A Missing Stair Among Us

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you. Hello and welcome back to Big Mood, a little mood, I am your host, Daniel M. Lavery. And with me in the studio this week is Julian Kay Jarboe, the author of the Lambda Award winning short story collection, Everyone on the Moon is Essential Personnel. More of their work can be found on their website. Julian Kay, Jarboe dot com. Julian, hello and welcome to the show.

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S2: Hi, Danny. Thank you for having me. I’m so happy to be here.

S1: Thank you so much for bringing your award winning self into the studio.

S2: I know that’s so fun to put in a bio now. Now I can put it right there and be like actually

S1: as a. as a person of award winning experience. Yeah.

S2: As a person. A literary award history now. And I know it’s so fun because I’m always of two minds about these things. I either awards are very fake or my friends are winning them. And so then they’re real. And so it’s fun. They’re they’re fun. You can opt into the fun of that.

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S1: Oh yeah. No, if someone I know and like is winning an award, it’s just a great little extra that makes life fun. And if you know, nobody I know won an award, it’s a deeply troubling system that prioritizes achievement over, you know, the human spirit. And we should all immediately move to a farm. Yes, exactly. It’s good if it’s me and my people and it’s bad if I don’t know you.

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S2: I don’t know if it’s bad if it’s not my friends. But I just don’t care if I don’t if there’s, like, only books winning awards that I’m like, what is this? I’m just kind of like, whatever.

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S1: No good is happening to the people I know. That is, I don’t know you. Yeah. What could be simpler than that? I can’t see that going badly at all.

S2: Oh yeah. Anyway, let’s move on completely from topic before I say something silly.

S1: Let’s do I’m excited to talk about among other things, you know, certain forms of like me and my people good. Everyone else bad as well as you know, how to how to avoid thinking along such lines. Yeah, I am, I think, especially interested today in people who are considering or contemplating do I break a tie completely? Do I have to disavow someone in order to break a tie completely? How much can I downgrade before we have to start talking about it? Do I have to like carry with me for the rest of my life a card explaining why I have cut ties with anyone I might ever have known? And I think just generally a sense of like when does proximity start to turn into responsibility? Or, you know, when do ideas about certain types of social contamination come into play? And it’s it’s fraught and interesting ground, I think. And I’m very much looking forward to thinking about it with you because I like the way you think.

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S2: So the subject of this letter is, am I friends with an abuser and the letter reads, I have a friend group of roughly 10 folks. We all work together at a non-profit parentheses. It’s in the trenches environment that has really brought us together over the past few years. This is not a letter, but let’s come back to that. I’m just marking that for let’s come back to that letter continues. It just became apparent that Janah dated Carol secretly for a year. Now, Carol is younger than Joanna by six years and has been acting withdrawn, depressed and isolated for a few months. It’s finally come out that she was emotionally abusive to Carol, treating her badly in the relationship and forbidding Carol from telling any of us what was going on, thus forcing Carol to deal with this unhealthy dynamic completely by herself. We didn’t even know Carol was queer. Let’s come back to that to continued. Carol finally came to us with the news and we were horrified. Jana has always presented herself as pretty progressive, emotionally healthy and socially intelligent. So to hear she was so cruel to Carol is shocking. On the other hand, China has also been dropping hints that this was a two way street and Carol was, quote, needy, always anxious and emotionally immature, unquote. I have no idea what really happened. I imagine there is some truth to both sides, but it’s clear that our two friends hurt each other deeply. They now refuse to be in the same room together beside causing a rift in the group as people try to figure out which side to take. I’m also deeply concerned that Janet was emotionally abusive and if we continue to be friendly with her, we’re communicating to Carol that her pain does not matter to us. I don’t even know where to go from here. Can our friend group come back from this? How should we handle Joanna? What do do do we have to protect? Carol, please help.

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S1: You know, I could have really edited out the part of the beginning, which was we all work together at a non-profit and the in the trenches environment has brought us together.

S2: What could possibly go wrong?

S1: Yeah, not that this couldn’t happen in other workplaces or other contexts, but I do simply want to note, letter writer, that you say the in the trenches environment has brought together this group of friends. I’m sure you know this in the trenches is a reference to trench warfare from the horrible, horrible trauma of World War One where millions died. They referred to it as the lost generation. I mean, that’s I understand that you were, you know, using a figure of speech, but it feels meaningful to me that this friend group has sort of coalesced around a dysfunctional work environment. And you have a sense of being similarly embattled as as combatants during wartime might be, which I think might be coloring some of your reactions here, which is like we’ve got to keep the unit together. I don’t know.

