The Pain of Not Being Believed
When I was nine or ten, my family moved into a condo. This was a first for all of us, and as a kid, it was heaven being able to go outside anytime there was daylight to find a playmate in the same neighbourhood. The best thing was that it was all OK with our parents because they knew each other. But within months, I found my neighbour friends avoiding me, and not over anything I had done. They still played with my younger brother (5 years old) but ran from me. It took my parents’ intervention to find out that there was a vicious rumour floating around the condo that I had stolen the Chan brothers’ football and/or bicycles.
The maddening things were these:
- I had no interest in a football and I had my own bike.
- I had no place to stash stolen bikes or any other loot I had been accused of taking from my ‘friends’.
- My brother never defended me.
- My parents didn’t believe me.
- No one questioned the girl, three years my senior, who had started the rumor, and who would turn out to be a serial liar with other problems.
- When I started figuring out how the whole fracas had started, and who had started it, it galled me that I, a child, was having to think for the adults and explain that yes, there was someone in the condo who was so manipulative and deceitful as to accuse me of theft without evidence and turn everyone against me. Where were their critical faculties?
I had to make the logical arguments, to invite the adults to search my home, and ask the rhetorical and leading questions why the hell I would bother, who told them so and why was that person believed and not me. My name was cleared in the end, I can’t remember if it was because some of the items were retrieved and/or the evidence didn’t add up, or that the stupidity–I have no other word for it–finally dissipated.
I wish I could say this happened only once. It happened over and over in different parts of my life with different people, and somehow, only now, am I seeing that it’s all been a pattern. The pain I associate with it is that it hurts to be disbelieved.
It’s White On This Side
Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land had a profound effect on me in my teens. I read it more than once. I borrowed it from the library first, then bought my own copy, then hunted down everything by Heinlein I could find (these were in the days Before Internet). In Stranger, there existed a qualification that made a person a Fair Witness. It meant that their observation, particularly in a court of law, carried extra weight because that person was trained to only speak of what they had seen, with no subjective conjecture or assumptions added.
Jubal called out, “That house on the hilltop–can you see what color they’ve painted it?”
Anne looked, then answered, “It’s white on this side.”
Jubal went on to Jill: “You see? It doesn’t occur to Anne to infer that the other side is white, too. All the King’s horses couldn’t force her to commit herself…unless she went there and looked–and even then she wouldn’t assume that it stayed white after she left.”
I wanted to be a Fair Witness. Badly. I recognised that I already had the knack for it. When my friends and I disagreed on books, regarding what an author had actually said, meant, or implied–sometimes I could go as far as to quote a crucial line (usually one of my favourites) without looking it up; and if looking up was needed, I could find the page instantaneously. I downplayed this skill as I thought it was an imperfect photographic memory, and anything less than perfect, in my world, was unremarkable.
Right before I left for university, one of my neighbour friends introduced me to DC Vertigo comics. I couldn’t get into the superhero stuff, and DC Vertigo provided dark, gritty contemporary stories. The House of Secrets, written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Teddy Kristiansen, gripped me with its sophisticated storytelling and visual style.
Its protagonist was also a Witness.
She was a reluctant one, though, pulled into an abandoned house that was haunted by the Juris. The House of Secrets was so named because people were pulled into the house–by magic–to confess their deepest, darkest secrets to the Witness and the Juris, a strange cast of characters from history–now spirits running the “court”. The house had its own heaven and hell–the attic and the basement–and volumes of the series covered the different levels, the history of the house, the histories of the Juris members, and the story of the Witness herself, and the metaphysical world of spirits and the other abandoned haunted houses in other cities. Of course, there were the stories of the defendants in the Court of Secrets too.
This series kept my college self as happy as a goth-inclined emotional outsider in college could be. The comics did not shy away from topics like rape, murder, child sexual abuse, emotional abuse, sexual exploitation, drug abuse and addiction (as well as stuff from history like execution by quartering, genocide, etc). Studying as I was in Wisconsin and Kentucky, far away for the first time from my sheltered life in Singapore, studying world history and philosophy and being an Asian in Appalachia, the series ticked all the right boxes:
A girl my age away from home.
A girl Witnessing how fucked up people could be
Literary, architectural, and historical references everywhere. (Glee!)
Most of all, it was about a girl who has to watch trauma and secrets being extracted by the Court, so that she knows terrible things happen–that they happen more often than people want to speak about, to speak aloud, and that the most common reaction from the uninitiated, the innocent, and the ones who are complicit–is disbelief and denial.
It makes sense to me now why my chosen major in the end, Journalism, both appealed to me and felt like a tremendous responsibility. I wrote painstakingly because it was like bringing a case to court, with the burden of proof, but worse, with the expectation that everything I wanted to present, especially if it was difficult or unpopular, would be picked apart, disbelieved, and denied. And, I didn’t feel easy topics were worth writing about. Social justice warrior that I was, I wanted (and still want) people to pay attention to environmental destruction, economic corruption and injustice, and social issues. I just never felt qualified enough to write those things.
We are in a time of Witnessing.
