In times of personal crisis, I’ve often found myself at a loss. Sometimes, I’m faced with a dilemma, a choice between two equally bad things, or almost as bad, a choice between two equally good things. Other times, I’ve made one of those decisions and am full of guilt and doubt. Whatever the case, agony and stress pursue, and I suffer until I inevitably stumble onto some form of guidance or validation, nearly always in the form of something another person has written. A moment of clarity ensues.“Aha!” I’ll think. “That’s what I should do.” OR “Of course, I was so right to do as I did.”
And all is well in my little world.
Lately, I’ve discovered the perils of this, that essentially what I’ve been doing is using someone else’s words as a justification for my life, my actions, my decisions.
It’s so effective and utterly seductive in its provision of instant relief of even the worst emotional pain that to acknowledge this observation and (worse yet!) to communicate it to others fills me with a kind of dread. But when it happened to me, when my words were used to rationalize incomprehensible damaging behaviors by another, and I was personally thanked for it, I was left feeling not only dismayed and fighting a sense of guilt and partial responsibility for what had regrettably come to pass – but also struck with the realization that I had done it myself to others on innumerable occasions. In the vast majority of situations, the writer of the work in question had no idea that he or she had affected me, which leads me to believe that this is the case for others and that there’s a high possibility that I’ve involuntarily provided justification for all manner of things, and if I continue to write in a public or semi-public manner, will continue to do so.
The mind reels.
It’s enough to make a person want to stop sharing, lest she poison the water.
Because this is the Internet, I will do my best to invoke Godwin’s law. This problem reminds of Nietzsche’s troubles, when late in life and suffering from mental illness and at the mercy of his sister, who edited his works, the Nazi party very selectively chose portions of his philosophies to support their ideology.
I talked to a friend a while back about this question. Are writers responsible for the emotions their works cause? For the reactions? For what they inspire? Even if these results are unintended?