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S2: We got got to keep the unit together.

S1: Yeah. I don’t want to take sides unless we absolutely have to

S2: take one for the team.

S1: Yeah. Yeah.

S2: Like what. Yeah. Yeah. There’s so many layers to this that I do first want to acknowledge letter writer that I am very sympathetic to this problem because I understand your moral concern is genuine and I don’t think I don’t think you are trying to pull a fast one on purpose at least of how do I get the family to stay together and shut up about problems. So I do want to acknowledge that I think you’re trying, but my little flag started raising a little tiny red flags because I have all these little red flags. You can picture them kind of just coming. Coming up behind me started raising when I read that you were all coworkers and a secret co-worker romance that went south in ways that may have been abusive within a work context that sounds like it fosters unhealthy boundaries and dynamics in the first place. Is kind of is I asking too much to start there?

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S1: Not at all. I think it was interesting. You know, we all worked together was the last sort of reference to their relationships. And I’m curious, are you all on exactly the same level? Does anybody manage anybody else? I’m especially curious about whether the letter writer mentions that Carole is younger, but not like did they work really closely together? Were they in the same department? Where were they? Did one of them supervise the other just right? I’m curious about those dynamics there, those feel like relevant details.

S2: I also feel like saying six years is is implicitly an age gap, tells me a lot about everyone’s age. So if Carol is like 20 and and Jenna is twenty six, I can understand how in that stage of life those six years can be significantly. Different for people like not enough that I would like panic right off the bat, but enough that if someone was like, oh, there’s actually six years between them, I’d be like, OK, sure, maybe the younger one is maybe perhaps her first job, too. I don’t know that there’s a point at which age wise, I’m not sure that matters. And I’m more interested in, like Danny said, like just like what other workplace positions, if these are lateral coworkers, a six year difference when you’re thirty and thirty six. It’s like I guess I mean it’s real but it’s not the same.

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S1: Yeah. At all. Yeah. And I don’t want to get too off track in terms of like how do you want to handle your ongoing friendships. But you know, I would just encourage you letter writer to consider in the long run, do you want to pursue other professional options that don’t involve you know, we’ve all like trauma bonded because we have a terrible workplace. And then there’s also like horrible personal implosions that there are there are other ways to think about your workplace, I guess, is all I wanted to mention. And while it shouldn’t necessarily be the first reaction you have to this, maybe look for a different job at some point.

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S2: Yeah, I know. I also sort of like get out of this line of work, whatever it is, even though I know right now that what you’re worried about is how do you be a good friend. And actually, actually, I can’t separate that advice from how to be a comrade. And in this case, if you are coworkers, the comrade, the thing to do is to deeply evaluate who has who’s in the economically vulnerable position. Is one of these personalities going to have her career tanked or derailed by this situation? And maybe that’s age. Maybe that’s experience. It could be the case that, you know, whether or not you think your co-worker friend was or wasn’t abusive, you could say, hey, you know what, like Carol’s taking this a lot harder than you. And you don’t seem to want to be in the same room as her because you find her annoying. She doesn’t want to be in the same room as you because she’s afraid of you. There’s a really different like this is her job that she has to come to. And you can roll your eyes at her and call her Nadie, but like. Regardless of what did or didn’t happen, this is this is a much more significant experience for her. Maybe that’s age, maybe it’s that she has a junior position. I think you do have to weigh those things right. And I think you can you can do that in a way that sticks up for Carol that is actually completely separate from whether or not you think Jenna was abusive, like you might decide. I know this is kind of hard to hear, but you might decide that you don’t have enough information to make that call. You can still make the right calls. A co-worker. You can still protect your co-worker from from things like that. So I don’t want that to get lost because I think that does get lost in a lot of co-worker friendships where people forget that they’re also coworkers and everybody wants to take friend sides and everybody wants to stick up for their friend. And it’s like we’re also kind of talking about people’s livelihoods here. There are a lot of situations in which you can make friends at work and you feel really close to people. And then when shit hits the fan, they kind of let you get fired because you got depressed because someone was mistreating you and your life and they kind of didn’t stick up for you. Like you said, those things matter. So so do look after the professional situation to and and you can you can be a really good, comforting friend and make the right moral decision and insight about who was or wasn’t abusive. And you can still really drop the ball as a as a colleague. So do you consider both of those?

