My dearest friend, Linda, provided a wonderful nugget of wisdom recently. Free of charge – isn’t that what friends are for?
What was the revelation? I suppose it’s just this – repetition of ‘facts’ doesn’t make them true, but our glorious ‘catch up call’ conversation navigated toward the broader topic: realities. Those we perceive, those we create and those we’re accosted with – through our consumption of words, thoughts, ideas that slide into our awareness. Daily. Relentlessly.
I’d like to think I let the drivel and less-than-helpful chatter and imagery roll by, but Linda made an excellent point. Negative, mean-spirited nonsense can scoot through if we’re not vigilant. Guarding the gate to head and heart makes sense from a wellness perspective. Avoiding exposure to nastiness – whether manufactured in television or film – or encountered through daily living is a perpetual goal. My radar picks up on heat in the form of unkind thoughts, deeds, words. Even nasty looks and while I hope I dispense with the unsavory, I see Linda’s point. There’s still a trail.
As we talked, I relayed a situation involving my sweet disabled sister, Lisa. I love Lisa and she was my first-ever roommate and best friend. The pic I snipped in above is of the two of us in 1972, happy as clams showing off our new bedroom and our brand-new bedspreads (fully flammable, I’m sure). 😉
I’ve shared that Lisa has a unique knack for patching together bits of real life with fictional accounts snatched from her favorite tv programs. Mostly harmless. Recently, however, I saw Lisa spinning a tall tale that, if believed, would negatively impact someone’s life and livelihood. I’m talking about one of the staff members in Lisa’s group home.
I gave Linda the backstory. One of Lisa’s roommates (let’s call her Darlene) experienced a health emergency recently, feeling lightheaded as she got up one morning and nearly fell. The day of the incident, Lisa shared in-depth details with me as she was a first-hand witness. I’ve learned that Lisa’s accounts of events – immediately after they occur – are the most accurate and in this case, what Lisa shared aligned precisely with the summary I received later that day from her case manager. Lisa’s roommate Darlene was dehydrated and wobbly and fell into a table, knocking over some dishes but a staff member (we’ll call her Caroline) caught her before she fell. Tricky and nuanced, but the situation was tended to with care.
The problem – what I shared with Linda? Over Thanksgiving, Lisa unveiled, with gusto, a brand-new and highly dramatized version of the incident. The new story was this: As Darlene writhed in pain, doubled over at the kitchen table, she knocked everyone’s breakfast to the floor as she fell, creating a horrific mess. Lisa, all high-pitched and excited as she described the scene, said Caroline responded, as she looked at Darlene on the floor with this: “Just get up already and clean up the mess!”
I don’t think Lisa comprehended that the new, more inflammatory tale…was a tall one, putting Caroline in a terrible light. One that suggested malfeasance and negligence….and abuse. Lisa didn’t intend harm, she no doubt thought she was simply spiffing up the story.
I also wondered, as Lisa retold her version, if Lisa was channeling an event from our childhood. Suffice it to say the details fit. Lisa’s portrayal of Caroline’s rage? I don’t know if Lisa felt it, but the entire scene, including Lisa’s tone as she said, “Just get up already and clean up the mess!” could’ve been a mixed-up memory of her own, courtesy of our mom.
Still — I worried – how do I correct Lisa? As I listened to her colorful, edited and made-for-tv version, I expressed concern that it seemed she was adding new details. Exaggerated details. Lisa responded swiftly and said, “Oh no – that’s how it happened. All of the other ladies and I have been discussing it. It’s just like what happened on NCIS. Just the same.”
And there we had it. Lisa, by sharing the parallel to a favorite television program, ‘outed’ herself – and her housemates – as factoid philanderers…adding in tidbits from a tv show to the story of Darlene’s dizzy spell. Sometimes I can tell when Lisa knows she’s embellished. This time? She dug in – facts were facts to her – no matter how they flew into the story.
The best I could do – worried that Lisa and her lady friends would continue rumor mongering to the point of putting Caroline in jeopardy – was just this. Lisa, I said, “I don’t remember hearing about it that way. Maybe you just mixed up some details? Not on purpose, but I think Caroline helped Darlene and isn’t it great that Darlene’s feeling fine now?”
Lisa gave me a half-hearted nod, still assessing to see if I was angry. I wasn’t – but golly, I was shocked and motivated to provide some sort of corrective guard rail. I hoped I shut down the chatter between Lisa and her housemates, but I didn’t know for sure.
As I shared all of this with Linda, she did what great friends do. Acknowledged the concerns, the danger in Lisa’s fluid re-telling and said the most perfect thing: “You did the right thing…before you know it, Lisa and her housemates will believe their version. A good reminder to all of us…repetition of ‘facts’ doesn’t make them true.”
Goodness. Yes. Just because we see it, hear it, consume it…allow it in our presence…doesn’t make hurtful nonsense real.
Thanks so much for reading. I love Lisa, but she keeps me on my toes!