That was nothing more than extraordinary laziness that last post. Goodness me, what would my self help books think of me?
Fifi and Pen raise the questions to which I should have posted the answers, so let’s see the question again. When considering whether or not to include someone, or something someone has done, in my blog or memoir, a question I sometimes ask is:
Does the person have right of reply?
Rather than providing me with a yes/no answer, the question acts more as a prompt, giving my thinking some direction. Probably, I could draw you a flowchart of sorts, but I’m too lazy for that.
As an aside, much of this thinking is instinctive, subconscious or unconscious, but when I do need to take the time to sit and think it through (for example, every now and then I think, ‘Oh, I wonder why I have never mentioned such and such’), I find that I have made this a consistent starting point.
So, back to the question. Does the person have a right of reply?
Because the people I write about do not have their own blogs or write for publication, or speak publicly, I often consider that it is enough if that person has the right of private reply.
Consider the mister. He would never start his own blog or publish a piece of memoir or have the funds to plaster his comments on a billboard, but he has every opportunity to say (but rarely does), ‘Erm, do you not think the way you related that story was a little, you know, one-sided’. I guess the mister’s ultimate right of reply lies in my commitment to our relationship and the kind of relationship that we have.
My parents have a different kind of right of reply. For obvious reasons, they couldn’t actually write or say anything, but they’re my parents – I might be forty years old and they might be dead, but nonetheless, I am constantly seeking their advice and their opinions and chatter with them constantly. Of course, there is a danger in imagining the way in which someone exercises their right of reply, but I am confident that I come to those relationships with enough honesty that if I do make a mistake in how they actually would respond, it is an error of judgment and not one of defensiveness or lack of generosity or revenge. Also, my father gave me explicit permission to say whatever I wanted to say.
Anyway, when it comes to my parents I use a different kind of question, based around whether or not I have the right to tell the story, and the parent-child relationship is, I think, a unique one in our ‘rights’ to a story. Perhaps I will talk about this another day.
Some people do have a right of reply, but I still choose not to write about them. For example, an alarm bell rings if I imagine that person exercising that right, and even as I am imagining it, my heart races and my breath shallows. This is a sign to me that I can not write about that person with sufficient objectivity, which is, in turn a sign of other things, for example, that I am unable or unwilling to write with honesty or generosity. In such a case, we all lose. I am limited in expanding on this point by providing examples, because it would immediately mean that I have to write about people and events I have already decided I don’t want to write about. Sorry bout that.
What if the answer is no, no the person does not have a right of reply? Sometimes, I might decide that doesn’t matter and write about them anyway, perhaps because they are completely unidentifiable or sufficiently anonymous. But generally, if they do not have a right of reply, I proceed with caution, because it is so often a sign of a power imbalance (this is where a discussion about the rights to a story would be useful, and I really will come back to that another day).
In this case, I might consider the consequences. For example, in telling this story, is there more gained than lost? As a human rights activist, I have very often made the decision that yes there is more to gain by discussing this situation publicly, but as a blogger or potential memoirist wallowing in middle class privilege, I have to know that ‘giving voice’ is fraught with opportunities to patronise or appropriate. Am I doing either of those things?
In my previous life, this was less of a problem, but at the moment, I am definitely having to weave my way through this. Luckily for you, this is one piece of angst and over-thinking you will be spared.
I do have other things to say, and I know that this is all a bit superficial, but this cough I’ve been fighting for the last few months seems to be developing into one of those pre-sinusitis infections which means my ears are ringing and I’m quite light-headed (not in a good way), so I’m going to lie down and possibly go back to sleep for the afternoon.