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S1: Yeah. So, you know, I think I also want to start to really get into the specifics of what the letter writer asked, because I do think I have some suggestions on that front that while I don’t want to suggest that that will make everything incredibly clear, straightforward and easy for the letter writer, I do think I’m a little I want the letter writer to be able to move out of this posture right now of I have no idea what happened. I imagine there’s some truth. Everyone seems hurt because to me, I worry that that could curdle into it is impossible to learn more about what happened. It is impossible for me to use my own personal judgment to weigh some sort of sense of did someone cause like beyond the sort of average amount of harm that someone in a relationship can cause someone else and like unduly like take advantage of somebody else’s position at work, for example, to say, you can’t tell me. I mean, like it would make such a difference if you’re it’s already fraught. If your colleague and lover says, I don’t want to tell anyone about our relationship, but it’s a it’s another thing entirely. If the person telling you that is also your manager or simply a manager, you know, so like, again, use your judgment there. You know what Carol’s job is. You know what Jana’s job is? We don’t I think that will be relevant information as you try to weigh how you think about that request of or demand of don’t tell anyone we’re seeing each other. That’s a that’s a pretty big difference. Like, to me, being needy or always anxious are in a really different category from my partner said, you can’t tell anyone we’re in a relationship for a year. You know, yeah, one of those is just clearly crueler than the other, and that’s not to say that a needy or anxious person can’t hurt someone or or be difficult. It’s just those are two really different things. Like one of those is pretty clearly fucked up.

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S2: Yeah, I definitely think you need to find out. What did your coworkers mean by Jennifer Baid, Carol, from telling us what was going on? Did she specifically forbid, Carol, from saying she was in a relationship with her or was it don’t tell our co-workers about our fights. Right, because you know it. Don’t tell her co-workers about the fact that I have all these mean things that I’ve said to you is like really pretty clear cut, like messed up, abusive, manipulative tactics from my point of view, versus I don’t know that we should tell our coworkers that we’re in a relationship because I actually don’t understand the ramifications at work myself. And I think we should make this decision together.

S1: That’s that’s a really good

S2: point, is a potentially reasonable request that may have you may have part of the hit part of the info on. And so, you know, if I were in a relationship at work with that kind of a dynamic, I might also be like, oh, should we be open about this? Or is this like kind of against the rules or is this really going to be messed up for our work relationships? That is actually a legitimate conversation worth having. So I think it matters to me how that caution was communicated.

S1: Yeah, that’s no, that’s that’s really useful. I think part of what’s challenging here is because these are also all work relationships. You’re not in quite the same position you might be if they were only friendships where I would say, you know, here’s where I think you can and should go back to each of them and ask if they’re interested or available and having follow up conversations, because again, since this is work, you will need to be a little bit more reserved and careful about such a request. But I certainly think, for example, you can say to Carol, is there anything that you would like me to do that would be helpful to you? And you have to commit yourself to doing it. But you just say, like, you know, I’m worried that we might communicate to Carol that her pain doesn’t matter to us.

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S2: It matters. Yeah.

S1: So so tell her again, not like in the middle of the lunchroom or something like don’t don’t interrupt the middle of a meeting to do this. But since you are already close and already talk together outside of work. I think so because again, it’s not super clear to me if the letter writer has actually spoken to Carol. It says the letter says it’s finally come out. You know, Carol came to a few of us with the news, but it’s sort of like the letter writer talks about themselves and the rest of these friends, like they’re sort of a a single entity. The yeah. The the the friend. Hi. That I’m just curious, like, have you spoken to her directly? Have you ever said I’m so sorry that you have been suffering and feeling isolated? Is there something that I can do to be useful to you? Right. Because that’s a pretty straightforward that doesn’t like overcommit you to saying like I will, you know. It’s not an overcommitment, it’s not an intrusive series of questions, if not like now, give me a list of everything bad that your ex did so I can determine whether or not you are allowed to feel angry. It is simply an appropriate response that you can have.

