Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Orpheus Society: a modest proposal, perhaps.

Proposal to form a Society:
'The Orpheus Society'
'You speed. You crash. You kill your girlfriend. You live. But it's not really living. It's a living nightmare. Forever.'
(Queensland Gov't road safety TV ad.)
Orpheus went to hell and back, and came back with nothing but self-disappointment.
You could read Conrad's Lord Jim, but it won't help. Hemingway's supposed to have said, 'afterward some get strong in the broken places'. Yes, and some don't. Ever. Even those who've broken some deep code, social or personal, in doing some overwhelmingly right and necessary thing can be plunged, quite rightly and understandably, into self-disappointment. Those who have run out of a core emotional resource at the end of a long period of depletion come to mind. The causes are awful and many, and it's my guess that many of us survive in secret pockets of hell everywhere.
I therefore ask for some design ideas for the formation of an Orphic Society or Orpheus Society, which might provide some limited help and affirmation to its members, who might be called 'Orpheans'. Perhaps the whole thing is a bad idea. Help me think this through.
The help and affirmation which I imagine might be do-able, derives from my own experience of wishing to be understood. There are those Orpheans, I imagine, who are going to value being understood above all fancy talk of forgiveness and other such matters which are quite beyond the strict scope which I imagine would be appropriate to such a society as I propose.
I imagine that a member might qualify by means of a meeting with someone, perhaps an extended interview, under strict conditions designed for two people each to learn from listening to the story of the other. These conditions should, in my thinking, be well designed, and the subject of a great deal of consultation and debate before they could be accepted as useful. The conditions would be at the heart of the effectiveness of the meeting.
The matters with which Orpheans are burdened are of the greatest imaginable seriousness, and therefore I propose that the help and affirmation offered to members be strictly limited by conventions of realism, decency, and confidentiality.
By realism I propose that we accept that many of life's burdens derive from the sad fact that many situations are the focus of competing obligations, not all of which can be satisfied. There are other sad facts about human limitations, that call for realism. I imagine that realism translated into practice would mandate an unshockable, non-judgemental listening ear, and give shape to what I mean by decency.
By decency I mean a respectful empathetic insight, an awareness that others are shaped by differing moral programmes.
And now to confidentiality. Were such a society as I propose to be agreed on, problems arise concerning confidentiality, problems which might be insurmountable, problems so great that it would be best to forget all about it, and to proceed informally or not at all.
If a suicide bomber were disgusted with herself for a failure of courage at the last minute, what then? If a pedophile kindergarten teacher confesses moral failure, no-one who knows except a priest or a spouse, perhaps, is exempt as a citizen, from acting on the knowledge. Perhaps more widespread is the case where medicos and families induce palliative unconsciousness which is perfectly legal, but which differs from the crime of assisted suicide only in how long it takes for the patient to die. What about a warning such as "If you tell me that you have committed some crime against the state, or if you convince me that you are a danger to the community, then I cannot protect you by confidentiality"? Would that blow the whole thing to smithereens, or might something be still achievable? What do you think? I am pretty ignorant of the ethical problems that might arise. Anyway, the last thing I would want to do is to set up a counselling service in competition with others who could do it properly.
Maybe it would be better to dump the whole interview thing, let people sign up on their own say-so, perhaps set up some way to enable Orpheans to contact one another, perhaps write their stories, and take their own initiatives.
I would sooner drop the whole idea than let loose another monster in the world, there are enough already. What do you think?

1 comment:

Michael said...

Some interesting ideas here and yes fraught with a whole range of ethical issues. It calls to mind the rule of the confessional. The priest, of course, can under no circumstances what's been told in confession. However he cannot give absolution in deadly serious cases unless the person is prepared to own the consequences. Thus a murdurer must confess their crime to the appropriate authorities

But then on the ohter hand I can't help but feel that the Church is ideally supposed be a sort of Orpheus Society itself