Life is complicated. People stay in horrible situations until they are destroyed, even when they know they are being destroyed. Solid information is often available to help them make better choices, but … it’s complicated. Some facts are just plain painful, and who wants that? No reason to obsess over the image of frogs in steadily warming water, realizing too late that they are already partially parboiled.
“How long do we have to get out of this before it’s too late?” asks a dying frog of another profusely sweating frog who is holding a thermometer and wearing a watch.
“How the fuck should I know?” says the other doomed frog. “I’m fucking dying here and you want to ask me stupid, hypothetical questions? Asshole!”
One thought, if realized before they were goners, would be to check the temperature on the thermometer and use the watch to find out how fast the heat is rising. 190 degrees Fahrenheit is dangerously close to the 212 needed to make frog soup. It’s 194 now, boys. 195. There are certain objective facts here, fellows, verifiable information we can… oh, shit, 197.
Seldom, of course, is anything this simple, if simple any of this is.
I think of the mother who told me her children had no idea how angry she was at the children’s father. She had many good reasons to be angry as hell at the lying, thieving, death-threatening, fraud-committing, bullying bastard. So angry, in fact, that she slept in her young son’s bed for several years after a particularly brutal betrayal by her husband.
I urged her not to let her children stay in the dark about the many perfectly understandable reasons for her anger. I told her the lack of reason would harm her children in ways she couldn’t imagine. I offered to mediate an honest family discussion where these things could be placed on the table, a teachable moment for the kids about taking responsibility for one’s actions and the feelings.of those you love. She declined, telling me that everything was fine, assuring me that the kids were none the wiser. I told her not to delude herself, that the kids knew very well that she was furious at their father, though they had no clue why.
A couple of years before her young son finally kicked her out of his bed, saying “mom, this is weird…”, she told me I’d been right.
“They know,” she told me finally, and recounted the conversation she overheard as she washed dishes and her children talked to another kid under the kitchen window.
“Our dad loves our mom, but our mom hates our dad,” she heard one of her observant young children say to their little neighbor.
My thought remained the same. The kids have to know why you are angry at dad or else you are just an irrationally angry, grudge-holding person who finds it impossible to forgive things nobody has any idea even happened. What effect does this untruthfulness have on your children’s forming understanding of the world, of intimate relationships? Dad just shrugs, hugs and kisses the kids, pets them gently, says “hopefully one day your mom will realize how much I love her and love me back again and everything will be fine. What can I do? You want another ice cream cone?”
The kids will eat their ice cream with dad, laugh at his carefree shenanigans, thankful that they have at least one parent who is not a tense, joyless, implacably angry person.
I grew up in a home where certain things could never be discussed. This included a variety of vexing things verified for me by my father on the last night of his life, after decades of his angry denial. I know very well the effect this long zero sum battle against obstruction had on me. To this day it sets me grimly against anyone who would be right at any price– these often escalate into battles to the death. It cost me the ability to shrug philosophically when I am unfairly accused of something, in a conclusory way. It haunted my working life, I can tell you for sure, my inability not to eventually tell an overbearing asshole boss to fuck the hell off.
There are things that actually happen in the world. A bankruptcy, a death threat, an insurmountable gambling debt, unpaid loans, marital infidelity, provable fraud — these are things that either happened or didn’t happen. There is little ambiguity about these kinds of events, some are even matters of public record (even if otherwise hidden). If they happened, shameful though they may be to the party involved, they need to be discussed with the people directly affected by them. Otherwise, life is a trial based on guesswork, without witnesses, evidence, any process of truth finding that allows the jurors to decide based on anything but prejudice.
In the name of love you will cripple those you love by making them live a lie they have no idea is anything but the truth, the whole truth and nothing but that arguably better than lying thing.