S2: You know, I think something that does get lost in a lot of conversations about abuse is that we’ve sort of turned abuse into a noun where people have my abuser. My abuser did this, my abuser did that. And I’ve been watching this cultural shift from not talking about these things at all whatsoever, which was very, very bad towards talking about them. But in a way that’s very deterministic. And I think they’re I sense a little fear in this letter from the letter writer about their own judgment. So they made a character judgment of Jane that is now called into question. And that in of itself is scary and embarrassing and confusing. So I let a writer I think if you actually want to be a good friend to both of them and you think you have any kind of standing with Janah, maybe talk to her about those sorts of behaviors. If you feel like you have so intense of a relationship with these people that you can have input on each other’s lives, then be like, listen to her and potentially you will discover or not that she might even tell on herself without knowing it, that some of the things that she tries to rationalize or explain, you’ll be like, I’m actually getting some reading between the lines here. I’m putting some pieces together. You behaved in ways that were abusive towards our co-worker and friend. This is very messy. There are ways to be a good friend to Carol that involve remaining in contact with Joanna and remaining friends with her to actively work on these things. If you think that she means well and might have some really nasty habits behind closed doors, I actually think people can be helped by by the active involvement of friends. And this is this is the thing that’s really hard for. Me personally to talk about, because I think there is this very real sense that if someone is an abuser, I must remove myself from any relationship with them, perceived or actual. I don’t approve of that behavior, all these other things. And it’s like if you if your emotional stakes in this matter or I want my friends to stop hurting each other and not I’m afraid of being perceived as as as like approving of this behavior put aside like people potentially thinking that, like you think this is cool and like continue to have relationships and work on that with or maybe you’re not her therapist. You don’t have to be. But a support system can actually work in two directions.

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S1: Yeah. And I mean, I also want to leave a lot of room just because we don’t have a lot of details here. You may find letter writer that as you learn more details, that you would contest, you know, a definition of this as abusive. You might find that you would consider it merely cruel. Whatever is shitty or you know you know, you are you are entitled to use your own judgment. Here is what I am saying. But to say that it would be impossible for me to learn anything or that it is impossible for me to draw a distinction between, you know, isolation or control, potential isolation or potential control versus dropping hints that my ex was anxious is like,

S2: what does that mean?

S1: That, you know, to me, again, that’s not necessarily I don’t want to say like only somebody who had been committing abuse would act that way, because I think that can take you into a series of logical traps pretty quickly if like, aha, you know, that that’s not necessary. But like, if she is dropping hints,

S2: I don’t know what that means with dropping hints. As you know,

S1: I got to say, like, I don’t think that

S2: things are, you know. Yeah.

S1: If anything. And again, I realize this is your colleague, so you do want to tread carefully. But I think if she drops a hint around you, I would say, you know, if you want to have a conversation about what happened in that relationship, I am available to talk to you and to hear your perspective. I can tell you that I’ve heard some of Carol’s perspective and it troubles me. I’m worried and I do not like that. You have been dropping hints that she was needy and anxious because the implication there seems to me to be therefore, she deserved to be treated cruelly. If that is what you are saying, I want you to say it. I want you to affirm it, not just hint at it, because then you and I are going to have some conflict. I’m going to tell you that that’s bad.

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S2: You know, I’m going to tell you that is bad and I’m not going to let you do it to anybody else.

S1: Yeah, no. I really think you have grounds here to to challenge her on these hints. I think she has been doing wrong. I think that might be an implication that she is also doing other things wrong, although I don’t want to say that it’s a mathematical proof. I don’t like that that I read that part in your letter and I thought that’s troubling.

S2: Yeah, I, I do get the impression that there is some kind of power differential and I wish that I had more information besides six years of age, which only by making several serial assumptions about everybody being quite young, can I arrive at the conclusion that there’s other stuff. But like. It’s like there’s a reading of this letter that tells me that that actually tells me something that is just awkward and not, you know, and mostly raises other questions about like the group dynamic at work in general. And there are also some pretty obvious readings of this letter that are just like, oh, I just I got to deal with this. I just I don’t understand how you would stop talking to her. That’s the other problem. It’s like if if the support that Carol needs is stop talking to this person, you all work there.

S1: But but she hasn’t asked that. You know, Carol hasn’t, although the letter writer says is that they don’t want to be in the same room as each other, which is they have both communicated this either directly or indirectly.

