Story time

There are many ways to describe the same situation, multiple stories are possible for every set of events. The  moral of each story is wildly different as are the heroes, villains and innocent bystanders. This is common in our smash-mouth politics, as we see everyday. 

It’s not that anything wrong was done (note the beautifully passive voice) in accidentally removing sensitive, automatically declassified national defense documents from their secure location, not by us, though those evil, partisan zealots on the other side are totally out of control, weaponizing everything, including illegally using laws and so-called legal procedures, clumsily planting fake evidence and willing to lie and do all manner of evil in an attempt to embarrass, dominate and win, because they’re sick and dangerous traitors who need to be hanging from lamp posts.   

Clearly there are other, much different, ways to lay out the facts and details and explain the cause and effect in this story. The main thing, in our litigious culture, beyond even accuracy, is that the story is emotionally compelling.

Bill Barr was found by a judge to have lacked candor in his representations to the court about a DOJ memo written in response to the Mueller Report.  He was found the other day, by a panel of appellate judges, to have been untruthful in asserting that the memo (on how to communicate to the public that Mueller had exonerated Trump for a crime Mueller said he could neither charge Trump with nor exonerate him for) was privileged because it discussed deliberations over whether to charge the former president with a crime or not.  Mueller and Barr relied on the same OLC memo that said a sitting president may not be charged with a crime, so there was no deliberation over whether to charge him in that memo.  Barr was lying, as Mueller suggested in his strongly worded letter about Barr’s misleading spin on the report, complaining that Barr had mischaracterized his findings.  Barr kept Mueller’s immediately written letter to himself for months, while claiming under oath that he had no inkling of what Bob thought of his characterization of the report.   

In another way of telling the story Barr was himself simply telling a story, it was puffery, a lawyer’s poetic license to spin the story to best suit his client’s needs. Those who share Barr’s worldview feel that Barr had every right, in the face of such, vicious, relentless enemies, to do everything that he did to help the leader he was rightfully protecting.

This is the society we are currently living in.   We don’t need to look at politics for more examples of wildly divergent, irreconcilable accounts of an occurrence people lived through together.   A blow up between old friends that nobody understood the reasons for will be described in incompatibly different stories.  In one, the four all played parts in the escalating tensions, discomfort, eruptions of anger and the sickening aftermath.  In another, three were pretty much the victims of one, a dangerous, sadistic and unforgiving person who nobody could even speak to without fear of being tortured.  In another, the blame for the accidental horrors was fairly evenly spread between three, while the fourth was largely blameless.   Another way of telling it was that once their respective traumatic childhood wounds were reopened, all bets were off, it was a zero sum war of survival, each against all.   The story then became one of alliances, who believed what and, in the end, whose story would become the final narrative in their little social circle.

One story lets the narrator completely off the hook, in fact, makes them the sympathetic victim and defender of a fellow victim, and they themselves will tell it calmly, yet passionately, to persuade friends of the truth of it.  In another story, the worst injury described will be completely absent from the first account.  Things one person remembers being said, things that shocked her, are not recalled by another person, the one who allegedly said it, though a third person does recall it, although not exactly as the first one said.

In one story the only way out is through a process of reconciliation, involving a painful but necessary conversation conducted in the safety of old friendship and extending the benefit of the doubt all around.  In another story the only solution, the only way to avoid reliving the devilishly painful details, is agreeing to forget the regrettable things ever happened and carrying on as if they didn’t, even though it means, unfortunately, tacitly tolerating the intolerable sadism of the stubbornly unforgiving one who tortured everybody and demanded they comply with a twisted version of events.

And on and on.   If the goal is peace, and restoration of what was lost, and that goal is shared, there seemingly should be a way out.   There is not always a way out, because, while we all consistently do the best we can, sometimes the best we can do is not good enough for somebody else.  If judged not good enough someone’s best can become the seed of a new story, and that failure of character is the reason we can never fix this broken, once beautiful, rare and cherished thing. 

At least we now know who to blame.

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