Wednesday, September 22, 2004


This is one of those moments when half an idea comes to mind, and the only way to turn it into a whole idea is to start getting some words down - in spite of what I said a couple of days ago. It's a fuzzy picture; the general form is there but looking more closely the detail is blurred and vague. It starts with a picture of an earthquake.

Once upon a time, very many years ago, I thought of myself as a scientist. Always asking why, wanting to understand how, looking for explanations, classifying. It’s an approach that has it’s uses, but it has it’s dangers too. Such as pigeon-holing - making deductions, assumptions, and imagining that they are something real, something fixed, something I can Know. That might sometimes work for the inanimate universe, but bring in the complexities of human beings and it’s a dangerous path indeed to tread.

Relationships need flexibility, they need to allow for adjustments. Understanding between two people is never complete and in any case people change, so as differences surface – as they always will – these differences give rise to tension, which if left unresolved grows and grows until a readjustment is inevitable. Allow some gentle readjustment every now and then and there's just a minor tremor - noticeable perhaps but not catastrophic. But leave it too long and that readjustment is of seismic proportions - an earthquake. Prevent that adjustment for whatever reason - try and hold those tectonic plates in a fixed position - and the tension builds until something gives with a snap. The effects of these cataclysmic readjustments on landscape and on relationships have close parallels - there's a lot of upheaval, people get hurt, then there's some rebuilding to do which, depending on the extent of damage and the intent of the planners, might leave the place looking very different. Or at the very least, never quite the same.

So it's taken me 49 years to realise that if people don't air their differences it's likely to lead to a breakdown in the relationship? I hate to admit it, but actually… yeah. I've been so intent on avoiding conflict in relationships that I've allowed those little tensions to build, only in this case the adjustment wasn't an explosive one, but implosive, driving in on self. Or I think that’s what happened. Being in the middle of it all makes it hard to see the objective picture. But if something has to give, it seems that in the world of relationships that has to be one side or the other, and so perhaps here the earthquake analogy, where the readjustment comes about by relative motion, breaks down. If one side in a relationship demands that the other side changes, the adjustment is explosive. Perhaps that’s what usually happens. But avoidance of conflict, although useful at first, like any characteristic becomes twisted and distorted and even harmful when taken to extreme. Avoid external conflict and the unavoidable need to readjust turns inwards, becoming implosive, destructive of self.

This all sounds like some orderly worked out thesis, doesn’t it? It’s not really, that’s just the way I tend to write, and probably comes from that long-distant background as a scientist. That’s what I meant about words running away with themselves – it’s so easy to build a plausible sounding theory, but plausibility and truth aren’t the same. I’m just in the thick of all this and trying to make sense of it. It doesn’t help either that I’m not talking about one single relationship, but a number of them – with individuals, with self, even with the world at large. I just had a sizeable earth tremor. Not a full-blown ‘quake, but it rattled a few ornaments on the shelf and opened up some cracks in the walls. I have a little bit of rebuilding to do. And some planning, if what I’m going to build is to be proof against further tremors.

Later edit-
Perfect timing from whiskey river; this expresses far better than I ever could another part of that blurry image I had but that just wouldn't come clear enough to crystallise into words:

" ... we die to each other daily.
What we know of other people
is only our memory of the moments
During which we knew them. And they have
changed since then.
To pretend that they and we are the same
Is a useful and convenient social convention
Which must sometimes be broken. We must
also remember
That at every meeting we are meeting a
-T.S. Eliot

Back to current posts