Oh dear, ethics, what have I unleashed? When I thought all was certain, I find quicksand.
It feels like I'm making a set of ‘Kate’s personal storytelling laws’, for me and my stories, with a judgment and opinion for each story that hovers on the edges, often revealing its complexity post-telling.
I thought I had left the law and all it entails behind. But it just goes to show, wherever you go, there you are, with your values.
I will take comfort from the quote by Shekhar Kapur, a Hollywood/Bollywood director and TED talker 'Certainty is the death of wisdom, thought and creativity.'
After the last post, Ethics No 1, my good mate Jackie Kerin commented, and she raised such big issues, I thought I would respond in full here.
Here’s what she wrote:
Complex - the ethics. We ask for understanding when we slip up but folks are not always ready to be understanding if they feel you have crossed a line. When others are in the story, it’s their story too. I look forward to more discussion
Firstly thank you Jackie, it is great to have this conversation and I know the issues of ethics in personal stories is one that concerns you, so I hope we can keep the conversation going.
In response firstly I would argue (sorry, old lawyer habits die hard), I would suggest, that we need to support ourselves and each other, to forgive ourselves, even when others don't. We need to remember the artistic endeavor as valuable, (and I’m not talking about justifying anything in the name of art, but the times when we make a mistake while pursuing our art) even when we hurt someone.
When we make a mistake we apologise, explain, and aim not to make the same mistake again, but we don't stop. We don't give up, fearful that we might hurt someone again. We may not tell that story again, we may see the mistake and the reaction to it, in a million ways, from a lesson well learned in how to be self compassionate, to a sign that this story ought to be left alone. But if we accept the power, purpose and beauty of personal storytelling, we don't give up because we made a mistake.
The second idea Jackie raises is the ownership of a story; that when others were present and part of the story we tell, then it is their story too.
This I think gets at the heart of an ethics about personal storytelling.
So to reiterate, I think ethics in personal storytelling, like memoir writing, is very personal (pardon the pun). There are no hard and fast rules but important competing factors compelling us, on an individual level, to tell or not to tell a story, and it can even come down to individual stories as to what we feel has integrity and purpose in being revealed or withheld.
My starting place though, is that if I was there, my version of events, which needs to include my feelings, reactions and reflections, is my story and I have a right to tell it.
But there are two caveats within this that are crucial.
The first is implicit but sometimes needs to be stated and that is that the story is just my version, not any objective truth.
The second is that the story must include my internal journey, as this centralises the story around me and my experience, how I have changed as result of the events and what meaning I have made.
(While this sounds very ego centric, it is this insight into another human, how they felt and thought, that is the gift of the storyteller, how we touch others and show that we are not alone.)
Now of course it’s not quite that simple, for in the centre is the very thorny nub of blame. But enough for today.
As a complete non-sequitur, I have just released(?) my new website which I hope you and others will like. As it is new I am really happy for any feedback, from typos to ‘that part sucks’ (also happy to bathe in compliments).