There is a deep and fundamental difference between hurt and harm. That may seem counterintuitive, given that most of us will put a good deal of effort into not being hurt, but think about it. When a dentist pulls a rotten tooth, does she harm you? It hurts; but if the tooth stays in, it will poison your bloodstream and kill you. What about a doctor setting a broken bone? What about the burn of exercise or stretching? The pain of pins-and-needles, when circulation returns to a limb – it hurts, but it doesn’t harm you.
What I want to talk about is how that difference extends beyond the physical. Warning: what follows is an explicit and frank discussion of the workings of my mind. If introspection offends you, you may wish to stop reading.
I had several difficult discussions this summer with one particular person. They were difficult for a variety of reasons, but they had one common feature: they hurt. One in particular is worth consideration.
The first was essentially a discussion of my emotional state at the time and how it could best be handled. I had been in a fragile state for a week or so, following a minor assault on my person on the walk between the theatre and the company flat, which had changed my whole emotional perception of the city and my safety there. I had had a bad shift, with colleagues I didn’t know well or didn’t get on with, and I’d had to deal with other people’s saliva several time.
I detest dealing with other people’s spit for the same reason that I hate being attacked by groups of drunk men: it brings up a host of very distressing associations.
So, after the shift was over and the public had left the building, I cleaned the stage of face-paint, consulted with the aforementioned person (who shall henceforth be called Charles) on the best way to get the face-paint out of the carpet in the wings, fetched the Hoover, went to look for the wet-use attachments, couldn’t find them in the appropriate cupboard, and hid under the stairs.
It was a calculated hiding. I knew that it was very likely that the next person to happen by would be Charles, because he’d sent me to look for the attachments. When I didn’t come back with them, he’d go looking for them himself. I knew this would happen. The arrangement of the building meant that when he came down to the cupboard, he’d see me, but anyone using the stairs would not.
This suited me just fine, because Charles is firmly on my Safe List. That is, I trust him not to harm me in certain specific ways. The list is not a rationally compiled one, and is heavily biased towards excluding false positives. I am certain of the people on the list.
As predicted, Charles came down, saw me hiding under the stairs in a small ball and, bless him, took it in his stride. The problem was that I didn’t feel safe: how then, could he make me feel safe? I needed time; well, there would be people in the building for several hours. After that, I couldn’t stay on my own, but he could walk me home without the others if necessary. We’d deal with tomorrow tomorrow, and meanwhile he’d be upstairs cleaning the carpet if I needed him.
Later he back to check on me and clarify how the safety thing worked and find out if certain people were regarded as safe. Later still he brought me a cup of tea, and took my coming out of hiding equally in his stride.
The point is, having this conversation hurt. I didn’t want to be so scared of my colleagues that I had to go and hide. I didn’t want to explain to someone whose good opinion matters to me that I was being deeply irrational. Admitting these things to myself and someone else hurt. But I wasn’t harmed. In fact, it was probably good for me – no, it was good for me. Five years ago there was no such thing as a safe person. There was nobody I trusted enough to have that conversation with. I looked healthier, because there was no circumstance in which I dared be so vulnerable as to go hide under the stairs – but while it hurt to admit my fears, I prefer living in a world with safe people in it. It is good for me to practice trust, to be vulnerable and learn that yes, these people really are safe. It is good to increase the entries on the good side of the ledger.
It hurt, but it healed.
On the other hand, that assault? The moment where I walked past a group of drunk men in the dark, and one of them hit me on the arse with a bottle of something? The moment when, even though I was with friends, I got hit, because my mind locked straight down into survival mode and in survival mode I don’t understand what an ally would look like? The moment that left me shaky and fearful for more than a week?
Yeah. That harmed.
We had an election. You might have noticed it.
We also have a lot of talk about electoral reform and the possibility of bringing in Alternative Voting, which I think means the system where you vote for people in order and every round someone gets excluded and their votes shared out among the remaining candidates. I could be totally wrong about that, because the politicians and the news are calling it AV like there’s no other meaning for those initials. Word of advice, BBC: a lot of people, like me, hear Audio Visual when you say that.
