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Speaker for the Dead
By Dave Winer on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 at 5:05 PM.
I recently read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, and enjoyed the book, and I'm reading another of the Ender series now, Ender's Shadow. After that I will probably read Speaker for the Dead, which I've already purchased, and have read the foreword to.  permalink
The idea of a Speaker for the Dead is versatile and powerful. It basically says that when you remember someone who has died, don't edit their story. Try to stick to who they actually were. Obviously the story must be told from the teller's perspective, there's no way to avoid that. But don't change the story to make the person seem different from who they were.  permalink
We don't do that of course.  permalink
You can see it clearly when relatives talk about family members differently after they die. No need to mention names, because it's pretty standard practice.  permalink
Personally I'd like to be remembered as I am.  permalink
It also gives people an incentive to get to know people before they die. I think sometimes people already figure they know your story, and they're ready to say goodbye, long before the person dies. That's a shame, because we miss a richness of life. I've tried to say that to a few friends, but they don't understand what I'm saying. They say they respect me for who they think I am, but that isn't who I am, I say. They don't get it.  permalink
And there's an interesting twist to it, Speaking for the dead provides a nice framework for saying something I've been trying to explain about how people tell their own stories.  permalink
If you find yourself telling the story of you as a happy camper, always anxious to please others, being a great friend to everyone, and you leave out the parts where you dive into depression, or knowingly screw someone who trusted you, or the time you did something that you later regretted, you're not doing anyone a favor. If you're a real friend, I know you have bad days. You've also said things that hurt my feelings, and of course I've said things that hurt yours.  permalink
The story you tell yourself about yourself should be grounded in truth, as much as possible. If you're always chirping friendly things to others, and never balancing it with other moods that you actually have, you're trying to tell yourself that you're someone you really aren't. If you have a bad day and won't give voice to it, equally with your good ones, then you're not speaking accurately for yourself. To me that's even worse than being remembered at your wake as a saint, when you were anything but.  permalink
I once had a close friend, I thought, who was always happy, with a big smile on his face, as if he lived in bliss. But I saw him do things that made my soul wilt. Once I asked him -- where's your rage? He never talked to me again. It was in his actions, but he never put it on his face or in his voice.  permalink
OSC's idea is a powerful one. And it would be good if it didn't just apply to the dead, if we applied it to ourselves, and how we talk about ourselves to ourselves.  permalink
BTW, I didn't go to my father's funeral. I would have been asked to speak. And while I edited the story of my father's life in his last days, so we could spend time together without the past getting in the way, it was different after he was gone. In all the writing I've done about him, I've tried to tell the truth, not embellish it, or change the story. I have left out a lot of it, the bad parts -- but I have said they were there. At his funeral, I would have been called on to tell a story and would have had an impossible choice. The people wouldn't have understood if I told the truth, even a very abbreviated truth. It would have been unfair to make them listen to it. They don't need to know. But I am a writer, and I plan to, at some point, write this story. Without having a name for it at the time, I can now say I wanted to Speak for the Dead, and not tell a fake story. So I chose not to go.  permalink
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