I am currently reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (I will not spoil the book I swear, I am just mentioning a known character trait that you would learn about quickly. If you don’t even want to know that then stop reading!). One of the main characters, Rachel, has an alcohol addiction and because of this, when a certain event happens, she is viewed as “unreliable” and her potential contributions to solving the problem are dismissed or minimized. Other characters even use the word “unreliable” to her face when they explain why she will not be taken seriously. Rachel also knows it’s because of her drinking.
This reminded me of my grade 12 Writer’s Craft class where we spent one class learning about unreliable narrators. An unreliable narrator is a narrator who’s credibility is compromised. While an unreliable narrator is not necessarily a specific type of person my class came up with stereotypical examples of people who could be unreliable. I remember various classmates saying that someone with a mental illness, an intellectual/cognitive/developmental disability, and an addict would be unreliable narrators and we should not trust their views of events. If my memory recalls correctly my teacher gave the example of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time where it is suspected that the main character, Christopher, has autism and is unreliable due to his issues around social interaction and processing.
I know I have been viewed as unreliable due to my high emotional states and I have even viewed myself as unreliable but only because this is what I have been told I am. Are we really though? Are those of us who struggle with emotional and mental issues actually unreliable? Does our ideas of normality play a role in our reliability? Is anyone really reliable all the time?
I personally believe that reliability has more to with knowing the facts about something rather than our mental state. While I recognize that our mental state can influence our ability to process the facts, it is not just our mental state alone that should determine our reliability. When I have the facts, I am reliabile. If anything I may be more reliable because I pursue the facts, knowing I am highly emotional, and frequently try to reality check. Those whose mental state is not in question may not pursue the facts because they assume they do not have barriers to accessing them.
We also need to all admit that everyone has a different reality. So many factors go into how we interpret events and make meaning of facts. We may be bias, be influenced by our culture, political stance, education background etc. Maybe it’s more about an alternative perspective than it is about reliability?
We can all be reliable and unreliable. We are human. To dismiss someone because of their mental state is wrong. Sometimes we may even see and understand more because we are not taken seriously.