The Principle of Keeping Shtum

It was one of those recent lockdown afternoon malaises.

I wanted to tackle something productive to do from my mental list of outstanding items. Phil was hoping I would watch a courtroom drama with him. Not that I don’t enjoy a good film, but I have a smaller appetite for entertainment than he.

Relatively early into a second marriage and after becoming way too deferent in my last, I am still learning difficult lessons of honest negotiation. How to draw for myself, lines in pleasant places and when to defer in agreement to choose differently. In fact, I was glad I watched it with him.

The film was called ‘Nothing but the truth’.

It told of a young mother and international affairs reporter, Rachel landing the scoop of her career in publishing a career-shattering news-story. For both her and her subject Erica. Erica was imprisoned for an international diplomatic assassination whilst Rachel and her newspaper consequently came under severe internal and political pressure to identify her source.

Overnight Rachel was arrested, interrogated, gaoled for a year and then brought to trial for obstructing the course of justice. She could never have known this would take her as far as appealing to the High Court of Justice. Experiencing abuse, violence and institutionalisation, she lost her freedoms, comforts, access to her seven year-old son and was subject to infidelity and the breakdown of her marriage.

Nothing but the truth

Yet she refused to divulge.

On principle that female reporters would lose their emerging professional standing and be branded as altogether weak and untrustworthy.

On principle, she refused to identify her source, in no position to appreciate the implications of what they were saying when they confided in her. She stood resolutely opposed to exposing this person, certain they could never know what had transpired by speaking out.

On principle that her source’s life could be endangered by such a revelation.

“I am no longer representing your principle”.

This fiercely loving confidante was represented by an expert Judge Burnside, cast as distracted, materialistic and self-satisfied in his capabilities and achievements. Frustrated by her apparently wilful self-destruction, he reiterated the dilemma he was in.

I was shocked at his betrayal.

Then he repeated, “I am no longer representing your principle; now I am representing you”, and continued, “There comes a time when you realise that for some people the principle and the person is the same”.

it was the worthy line, right there.

Ooh that was good! Every bit as good as the fact Judge Burnside secured justice, Rachel was freed, having proved her trustworthiness as a faithful confident.

Not until the end of the film were we, the viewers, shown a flashback to the moment Rachel’s source confided. Now we understood. They could never know. Rachel would never point out what she had suffered for her innocent ignorance. She could never tell her son, patch up her marriage or be suitably thanked for what she had lost and held out for.

I was left wondering if I would have the nerve to outlast such bureaucratic and ethical conflict. Is there something for which you would be principally obliged to suffer? Without a hope of thanks?

It is what will carry you, in and of itself.

Go, do that thing.

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