Many have said this before me: That ascension requires all the hidden to be brought to light. This I finally understand, that 2016 was just a start to long hidden ugliness finally breaking the surface: Fear, systemic poverty, inequality and racism, division, propaganda, corruption, ineptitude and warmongering all dominating the news, dominating people’s actions at the ballot box, setting family members and friends against each other as they see what the people around them stood for.
Make no mistake: There is NO ONE PERSON who can fix everything–no savior, no beneficial dictator or authoritarian to save us, much as those who voted Trump to “drain the swamp” or “avert WWII” wanted to believe he can or will do the former (the latter cannot be proven). The Brexit and Trump victories of 2016 only showed that the game is on, and the “winners” voted to play, in effect, the most difficult and accelerated setting.
So no, there is no easy 2017 in store. What I don’t understand is the smug arrogance in those who think that “their side” is the “right” one that will be spared inquiry and exposure. Political parties have already turned upon themselves and demonstrated their hypocrisy; easy bait-and-switch traps are still being laid (“Make America great again”, “coal jobs will come back”) and capturing the very people who fancy themselves too smart to fall for them.
Nonattachment, so lauded in Buddhism, needs to be re-introduced and properly understood.
Non-attachment isn’t just about being non-materialistic, and giving away our possessions and money. It isn’t just about going, “oh, people are suffering? That’s life/karma/none of my business.” It isn’t emotional numbness, uncaring, robotic going through the motions.
It’s being wise to everything–your likes, dislikes, biases, perspective, context, history, emotional investments, strengths, weaknesses, expectations, delusions, beliefs, expectations, ego and states of mind and knowing that they are yours alone, that they are changeable, and finally that you can direct how they change. The person who cannot dettach their thoughts and beliefs from their ego and identity is the person who suffers. Subject to one’s uncontrollable thoughts as reality all the time, unable to question the validity or helpfulness of these transient and wildly subjective things, such a person remains much like in a state of dreaming. Such are the ones who will continue struggling with drama, disempowerment, and blaming others for their emotions.
Conscious non-attachment may just be Witnessing by another name.
It also unlocks the following truth:
People Choose Their Beliefs
The flimsiest circumstantial evidence will convince those who want to believe something, while the most well-assembled arguments and proof may not sway those who are invested in believing otherwise. The nature of the investment may be history, identity, pride, ego, profession, friendly association, brand loyalty, blood loyalty, blind loyalty, comfort, “expectations”, sunk emotional costs, or real sunk costs.
A bookworm, mystic and misfit since my childhood, I have had fewer reasons than most to reject difficult, obscure or unpopular knowledge. For most of my life, information was just there. I knew that it needed neither my immediate acceptance, rejection, nor even evaluation. Whether I liked or not, I also knew that that still had no effect on whether it was true or false.
My approach was measured, but it was also unusual, and I absolutely hated when people used emotional drama or manipulation to push exaggerations and lies; likewise when the unadulterated truth was rejected just because it didn’t serve a dominating person’s agenda. There was something else, that New Age articles like to claim as the domain of empaths or Indigo children; I could feel if a person was trustworthy or not. But these feelings were not evidence, and I couldn’t use that to ‘win’ my cases.
Yet, there is a gift beyond measure in hearing the words “I believe you.”
When we are stuck in dysfunctional jobs, relationships, families, or a regressive culture, the first inklings that something is wrong won’t always be appreciated in conversation. (Usually it’s automatic self-defense–no one wants to have to re-evaluate and change. The status quo is familiar and comfortable. Some inconvenient truths may never be welcome to some.)
The Internet has been a revolutionary and necessary Pandora’s Box in our collective history. I feel extremely privileged that I grew up before it existed, that I can contrast life Before and After Internet, and also recall the time it was almost solely the domain of nerds. (Words were longer and sentences were better constructed then, but there was also a marked lack of cat memes.)
Putting any material on the Internet, regardless of its quality or veracity, has the potential to attract like minds, naysayers and/or trolls. With comment threads and related articles, information seems to beget more information, some contradictory, some helpful, some not at all–particularly close-minded self-justification and/or vicious personal attacks. Everyone becomes the master of what they chose to look for and believe. Intellectuals have long anticipated when people will seek, and find, such disparate information and news that they may as well come from different worlds.
The most dangerous knowledge is that which is already accepted widely and ‘cannot’ be revised.
Just as beliefs are chosen, the information one seeks to know is likewise chosen. And we make decisions from that knowledge–decisions that have wide-reaching effects.
It may be a fool’s errand to beg everyone to read everything before doing things like voting or self-medicating, yet seen another way, this is the ultimate, collective test of discernment, wisdom and compassion.
In the interconnected, globalised world we live in now, no one will escape experiencing the results of both individual and collective decisions. Many seers have already said 2017-2023 is when we will see many upheavals, or many previously hidden truths come to light. Yet, not everyone will Witness.
It is, I realise, hard to read everything there is out there. And I read fast, and widely.
So Witnessing is a collective endeavor.
If you find yourself up to it, I hope you will Witness the heck out of everything in your world starting this year.
Have unbelievable experience, and believe them. Say “I believe you” to someone who needs to hear it, because we’re living in extraordinary times.
Have a good 2017.