Sunday 8 December 2019

From Geldof's tragic tale to Rapunzel – there are two sides to every story

Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

If, as indicated, heroin contributed to the tragic death of Peaches Geldof, then I can identify with her situation. I can totally understand how difficult it is to quit an addiction. How often have so many of us said – "just one little measure won't hurt"?

Taking dangerous drugs is unwise and peddling them is wrong. But there are always two sides to every story. And it is possible, sometimes, to understand both of them.

When a man we both knew left his wife for a younger woman a friend of mine said: "It's so sad that he abandoned the wife who loved him." And then she added: "But who are we to condemn someone to an unhappy marriage?" Approve or disapprove, there will be two sides to the story.

We are always pleased to learn about an adopted child being re-united with a birth mother. It seems like the happy ending of a long quest to establish links of kin, and even identity.

But what about the adoptive parents who have put so much emotional investment, over the years, into raising a child not theirs by blood? I often wonder about them, when such biological reunions occur. Perhaps they are generous enough to welcome it: but sometimes they must feel they have lost the child who grew "in their hearts", if not from their bodies.

I am often prompted to wonder about the "other side of the story" even in the realm of fairytales. My grand-daughters love the Rapunzel story, about the wicked witch who stole the baby princess and locked her up in a tower to keep her for herself. Rapunzel finally discovers the truth and there's cheering when the wicked witch comes to a sticky end.

But maybe the wicked witch had her side of the story too? Maybe she so longed for a child that she became unhinged and possessive. Maybe she had bad luck in life and no one to love?

As for Cinderella – consider the case for The Ugly Sisters. They've been dealt a tough hand in a society which values beauty and charm: they are plain and charmless. And then their widowed mother marries an old Baron with the most enchanting and beautiful daughter who by the very laws of nature will outshine them. Their conduct is not edifying, but they have their point of view too.

I listened to a lecture recently about the causes of the First World War, and although these causes were diverse, nonetheless, the German Kaiser Wilhelm emerges, for some historians, as the baddie who started it all.

But what about Kaiser Bill's own problems? He had a miserable childhood, having been born with a withered arm which he always sought to conceal. His uncle, the King of England, Edward VII, despised him, and his own Prussian government ministers often outwitted him. Agreed – there was no cause to invade defenceless Belgium: but is the Kaiser the only villain of the piece? Even in the case of paedophile offenders, I sometimes wonder how they feel, looking back on their offences; and how their own families feel. Do they rue the awful moment or moments when they yielded to a perverted sexual urge? To be sexually attracted to children is, indeed, a most frightful affliction, and although the law and morality must condemn their deeds, they are also to be pitied.

Recently, in Oklahoma, a state execution had to be halted when the procedure was botched, and the condemned man died from an agonising heart attack brought on by the lethal injection. And then I learned that Clayton Lockett had raped and shot a woman, and had buried her alive – his victim had died, arguably, an even worse death. Two sides to a grisly story.

At a more mundane level, whenever I see a supermarket offering "two for the price of one", I often wonder how much the farmer or the fisherman had to concede for that "special offer". In Kent, last week, I saw a special offer of "Amazing Value! A four-pint carton of milk for just £1!"

If a supermarket is selling four pints of milk for a quid, how much profit is the poor dairy farmer getting? Even when shopping, there are two versions of reality.

Savers and investors lament when interest rates are low. Borrowers lament when interest rates are high.

Our bankers haven't always behaved honourably, to say the least. But plenty of ordinary beneficiaries of the system wanted to get-rich-quick on the back of shady ethics.

There must be limits to sympathising with each side to every occurrence. You can't suggest, for example, that in the matter of torture, the torturer has an equally valid point of view – although a lawyer would be found to speak for his defence, however heinous the deeds.

There are many compassionate traditions of sympathy, from the Native American motto: "Don't condemn a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins", to the French adage: "Tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner" – "to understand all is to forgive all".

And I think it's perfectly possible to sympathise with various viewpoints, while still remaining true to your own values. When I listen to advocates argue for same-sex marriage, I sometimes think: "Why shouldn't gay couples have their special celebration marking their mutual love? Live and let live!" At the same time, I sincerely adhere to the belief that marriage is fundamentally dynastic, whose basic purpose is creating a family constellation.

But everyone has their own story, for sure, and an entitlement to tell that story, too.


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