I finished Educated on Friday. It was quite an experience and I am so glad she chose to share her story with the world. I felt resonance with so many different pieces of this book, it’s hard for me to think of one in particular that I want to focus on for this post. After thinking about the book for a couple of days, I decided that what stands out the most to me is that she wrote it.
Having shared quite a bit of my own story online, I feel a kinship with Tara Westover. In a way, what we have both done is kind of like donating your body to science, except we are still alive to watch everyone react to our most sensitive revelations about ourselves. Although she has chosen to share more of the intimate details of her family relationships than I have, I feel that we are trying to do the same thing; to find our voices and become the women that God created, not the women that society and our family would like us to become.
I know there are many people who disagree with these kinds of displays. Some call it showing your dirty laundry, or equate it with public exposure. One of the duties of upcoming generations is to reevaluate the values of the past based on present circumstances. Tara and I do that by speaking out. What benefit did Tara Westover get from keeping her family’s secrets? Nothing but abuse. By giving voice to her perspective and creating such a vivid picture of her upbringing, she allows us the benefit of her experiences. She has given us a gift; her perspective. Agree or disagree with her, in reading her book, you get to live life behind her eyes.
I’ve pondered on the ways her book has impacted her family. They didn’t choose to have a national spotlight put on them. Her writing was well done. It fleshed out each of the family members and did so without judgement, but with vivid and detailed descriptions. Just the same, each reader will judge the family members. Personally, I found myself with a large amount of compassion for each of them in spite of disagreeing strongly with some of the choices that were made. Most readers will probably not respond that way. Condemnation comes too easily to most people, and the Westovers will get loads of it. I would be very surprised if they were not getting inundated, as we speak, with piles of hate mail.
The longer I live the more I realize that families like Tara Westover’s are not uncommon. Undiagnosed mental illnesses are as plentiful as ice in the Arctic and the unfortunate children of these parents carry heavy burdens. Exposing people like Val and LaRee Westover to public scrutiny and condemnation will not encourage them to get treatment or to reevaluate the way they enabled their son’s abuse. It will likely increase their paranoia and sense of victimization and further convince them that the demonization of their daughter was justified.
Tara Westover says that she wrote the book because she felt her parents and their enablers had stronger voices than she did and they owned the narrative of her life. She decided to publish this memoir in order to show that her voice was as powerful as theirs. In this, I fear that she answered a BB Gun with a nuclear missile. Of course, she didn’t know the book would achieve such spectacular success, and she did attempt to protect people by changing their names. Still, I feel like her book likely burns a bridge that in time she may regret burning. If so, the book is largely her loss and our gain. All the money and fame in the world will not replace your parents.
At the same time, I think that if she did err in publishing this memoir, and I’m not at all sure she did, I really loved what she had to say. If each of us could take a page out of her book and be a little more real about ourselves, we would be better for it. The relationships we have with the people that we love don’t have to be a secret. If more people talked more honestly and openly about the complicated relationship they have with a sister or a parent or a brother, they would find that they are not alone, and that can be a relief. I think we are long past the time when silence is a virtue in these matters. Forcing people to see a one dimensional caricature of perfection instead of real people when they look at you and your family, is not just inaccurate, it’s unfair and dishonest. It robs the world of a soul and leaves us all poorer as a result.
Life in a fallen world is painful and difficult, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. I am grateful that Tara Westover shared her journey with me and helped me feel less alone on my own path. I hope my blog helps others in the same way. Pay it forward!