One of the customs of this community that I am particularly fond of is the practice of witnessing: the acknowledgment of the experiences (and reactions) of our fellow community members, even when there’s no advice to be given.
Witnessing avoids the weird mixed message of a Facebook “like” or a Twitter “favorite” for a description of things that are neither likeable nor our favorite experiences. But for anyone who has been gaslit, who has had their memories denied and their emotions steamrollered, the affirmation that that happened and I feel this way about it are valid comments, worthy of other peoples’ attention, is huge.
I was thinking about this the other day, just after dropping my daughter off at school.
There was another mother just pulling up on a bicycle as the bell rang. She lifted her daughter, who looked to be about six, off of the bike seat. The girl stood there, a little spaced, and her mother urged her to start walking toward class while she locked the bike. The child didn’t move and her mother’s voice developed an edge and some volume. “Go on! Start walking! Go on!”
And suddenly I noticed that all of the adults in range had subtly, unconsciously aligned their bodies to the conflict. Those whose heads were free were looking, but even the one bent over tying her son’s shoes showed, by the set of her shoulders, that she was listening.
The mother noticed too, maybe. Her next comment was not a command, but a self-description. “I am just so mad at you right now,” she said, less sharply and less loudly. They walked off together, the mother talking herself down from that place of anger, the crowd still attentive.
Now, the mothers in that schoolyard are tough: gossipy, razor-edged enforcers of the norm, always watching, always judging. They scare me. But there’s not one of them that wouldn’t step in if they saw a child being hurt, and they de-escalated that situation by the very force of their attention. They said this is not OK without a single word, and that mother heard them.
We in DF can’t do that. We can’t go back and be the quelling force of sympathetic community in one another’s childhood. Time machines, after all, aren’t legitimate elements of the solution space.
But if the internet isn’t a time machine, it is, in its own way, a teleporter. We, or the memory of us and the promise of our future attention, are here for each other at need. Like virtual guardian angels, we sit on each other’s shoulders, encouraging, recording, and believing. And the mark of our presence is the word: witnessing.
This is part of the sequence of Dysfunctional Families discussions. We have a few special rules, specific to the needs and nature of the conversations we have here.
Previous posts (note that comments are closed on them to keep the conversation in one place):