Burning the House Down
How much do I spill?
I was chatting with a friend and colleague recently and she was telling me about relationships past. She’d had an ex-partner who had cheated on her by frequenting brothels overseas, using her money.
Her reaction was to — in her words — burn the house down. In this instance, it meant full disclosure of his behaviour to everybody important to him, regardless of the fall out. She practically took out an ad.
Then just the other day, another friend of mine got cheated on — her partner had been hiding a twelve month relationship with someone very close to her — and she publically outed them, sharing the experience day-by-day on social media as it unfolded. All terribly upsetting, but kinda of car-crash riveting.
It got me wondering how I felt about this idea. Y’know… setting fire to the barn, and watching it burn down the entire homestead, and the place next door. And I decided that such an unfettered pursuit of retribution terrifies me. Yet, I can also see the liberation and catharsis it could bring.
It led me to revisit the notion of “consequences.” Not sure about you, but I was brought up to believe that being able to understand the consequences of my actions was a hallmark of mature adulthood. And that I should always consider how my actions and reactions would affect the people around me — even those who had wronged me.
But really, when you think about it, how can you possibly predict how anything you do is going to impact those around you? Sometimes when you’re trying to have a positive influence, it completely backfires. And then when you’re running “below the line” being selfish, or painfully honest, or just plain pissy, you can unexpectedly do good.
I coach basketball. It’s a passion leftover from years of playing. I’ve known many, many young women and men and felt the privilege of being in their lives. But I’ve also agonised over not getting it right for them as a coach.
One girl stands out for me. She was sixteen when I coached her and let’s just say she was a “challenge.” I vacillated between tough love, patience and understanding, and just plain old exasperation. Once the season was over, and she moved on to other things, I carried a lot of regret that I hadn’t got it right in our interactions. Especially, when I later found out the extent of the difficulties in her personal life.
She recently had a huge success in her life, triumphing against a lot of adversity. When I sent her a congratulatory message, she replied saying how important that time had been. How the team, and the structure, and the expectation we’d placed on her, had gotten her through. My assistant coach had a big role in that too.
I think it’s the most humbled I’ve ever been. And I know it says a lot more about her character, than it does about our coaching.
BUT, this brings me back to the question of how much you spill. You cannot control the consequences of your actions. You can make an educated guess as to how it might play out. But you can never really know.
And if you never hold people accountable for their behaviour in situations and relationships, and you sweep it under the carpet, to save face or protect yourself, or those around them (or maybe even them), then are the long term consequences likely to be worse? Not just for you, but for those who may encounter them going forward.
Is there something to be learned from the practice of full disclosure about the hurts and injustices visited upon us.
The argument against it probably has something to do with perspective taking and the different sides of a story. And that’s a very real concern. We are all so mired in our own view on how life goes down, we often misinterpret and attribute blame where it shouldn’t be. We’re biased. We justify. Prevaricate.
But then there are the occasions when the line has been very clearly and inarguably crossed. I mean, it’s not ok to sleep with your girlfriend’s sister. Or spend your partner’s money without her consent on paying for sex. Right?
So, maybe there’s really something in that idea of setting a match to the searing hot truth and watching it raze everything.
What do you think?