occupy the space where imagination used to sit.

Such a phenomenon points to a terror of the inner life, of the sublime, of the poetic, of the non-material, of the contemplative.

Against all this, a writer such as myself, who believes in the power of story telling for its mythic and not its explanatory qualities, and who believes that language is much more than information, must row against the tide rather like Siegfried rowing against the current of the Rhine.

[...] All we can do is keep telling the stories, hoping that someone will hear. Hoping that in the noisy echoing nightmare of endlessly breaking news and celebrity gossip, other voices might be heard, speaking of the life of the mind and the soul’s journey.”

--From ‘Weight’ by Jeanette Winterson

I feel so strange, distanced from myself. I remember the last time I felt this way, and so I’m wary. I think writing this post is an attempt to make myself feel the things that I do, rather than allowing myself that distancing – which, although is useful and allows me to get stuff done, is not that good for me in the long run.

I came to Winterson’s article, from which I quote above, out of a feeling of frustration. I googled ‘vulnerability’ and it was one of the articles that came up. As usual, Winterson says things in a way that I can relate to.

This frustration is born out of both personal feelings and wider concerns. The wider concerns are easier to talk about. In response to some of the grim news in Australia lately (news that could probably be found in many other countries at the moment, I don’t pretend we are unique), there has sprung a particular type of commentary that mocks people who respond to such grimness with vulnerability, compassion and empathy, suggesting that these emotions are ultimately narcissistic and self-congratulatory ones that don’t fix the problem. Well, duh, government policies and action fix the problem. But mocking compassion and those who express it is rather pointless and self-congratulatory too.

I don’t particularly want to enter into a political discussion. I only wish to say that to deny the place of compassion in our visible public responses to wider political concerns cancels out a large part of what makes us human. To be publicly vulnerable is both dumb and smart, brave and ordinary. It is not a straightforward reaction that is either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but simply, is.

2 comments:

Danielle P. said...

Words of wisdom from Jeanette Winterson, as usual. She knows a thing or two about the human heart.

It saddens me to see that compassion is perceived as weakness and that callousness is becoming the accepted norm... If that's the future of humanity, I'll have none of it.

Hila said...

Danielle: There are many things lately that have made me think, 'I'll have none of it'!