S2: I don’t get the sense that this is interfering with work, though, is it? Yeah, just party time

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S1: to the letter writer doesn’t say this is making things that were complicated. The letter writer says, can our friend group come back from this? No, no, of course not. I know that. What a ridiculous question. No, definitely sent a letter writer. Like, I don’t want to be harsh. I realize that you’re sad for a number of reasons and you have reason to be sad. But now your friend group is not going to come back for this all 10 if you are not going to hang out again, John and Carol are not going to become cool. That’s over a that’s sad, but you cannot bring it back by denying reality. So, no, your friend group cannot come back from this. I’m sorry for that loss. How should we handle Jana? Well, you should use your best judgment. You should ask Carol how you can support her. You should consider whether you’re prepared to do what she asks. And at the very least, if she asks you something that you feel that you cannot do, I think you owe it to her to be honest and say, I’m sorry, this might disappoint and hurt you. It might even affect our friendship. But I’m not going to do that. You know, you should at least be honest rather than sort of like evasive or try to avoid learning more. You never have to make a judgment call and try to hide your friendship with each of them from the other. Like that way is, I think, guaranteed to pan out quite badly. Yeah.

S2: And yeah, I don’t envy your position, letter writer. I will say that I can relate to the sort of like euphoric, messed up, dysfunctional bond that can happen with a group of people who are going through something really stressful and dysfunctional together. I’ve had a few jobs that approached that. And I wonder if part of this isn’t that you recognize that these friendships don’t necessarily have a lot going for them besides the job. My husband, I call this camp friends, the friends you make at camp and you think that you’re going to keep in touch and then you don’t, because the context in which you were became friends, as soon as it’s gone, you realize that, you know, that actually was the basis of the friendship. And it’s fine. You know, you actually don’t have to,

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S1: you know, I mean, more of the friendly about camp friends,

S2: about camp friends. You don’t have to permanently bond with everybody. I think people really, really want their professional lives to be like the office or something. And it just isn’t and it shouldn’t be. And I find it really uncomfortable when people take these like. Media romantic comedy is about work because it’s like workplace romantic comedy, where the romantic comedy is with the workplace itself and they kind of aspire to it, don’t aspire to that. That’s actually really messed up. And so I would encourage you to take a big step back, honestly evaluate the personal and professional consequences for everyone involved, honestly evaluate how it is that you’re so involved and what’s at stake. And you just also go from there. So you do need to talk to your friends. And at a certain point, you’ll have to realize that if you are playing therapist or are for your friends, that’s also a problem. And so there might also be limits to the conversations that you can have and you have to take that seriously.

S1: Yeah. So, again, that last question, what do do we have to protect Carole? I don’t know, but if you start by asking what Carol wants and then you consider whether or not you can give her any of the things that she asks, and then you try to balance honesty and kindness as you tell her, either I can do this or I cannot do that or I want this for you. But as a co-worker, I can’t be the one who does it, to be honest and straightforward to the best of your ability about what you are and aren’t prepared to do for her. It would be better to have that, even if that conversation felt painful than to just sort of hope. She never notices that you don’t bring this up. And by the way, if you ask her if she wants to talk about it and she says no, I don’t then know, respect it, take a step back. Part of it might be hard. There is you might feel a sense of. But now I might never know just exactly what to think of this situation. And I would just say that’s one of those unpleasant reminders that life is a rich tapestry, which is that sometimes we do not get the full story of somebody else’s experience. Right. And we can’t force people to tell us.

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S2: Yeah, and I’m not trying to be. I’m not trying to be callous. I know how I sound. And I think I think one of the things that to keep in mind is if it sounds like I’m unwilling to commit to like, well, it sounds like there’s a bad guy and a good guy and you should just, you know, follow the playbook. It’s that it’s not that I think anybody here is lying. I don’t I want to put it out there that I don’t think somebody is, you know, twirling their mustache and, like, manipulating everyone in this great scheme that will become very easy to resolve. I’m I’m trying to gently remind you that this is actually a way bigger mess than you even seem to think it is. And I. I would encourage you to perhaps re-evaluate your line of work and how you make friends and whether or not intimacy born out of conflict is maybe not a great starting point in the workplace or social circle.

S1: Yeah, if if your workplace is even jokingly a war trench, and that might be a hint that some of the dynamics that people consider normal or necessary are in fact neither.

S2: It’s neither. And I will say that people that I know who have really healthy attitudes about work and some of these people work in extremely messed up situations. They’re first responders in some way or they’re like a disaster relief kind of things. Like they they see actual trenches kind of stuff. Some of them are very compartmentalized and they don’t have work friends or they sometimes even struggle to be sensitive outside of work to get to things. And that’s hard to do. But basically, they’ve made they’ve made like a slightly better negotiation, which is to not give their entire self-image and self-worth to something where it sounds like something really important or urgent has to happen. And so I I would encourage you to sort of re-evaluate your expectations there, too.

