Truth and consequences

Well, it’s been a sometimes scary, sometimes unpleasant, and sometimes energizing week. After being urged for many months by friends and colleagues to step up my (very timid) pursuit of corrective action that various colleagues and I were owed by a former employer, I published an op-ed thinking I was checking that duty off the list and could then move on. I was very surprised by the vehement response I received from many people. At their urging, I created a petition and even a GoFundMe page so that the group of journalists affected could pursue legal advice.

That’s all I need to say about the specifics, especially with everything else that’s going on in the world. But zooming out, I think what I’ve learned is that being afraid to tell the truth is kind of like suffering from post-partum depression. (Bear with me here.)

When my daughter was born, I absolutely knew about post-partum depression. I had read all about it for years. But when I cried practically all day long for weeks, felt like every inch of my skin was an open wound of exposed emotional nerve-endings, and was seized by an overwhelming tenderness – that’s the word, I think, rather than sadness; it was just an inability to process happiness and sadness the way I normally would, to keep myself from going from zero to weeping at any moment – I just didn’t put it together. It never even occurred to me that perhaps something was out of whack. Even after the day that a worried lactation nurse at a public hospital took my baby from my arms and led me to the psychologist’s office, I didn’t really understand what was happening to me until months later, when I was well out of it. Part of the condition is a total inability to detect it in ourselves.

We, especially writers and journalists, build our lives around seeking out the truth, encouraging people to speak the truth, trying to “shine our light” on the truth. But when we ourselves have a truth to tell, it can seem worthless. It only affects us, so why would it matter? Perhaps this is in part because we are fortunate to spend much of our time interviewing or profiling people whose challenges, skills and drive completely dwarf our own. Still, it’s a little like that blindness I experienced as a new mom. We don’t walk the walk.

This week I learned that my own personal tempest in a teapot, however small, was worth telling the truth about (and that more people had been affected, incidentally, than I ever would have realized had I continued to go it alone). I also learned that your story’s relative unimportance compared to many others, especially at a time of international turmoil and suffering, doesn’t mean that it needs to be hidden away. In fact, it probably distracts you more from those other, more important issues than it would if you just put it out in the open from the start.

I hope that the next time I ask an interview subject to reveal their lives – which will literally be on Monday, as I start a new interview project – I will remember how hard it can be, even for people like me who think we are an open book. Because, when I’m sitting across the table or on the other end of the phone line, asking the questions, encouraging someone else to come out with something personal, I might see value and worth that the other person doesen’t know is there. Part of the human condition is that we don’t detect this blindness in ourselves, except for the times that (accidentally, occasionally, under pressure) we break through it and find support on the other side.

Featured image by Don Mammoser via Shutterstock.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; learn how to join my Overwhelmed Writers’ League, every Saturday at 1 pm EST; and please connect with me on Instagram or FacebookTo learn more about how to support Costa Rica during the crisis, visit my COVID-19 section – or for ways to enjoy Costa Rica from afar, visit Virtual Costa Rica.


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