The Liberal Democrats want proportional representation, because they would benefit; the other parties don’t, because they wouldn’t. It’s fairly simple.
I don’t want proportional representation, because I don’t think it’s very representative. It might make the squabbling in Parliament more even-handed, but I want someone to be fighting my corner, not voting with their party.
And so we come to my own proposal for electoral reform.
I follow the BBC’s RSS news feed. The format is on of headline, followed by a single sentence summarising the story. This is quite useful, because most of the time I can read the summary and decide I don’t care enough to read the full report.
However, sometimes the single sentence is so context-dependent that it makes no sense.
For instance, one of today’s stories reads: “Duncan Bannatyne accuses fellow dragon and non-dom James Caan of having an “unfair” advantage in business.”
On deeper consideration, I realise that this means “Duncan Bannatyne accuses James Caan of having an unfair advantage in business. Both men (or just James Caan; it’s not clear) are registered as non-domiciled for tax purposes and appear on the television show Dragon’s Den as investors.”
It’s remarkably unclear. “Dragon” is a real word that has its own meaning. It might be used in one particular television program to mean “intimidating investors,” but if you don’t make it clear that that’s what you mean, I’m going to read “dragon” as “large fire-breathing reptile”. Similarly, “non-dom” is almost meaningless. The two rich men are, presumably, not doms. Not dominoes? Not called Dominic? Not members of a particular ethnicity? I’m guessing “non-domiciled for tax purposes” is what’s meant simply because there’s been a lot of talk about that particular legal status recently.
Come on, BBC. This is not doing your job properly.
When the war in Iraq started they told us there were weapons there. Big, scary weapons, with scary angry people holding the triggers. They were going to kill us! Kill us all! And then make us into slaves and change our language!
And it was all nonsense. Even those of us who opposed the war at the start didn’t know then as we do now: there were never any weapons. There was never really any belief that there were weapons. It was a lie.
And they keep telling that lie. The Government doesn’t say there are weapons any more, but it keeps pretending that we had a good reason to kill all those people, that we have a good reason to send our troops there still and kill more people. Why do we stand for this?
America went to war with Iraq to satisfy its need to be the biggest and scariest country in the world. Britain went to war with Iraq to satisfy its need to be the favoured ally of the biggest and scariest nation n the world. But that’s not a good enough reason and it’s an even worse reason to keep fighting.
Pull the troops out. Bring them home. Stop killing Iraqis in the cause of enforcing freedom. You cannot kill your way to a cohesive state. Remove all the foreign soldiers from Iraq and let the Iraqi people make their own choices. Yes, it will be hard and cruel and brutal for a while. But that will be an improvement, becase right now it’s hard and cruel and brutal and under foreign occupation.
Yes, ending the Iraq War would be political suicide. But, Mr Brown, and all your colleagues: your political success matters nothing compared to the millions of people who have died and will die for your war of lies.
You know your living situation is untenable when:
You do not feel safe using your kitchen
You do not feel safe using your living room
You cannot be certain that being in your room with the door shut will prevent someone from greeting you through the door when they realise you are home, or from repeating that greeting when you do not respond.
A single occurence of the above continues to elicit anger and fear two weeks later.
If you should happen to be curled up with a laptop in the living room and you hear the front door opening, you hurriedly put on your headphones and turn some music on, in case it’s THEM and in the slim hope that ‘listening to music’ will, for once, be read as ‘unavailable for small talk’.
You have given up trying to play video games because they can only be played in the living room and the living room is full of THEM.
The living room is always full of THEM, which makes it unavailable to you.
Even when THEY are not in fact in the living room, you cannot feel settled in the living room unless you are sure that they are in another city, because THEY might come back at any point and then the living room will be full of THEM.
You ccannot speak about sex, money, politics, poverty, health, food, RPGs, education or many other things without the conversation being derailed by irrelevancies or crying fits.
You do not dare confront your housemate about anything whatsoever for fear of her ever-present boyfriend.
THAT tone of voice said boyfriend always uses to greet you, along with the little wave both of them use, provokes a kill response.
Mention of your housemates makes you physically flinch.
You find yourself reading selfishness or attention-seeking into every single thing THEY do.