I’m a bit of a history nerd. So, my ears really perked up the other day when my friend was sharing with me about Winston Churchill’s three-inch pipe theory over lunch the other day. The topic came about as I was sharing, honestly, how my wife and I can sometimes become desensitized to all the horrors of the abuse of our children.
The name of the book that my friend was reading escapes me, but I found reference to the three-inch pipe theory via a Google search for the topic. The reference was in Max Hasting’s Winston’s War, Winston Churchill 1940-1945 published by Alfred Knopf, a division of Random House (copyright 2009). Ok, did I make the proper citation? Been a long time.
I haven’t read the book, but my friend described the theory that manifests throughout the book as Churchill’s take on how the British people managed the horrors of WWII around them. Imagine it, you’re at war, subjected to the nightly horrors of The Blitz, with loved ones off to battle, dying. Neighbors being killed, an economy tanking, society rife with rumors and confusion, a government struggling to survive, rationing and an overwhelming uncertainty of anything. For years and years.
To process it, the theory goes, is that they looked at the world around them through a three-inch pipe. Anything they could see through the pipe, they processed. Food, shelter, survival. That outside of the pipe was too immense, distant and horrible to process. It wasn’t any less there, but it wasn’t consuming them. It really didn’t enter their minds or psyche.
While we’re not living through anything, by the Grace of God, like WWII, I can relate. The first time my wife or I lay hold of a new document from the County, it’s a wrenching experience. The forensic examination report, the adoption profile, the case backgrounds. You read slow and pretty much cry and feel sick through it.
But then later, when you’re going through e-mails about stories the boys have told before that you sent to the social worker or you’re looking for a fact in a report, there’s a strange desensitization to it that occurs. I’ve also felt this in describing something to a friend about that boys. They wince, I keep a straight face and then then think, “shoot, they’re not used to hearing that. I feel like an unfeeling, uncaring oaf.”
I also see this manifesting in our lives as when we’re giving a matter-of-face recounting of events after a horrible tantrum or spell of bad behavior. Does it affect us at the time, most of the time. But after the 3,000th time of hearing, “can’t you be a nice mommy,” it’s kind of outside the realm of processing. We’re focused in the center of the pipe on resolving the tantrum at hand.
I’m not sure that this is going to make sense to anyone outside the foster/adoptive realm, but it struck a chord with me. Viewing the world through a three-inch pipe sometimes doesn’t mean that we’re unfeeling beasts, it’s more a measure of God’s grace in giving us a way to cope with a whole lot of awfulness.