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S1: My last thought on the subject is simply, I want the letter writer not to think of a rift in the friend group as the worst thing that can happen, because as long as you feel like the most important thing is that we maintain like group cohesion, then you will likely end up compounding pain for either Carol or Jana or both and potentially either ignore obvious pain and distress from someone who’s been seriously hurt or unfairly push out or malign or shun somebody who. You know, has been misjudged simply because your goal is to keep the group together,

S2: which would actually be a weirdly abusive group tactic, because that would form a pattern in a long term pattern of dismissing and negating problems is abusive, hard and fast.

S1: Yeah, yeah. Missing steer dynamic is it’s a real one. I do want to step back from this particular situation and talk a little bit, you have graciously agreed to read from something that you have written recently for me on Super Highway, your newsletter about trauma as morality. And I was wondering if you would read a section of it for us now.

S2: I will. Is it all right if I give a slight introduction to where it’s coming from? OK, so I’m a person who cares very much about the way that we talk about and handle trauma, which I have a personal stake in this, obviously, if that isn’t clear. But one of the things that I’ve been struggling with in talking about it with other people is realizing that people have different definitions of the words. I kind of mentioned this earlier, but one of the good things about mental health language becoming more mainstream is that discussions about mental health are becoming more mainstream, which I think is generally good. One of the struggles, which is very frustrating and sometimes actively painful to me is that people are just picking up terminology wherever. And so it’s it’s hard because sometimes I realize I’m talking to somebody and we’re talking past each other because they learned, you know. They may have learned a certain set of terms and ideas in a therapeutic setting and another person there learn them from Tumblr and another person, they’re kind of just like learn them from talking to their friends. And I want to emphasize that that doesn’t imply that I think the person who learned it from Tumblr has the wrong distorted version of the person who learned therapy has the right correct version. That’s why it’s hard. It’s just that a lot of people are coming into. A language about mental health that is from all over the place and we’re using very limited vocabulary to talk about a lot of different things. So I’ve been trying to write through some of that. And I was originally sitting down to write something about trigger warnings. And it occurred to me that I needed to actually define what I meant by trigger and trauma first. So I wrote this. I have a very sporadic sub stack and I wrote this thing called Trauma is Morality. So sorry for the long introduction, but it does matter to me that people know where I’m coming from. I don’t have a stake in disproving the people’s stated trauma needs at all. Quite the opposite. OK. Because almost everyone defaults to binary thinking Steen’s and circles that care about social justice or mental health or what have you can have funny little inverted rules like how it’s important to believe every single survivor account and accommodate every single stated limit and need in addition to being impossible. This sucks for different reasons, but it does come from a much kinder place. I would still rather be surrounded by people who are struggling to accept the inevitability of bullshit stunts pulled in the name of need versus people who are outright hostile to the idea of need. The Vine area, which is occupied by both Mindset’s, which I recognized could themselves become a false binary of my own making, is one of morality. Cruelty treats trauma as a personal moral failure, and therefore kindness must treat trauma as a personal moral achievement. See, also, this sucks for different reasons oppression, Olympics and so forth. But it’s not necessary to understand trauma this way, and I think we should stop it has become understood among people who meanwell and struggle with it. It has been internalized as a receptive role and as such a coherent identity class because it plays out this way, it’s both knowingly misused and unknowingly misused. Consider the misuse of triggers as a rhetorical device to attempt to contain or shut down negativity, disagreement, confusion and plain old awkwardness with one’s own stakes in the subject at hand. There are so many specific examples of this that I don’t even know where to start, honestly. But because of this misuse among those interested in kindness and justice, I have noticed the pendulum has swung a bit in favor of denying certain claims to trauma for the sake of a more robust kindness and justice. For example, some art on the Internet, which is tagged with a trigger warning around race. But it actually seems to be largely about the Tagore’s own white fragility. Thus, it perpetuates racism in the name of some nebulous form of safety, which is about the oldest trick in the book when it comes to white supremacy. Therefore, it’s very understandable to try and maneuver to discern trauma from fragility. Yes, I have read enough of conflict is not abuse to be lukewarm about it. I have read a lot of that author’s books and sometimes she frustrates me with her general tendency to stick insightful claims on really poor and disjointed examples. I think she is worth reading in order to have interesting disagreements about with people that you trust. But anyway, the impulse to sort trauma from entitlement, fragility, laziness and so forth loops us back into the fundamental distortion of trauma into a strictly receptive role within a moral category of experiences. It ratifies a binary belief that there is legitimate trauma which can be set apart from frivolous, harmful bullshit. That therefore isn’t trauma something adjacent to that? No true Scotsman fallacy. Maybe because the thing about trauma is that it is not synonymous with power or virtue. Trauma forms and operates within power, but it does not belong to one clean point along powers access and it cannot bestow virtue. This dimension of trauma is very hard to discuss with people you care about not being cruel to because it gets easily and understandably misconstrued as some kind of psychosocial both sides. Another way to put it could be that we know that abuse can cause trauma, for example, and maybe that abusing can be caused by trauma, but we’re uncomfortable with recognizing and discussing that. Abusing for no clear motivation at all can also cause trauma. Or maybe the short version is that just about anything can cause trauma. It manifests in perpetrators, in bystanders, in benefactors. People get sick, so to speak, for all kinds of reasons. I feel uncomfortable just typing that out. I feel like I’m creating excuses that I will be misunderstood as an apologist, but that is the moralistic binary. That is a distortion that does cause me harm when I choose to reinforce it. And I’m trying not to do that.

