I don't know Alec Baldwin or any member of his family.
I do know, however, that when family members talk to one another, sometimes those words become overheated, so fueled they are with anger, frustration, and history. I know that words are never words alone, that they are part of an emotional context, part of a larger relationship whole. And I know that words we can suffer patiently on the first go-round can feel like eyes gouged from our skulls on the 500 th go-round.
The simple fact is that we are not part of his family and we do not know enough about him to judge his fitness as a father. While the language in the message was rough at times, you and I will never know how to truly measure that threat. We don't know his bite from his bark. We don't know what the war is like between him and Ms. Basinger. I listen to that tape (thank you Today Show--that's what I get for falling asleep with the TV on) and I hear a man locked in a dynamic, unable to control his daughter's behavior, and fuming from every hole in his head.
Does that mean he's controlling? Maybe. Does that mean he's angry? Yeah, sure. Passionate? Maybe that, too.
Does Mr. Baldwin have a history of violence that makes me fear for his daughter's life? Well, as far as I'm aware of, no. That is what the hearing is for.
Bottom line? We don't know enough to judge. All we know is that one side went public. And I'm sad that the media have once again been glad participants in broadcasting tapes and accusations for someone else's tactical gain--gains that may benefit the participants, but will not benefit the public good.
Personally, I think about the scraps of my conversations, if set apart, that would paint horrifying pictures of the state of my relationships. Now, think of your marriage. Think of your parents. Who is the loved one that drives you craziest? How well do you think you'd fair if transcripts of your phone calls and emails got broadcast all over the nation? I'm sure Professor Smart could come along and analyze the text and divine all sorts of true meaning, but human beings are always bigger than any mere text they produce, no matter how slaved over, how close to perfect reflection of their thought and mood at the time.
This is by no means meant to belittle the hurtful power of words. There is nothing like repeated belittling and threatening to beat a child (or an adult) down to nothing. There is nothing redeemable about the use of the word "pig." I would argue however that we don't have enough evidence or understanding to truly judge whether his visitation rights should be suspended. That it's easy to get caught up in the "gotcha" of "oh, this sure sounds bad!" and not take into consideration the very real human elements involved. We don't have enough evidence to know if this a harmful pattern repeated or a prelude to violence.
Let me repeat again: words matter. They can hurt you in deep ways. They can foreshadow actions to come. But not always. Sometimes, a word is more steam than steel. Steam that evaporates quickly and is soon forgotten. It takes understanding to know the difference. Something that we, as outsiders, with so little to go on, lack.
And even if a word said is truly mean-spirited, said with intent to hurt, that is only one moment in a relationship. Not the whole.
I feel for Mr. Baldwin, because for the sake of his relationship, and for the sake of damage control, he will not be able to explain himself. At least not now while its fresh in our minds. The slur will stay with us, the proverbial bell that can't be unrung.
For his family's sake, I hope this story goes away fast. And I also hope his daughter can later forgive all those involved in making her family pain some very public news copy.