For Better or Worse: Thoughts on the Kavanaugh Hearing

As a student of psychology with interest in trauma and memory, I’ve closely watched and listened to both Ms. Blasey Ford and those who questioned her. I must admit I found it deeply unsettling, sad, and regrettable. I watched Mr. Kavanaugh and his wife as he, too, endured questions, some deeply humiliating, and his reactions that seemed to equal or surpass the pain of that demonstrated by Ms. Blasey Ford.

I’ll begin by addressing the questioners and the audience. Again and again, I listened to people applaud, praise, and validate Ms. Blasey Ford for speaking out. Her words were repeatedly referred to as “truth” by members of the Senate. I watched her reactions. I watched her body language, facial expressions, sometimes confused and often fragile emotions play across her face. I listened with pity to her quavering voice, and I hurt for her. Anger was my reaction to all who encouraged or allowed this very public display of her testimony. She stated that it had not been her desire. She also attested to much emotional anguish of many years. From my study,  I know such a public and stressful appearance could easily be her emotional undoing. I wonder about her history prior to the alleged event, and following, that might shed light on what appears to have been a lifelong struggle with anxiety.

I tried so hard to listen with an unbiased, yet informed, ear to each person. I listened with intent to hear each as a human being with all that goes with that condition. I listened considering the alleged event took place 36 years ago, and considered myself as I was so many years back and how different I am now from who I was then. An honest appraisal of any life history should mark change and hopefully progress along with a deepening understanding of self and others. My training has taught me to recognize the difference in perspective and perception from that of an adolescent and that of a mature adult. It has taught me that memories are fluid, meaning they are subject to alteration/change every time they are recalled, and trauma experienced at any time in one’s life may have an impact on that person’s memory processes. These are important things to know when trying to ascertain truth about any event especially one many years past.

The most disturbing to me of the entire ordeal is the willingness of many to believe without clear evidence anything other than the truth we all know: two lives and many who love them are devastated by a process that took us not one step closer to knowing what, if anything, took place between the individuals making opposite claims. They can’t both be telling “the truth.” One is not. I don’t know which. Do I believe a person can think they are telling the truth and not be? Absolutely. Which one? Either. How? Intoxication or false memory (which can result for a number of physical and/or psychological reasons). I will not simply choose which one to believe because of gender. That is prejudiced and discriminatory and deeply harmful. Truth matters enough to admit what we don’t know. Truth is worth seeking whole-heartedly. Every life equally matters.

Finally, regardless of what took place thirty-six years ago, two human beings much like the rest of us are now middle aged, have families, careers, hopes and hurts, times of triumphs and regrets. Neither is fully innocent as no human being is, yet neither is a menace to this world as is evident in the many years of life and service that stands as testimony for each of them. As I watched and listened to a mom of two boys and a dad of two young girls, the ache over the condition of our nation grew. Unless we throw away the notion of personal truth in favor of absolute truth, we will have nothing of value to offer those coming along behind us. Feeling a particular way does not make something true. The reality of prevalent sexual abuse does not make every accusation true. My feelings of sympathy and empathy toward Ms. Ford makes no difference in determining whether or not what she recalls and states is accurate, nor does my similar feelings for Mr. Kavanaugh have any bearing on his guilt or innocence.

We ought to be most careful in our handling of matters of truth, guilt, and innocence. We, of all people, as Americans, should understand the injustice of prejudging and discriminating and should uphold the dignity of every person. I was thankful that no one questioned the legitimacy of Ms. Ford’s suffering or even that at some point she had endured a terrible event, simply offering without explicitly stating it that memories can be misplaced or have significant errors in details, especially memories involving trauma. I just wish the same grace had been offered to all involved for sake not just of the two giving testimony, but for all young boys and men, young girls and women who were watching.

 

 

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One Response to For Better or Worse: Thoughts on the Kavanaugh Hearing

  1. Elizabeth McDaniel says:

    A measured, compassionate, and thoughtful stance. I agree.

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