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Silen, P. (2018). Letter from the Editor. Fort Da, 24(1):1-3.

(2018). Fort Da, 24(1):1-3

Letter from the Editor

Peter Silen, Ph.D.

In the analytic session, one is concerned with two dangerous and ferocious animals, one of whom — and possibly both — has at the same time the wish to be helpful and friendly to the other.

— Wilfrid R. Bion, Bion in New York and Sao Paolo (1980), pp. 39-40

In a short piece entitled “Sister Turtle,” Mary Oliver writes about raiding a nest of newly laid turtle eggs, which she then proceeds to eat in an omelette. This act feels shocking and violent even though Oliver is hardly a sentimentalist, often writing eloquently about a Nature both raw and unforgiving. In her essay, she links cruelty to appetite, referring to Jesuit scholar Teilhard de Chardin's idea that the necessity for food, with its unavoidable attachments to suffering, is our most agonizing moral dilemma. Moral dilemma, yes; but I am not convinced it is the most agonizing. Life is full of uncomfortable and sometimes unbearable moral dilemmas.

We have all had the experience of listening to others describe acts of inhumanity, but what isn't typical for me is to listen to a man coldly describe the details of ruthlessly harming another. What changes occur in the clinical relationship when Bion's ferocious animal is more than psychic? As the receiver of the story, like the victim, I experience something we all know — there is no preparing for cruelty. The shock, fear, and disbelief viscerally jolt me into familiarity with brutality that exists, old and deep, in our bones. As a clinician listening to and feeling the aftershocks of cruelty, a kind of moral dilemma arises — not a question of whether the act itself is loathsome, but a question of what it means to form an empathic bond with the perpetrator. Laughing together with such a person or experiencing a flash of tender feeling is complicated. I come to know and care about the person: the cruel man is never only cruel. I also know that violence scars both victim and perpetrator and that almost invariably those who cause great suffering have suffered greatly themselves.

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