Yesterday at a local café, in walked a person I once compromised by email at our place of work. My words created a problem and a chain of events from which she had difficulty extricating herself.
Though I did apologise some time later, sadly I was not big enough yesterday morning to ask her how she was, and used the fact of her involvement in deep conversation with someone else to keep my head down. Perhaps she has forgotten all about it I told myself. But I know that I haven’t.
By writing that email and committing my take of events to paper I sidestepped a cardinal rule: to talk first, to hear both sides of a story before anything is set in cement. Words will stand – even these ones – as a record, and perhaps even in someone else’s record.
A number of years ago I was called to jury service. I buzzed with excitement and sat ready to memorise all the evidence as it was presented – maps with Xs, photos of secret phonecalls, (this was when people still used public phoneboxes), transcripts of recordings - in order best to argue my point with my fellow jurors when it came time for our verdict.
But I fancied I had an even grander mission. I noticed how a barrister easily destroyed the evidence of one witness, merely by using the ammunition of armour-plated sentences. His pronouncements were buttoned up, profiting from a dense and rich vocabulary that created an impermeable structure against which the witness’s clumsier and more threadbare answers made few dents. And I (smugly) thought that my job amongst the group of jurors, many of whom had fallen under the barrister’s spell, was to break down the clusters of polished words. His meticulously crafted observations could be persuasive and grandiose but their sheer dazzle, I felt, might be blinding us. It was the first time I had truly seen the power of clever argument in action, and how persuasive, dangerous and far-reaching it might be.
To my great regret, the court case was dismissed early on a technicality, so I never did get the chance, in a locked room overnight with my fellow jurors, to act as jackhammer and deconstruct the arguments to check the validity of their constituent parts.
But I had seen a living example of how words can on occasions form clumps, intertwine, and ultimately block out the light.
Just as that email I once wrote at work had been strong, earthquake-proof, but ultimately wrong-headed.
I guess words sometimes need space in between them
to loosen up the black and white and allow