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S1: Hi, thank you, I’m glad that you wrote something extended on this subject, if only because I think it will be useful to our earlier letter writer. I hope so. It seems like has gotten a little jumpy as a result of hearing words like trauma and abuse and is kind of flipping out into like, is that simply an imperative or should I just ignore it? Because the idea of treating it as an imperative would change my life too much. I, I can’t possibly, you know, think about this or use judgment or critical thinking or follow my values in a way that would feel true or real. And I think this is a much more useful way of trying to sort through how can it be helpful? How can I be honest? How can I be truthful and how can I help someone who might need help?

S2: I really hope that that is helpful. I know that sometimes I have kind of a left field first feedback on things and I can sound very clinical and I can sound very detached, but I care very much about this issue and it’s something that I really want us to have a broader vocabulary for. And I do think it’s unfortunate that the default of not caring about abuse and trauma and pain and like shutting people up and telling them to just bury problems, that is the default in which nothing is done. And so it can be really, really hard to

S1: arrive at

S2: emotionally completely different space that looks a whole lot like don’t do anything yet. And that’s really hard, that is hard if you have learned that nobody ever does anything about abuse, therefore I care, I should do something. And you realize that the situation is more complicated. You’re like, oh, my God, I sound just like the jerk that really doesn’t care and says it’s more complicated than that because he really doesn’t care. But I care and it is more complicated. And it’s like I’m doing the same thing, that that’s actually hard. It’s just it’s that ugly.

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S1: And that’s actually sometimes people say it’s complicated to mean I don’t want to do anything and I want you to shut up. Sometimes people say it’s complicated because complications exist. And, you know, I think I wish I could offer people advice that would always result in you will never feel uncomfortable or do the wrong thing ever again. I simply can’t. And when you feel that you have been able to choose the right, insofar as you’ve been given the ability to see the right, then you should pursue it to the best of your ability and be prepared to defend the choices that you have made if need be. And I’m pretty sure that that was just part of the second inaugural address. So I’m sorry for what I do think that like with courage to pursue the right as God gives us the ability to see the right or something right before he launches into the, you know, with malice toward none bit.

S2: You know that bit. You know the address. Now I’m listening. I mean, it’s

S1: it’s it’s a it’s an expression as as a result, right? Sure. I think it’s I think it’s commonly people are always saying that

S2: people are always, you know what? What is the meme that’s like I’m always saying this and then you say it about something that no one’s saying.

S1: I’m always saying that. Always that. How’s your how’s your latest game going?

S2: My latest game,

S1: yes, shmucks.

S2: Oh, yeah. So the last thing that I wrote and released is a role playing game called Overeasy. And I made it specially for a platform called Moate Stories, which is, I think most stories dotcom. And they have like an online platform that does that, just like real time role playing in a really neat way, where if you say I do this, your friends on their computer screens see it in the third person. So it it sort of passes the grammar and it translates the game into like a readable story as you’re playing really neat. So I wrote a game called Over Easy. It’s a diner heist. You and your friends are a bunch of silly nicknamed people in the town who are trying to save your beloved novelty. Roadside attraction from demolition definitely has nothing to do with urban renewal or gentrification whatsoever. No, sir. And so you have to go through various trials and tricks to get it out of the back of a junk truck. Well, the truck driver stops for dinner at the little highway diner. It was a lot of fun to make. And I was very inspired by an enormous orange fiberglass Tyrannosaurus rex that used to sit along the side of Route one in Massachusetts and is no longer there. All right. Somebody took it. No, they they developed the mini golf course that was there into condos, and now the T-Rex is apparently on the property somewhere, but it’s not visible from the highway anymore, which was the whole point is that you drove up Route one and there was an orange fiberglass T-Rex. So I repeat, Rex, if you’re from Massachusetts and you know what, the root one T-Rex was great. If you’re not, you’re thinking, what is he talking about right now? It’s just a kind of game is the kind of game about weird local stuff that you love for no reason. I love it

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S1: for many reasons. Julian, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show and helping us to think about sad, difficult subjects without totally freezing up and say, I can never make any decisions, I can never move ahead. I just have to say it’s complicated and then levitate off the ground for the rest of my life.

S2: That would be so great if I could just evaporate out of any uncomfortable situation.

S1: You know, complication is often an invitation to start thinking and not a reason to stop thinking hard, though. That was my best line. So I’m just going to close there because I don’t think I’m going to top that. That was like the one good thing I said today.

S2: Yeah, that’s really good. Thank you very, very much for inviting me on the show. This was great. I’m actually really moved that you or anybody finds finds value in this stuff, I have to say at all, because I you know, I I’m only writing it down because I think it will be useful to other people. And so when it is, that’s that’s what counts to me. And yeah, it’s been real. Everybody, everybody, don’t be afraid to think, including questioning your image of yourself or your financial literacy. Both of these things will treat you well in the long term.

S1: Oh, yeah. We never even got to your Suze Orman alter ego. Next time you come on the show. Yeah. I will save you Suze Orman style questions. I will be.

S2: I love it. I love version of your something about money because everybody is really uncomfortable talking about money and that’s so bad. So just picture Suze Spirit of Suze Transmat.

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S1: Susan God, it’s not difficult to imagine she has a real trans masculine vibe. You think so? I think I mean, not not like sort of like immediately visually apparent one, but I think there’s a real sort of. Yeah, I think there is a kind of trans masculinity present.

S2: OK, Susan, if you’re listening to that, please don’t be mad at us. We love

S1: you. That has to do with, like, the hustle. Again, not that trans masculinity is the only means of getting into hustle. Bling, literal. Her brand of hustling, I think, has real trans masculine resonance. I love

S2: that. I love the idea of celebrities having trans whatever energy just because they like to have like this, because I was like a hyper personality.

S1: It feels like that Aladdin song from the beginning of Aladdin where he’s just like, I’m always on the run and I need to look out for myself. And that’s kind of her thing, which, again, she’s a she’s a very, very wealthy lady. I don’t mean that she’s an actual urchin robbing people, but the like sort of like. You know, Aladdin style Aladdin is a very transposon sort of vibe, and she’s got that vibe

S2: that maybe we should in the show with. You’re not explaining any of that. Dun dun.

S1: Thanks for joining us on Big Mood, a little mood with me, Danny Lavery, our producer is Phil Surkis, who also composed our theme music. Don’t miss an episode of the show. Had to slate dot com slash mood to sign up to subscribe or hit the subscribe button on whatever platform you’re using right now. Also, please leave us a review on our podcast. If you get a minute, we’d love to know what you think. If you want more big mouthed little mood, you should join Slate. Plus, Slate’s membership program members get an extra episode of Big Mood, a little mood every Friday, and you’ll get to hear more advice and conversations and interview questions with our guests. And as a Slate plus member, you’ll also be supporting the show. Go to Slate dot com forward slash mood plus to sign up. It’s just one dollar for your first month. If you need some little advice or big advice and you’d like me to read your letter on the show, had to slate dot com slash mood to find our big mood, little mood listener question form or find a link in the description of the platform you’re using right now. Thanks for listening. And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. I don’t know why I was so interested in that moment and thing like allegedly I think just because I guess this person is sort of asking, like, why do I feel so much obligation around these people? And, you know, my guess is that you have not all taken like those home kit DNA tests, like you believe that you share DNA. But it’s also sort of like the structure is such that, like everyone’s mom says, we’re related. So we just don’t question that. Like, you don’t know that. I guess they don’t share DNA. No, I don’t I don’t think that it especially matters one way or the other. I just think it can be helpful to sort of like not think of it as as a given that you shared genetic lines so much. It’s just like, well, we’ve all agreed that because of, you know, legal marriages and legal kinship ties, we we should share DNA to listen to the rest of that conversation, join Slate plus now at Slate, dot com forward slash mood.