The Reward of Risk

In the recent class discussions focusing on good faith, bad faith, harm and repair, the short story “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler reminds readers to connect it all back to the throughline of the INTD 105-04 course: the risk and rewards of (academic) partnership. The short story takes place within the Preserve where Tlics, the native species of the planet co-exist peacefully with Terrans, humans that have escaped Earth and sought refuge on Tlic land. Under the Preserve system, a sense of trust was fostered through a mutually beneficial relationship between the two species: in exchange for protection from the Tlics that mean to dehumanize them, select Terrans in the Preserve will voluntarily carry fertile Tlic eggs. However, as unwavering as this trust seems, it was actually quite fragile. The abrupt introduction of risk and transparency had easily shattered the harmonious and seemingly risk-free relationship between two main characters, Gan, a Terran boy, and T’Gatoi, Gan’s would-be Tlic mate. The untimely reveal of the risks in dealing with a partner had done a lot of harm to the trust between Gan and T’Gatoi, but it was better late than never. Both Gan and T’Gatoi, now with complete clarity of the situation and circumstances they are in, demonstrate remarkable effort and good faith in trying to repair the damage in their relationship. It begins with Gan who says “[i]f we [Terrans] are not your [the Tlics’] animals, if these are adult things, accept the risk. There is risk, Gatoi, in dealing with a partner” (Butler 26). This line resonates with the idea that there needs to be risk in a relationship for there to be real trust. 

The consequence of the risk-free trust between Gan and T’Gatoi was the sheer fragility of it. Gan, who had been ignorant to how his life may be at risk when he becomes an N’Tlic, had no qualms about hosting T’Gatoi’s eggs. Similarly, T’Gatoi never needed to have faith in the fact that Gan would never raise his family’s rifle against her and her children when she was unaware that Gan’s family had illegally kept a firearm. However, the absence of risk has taken a toll on their relationship when Gan is no longer blind to the reality of the N’Tlic birthing process and T’Gatoi was made aware of the illegal firearm that Gan’s family had kept. In the moment of truth, Gan and T’Gatoi had regarded one another with wariness, as they were both unaccustomed to the presence of risk within their relationship.

“Real” trust is the kind of trust that is built on the grounds of transparency and good faith. The real trust between partners would not break under pressure – in face of harsh truth and circumstances – but endure, compromise, and work together to overcome. This is something that the initial blind trust that Gan and T’Gatoi had in one another could not accomplish. The extent of the distrust that T’Gatoi has toward Gan is revealed when she had immediately assumed the worst when confronting Gan about his rifle. Her question to Gan, if “[he] mean[s] to use it to shoot [her]” (Butler 24), gives away her understandable fear and distrust of Gan. Her fear is understandable because she does not have unconditional trust in Gan’s good faith and character. Furthermore, her distrust of Gan is heightened when she notices Gan’s implicit biases against her and Tlics when he jumps “at the word ‘worms’” (Butler 25). She has no confidence in the fact that Gan would never shoot her, her future children, or her fellow Tlics. Their inexperience in dealing with risk, which reveals the implicit biases that Gan has toward T’Gatoi, is reminiscent of the prompt in To the Forums! 4 where students were asked to of apply their understanding of implicit bias to “Bloodchild”. Tlic grubs were “limbless and boneless […] blind and slimy with blood” (Butler 16), mindless and parasitic. “Worm” was the word that came to Gan’s mind as T’Gatoi delivers the Tlic grubs from N’Tlic Bram Lomas’ body. Seeing T’Gatoi’s excitement over the newly hatched Tlic grubs and lack of concern of Lomas’ pain, Gan becomes doubtful of T’Gatoi’s humanity. When Gan observes T’Gatoi as she “licked away [Lomas’] blood” he had wondered if “she like[d] the taste,” and if this was a childhood habit that lasts a Tlic’s entire lifetime (Butler 17). Implicit biases are at play when he equates T’Gatoi to a mindless, parasitic, inhumane worm. It is also the influence of implicit bias when he notes the smallest details that make T’Gatoi not-human such as her eyes, which, unlike human eyes, could not see the swell of Gan’s face in the dark (Butler 21). In sacrificing transparency to avoid taking risks, T’Gatoi had inadvertently made space for implicit biases and misconceptions to form in her relationship with Gan.

If real trust is trust that is based entirely on good faith and transparency, then how can we tell if a partner is acting in good faith or not? In some scenarios like when students of the INTD 105-04 course are given the privilege to self-assess and grade ourselves, the presence of risk acts as a test of character: it is what we do with this privilege that is reflective of who we are as a person. If a student assigns his or herself a grade that accurately evaluates the quality of his or her work, it would be a testament of the student’s good faith. If the grade does not match the quality of the student’s work, it would either be a testament of his or her bad faith, or an honest mistake in self-evaluation. Similarly, in “Bloodchild”, when T’Gatoi allows Gan to keep his rifle, whatever he chooses to do with the rifle is reflective of who he is as a person. If he continues to stay true to his words that he “wouldn’t have shot [T’Gatoi]” (Butler 29), then it is a sign of his good faith. However, if he abuses this privilege by raising it against T’Gatoi, her children, and/or the Tlics, it would prove his bad faith. Risk is, in a sense, the ultimate test of faith in all partnerships.  

Risk is not a tool reserved only for individuals, who give their partners a benefit of a doubt, as a means to evaluate them. The presence of risk can also bring about transparency in the self-reflection of said partner. Reflection, one of the learning outcomes of Geneseo Learning Outcome for Baccalaureate Education (GLOBE), is a crucial aspect of personal growth. When Gan’s decision is no longer influenced by his ignorance of risk that it will truly become his own; only then will it be an honest reflection of his character. When T’Gatoi gives Gan an ultimatum – either she implants her eggs in him, or she implants her eggs in his sister Xuan Hoa – there were many factors to reflect on before he could arrive at his final decision. Gan nearly pushes the position of N’Tlic onto Xuan Hoa, making her his shield, just like how his brother Qui used Gan as his shield. Upon further reflection, he questions himself if it would “be easier to know that red worms were growing in her flesh instead of” his own (Butler 26). Because he is not his brother, Qui, “who does not hold himself accountable for the safety of his family members” (as cited in Goal-setting essay), Gan makes a decision that is reflective of his selfless and caring nature: he chooses to become T’Gatoi’s N’Tlic so his sister does not have to.

It would seem that the benefit of risk in a partnership only appears when the relationship is strengthened when a partner demonstrates his or her good faith. What if the partner acted in bad faith? In a way, risk is a lot like the sensation of pain. In most cases, people would perceive pain as a negative thing – not many people would enjoy feeling it. That is not to say we could do without pain; in fact, pain is crucial to our health and safety because it alerts us if we are being harmed. The necessity of risk also stems from the way it alerts us and the people around us if we are being harmed. By revealing the harm that is taking place in a partnership, be it out of bad faith or of other reasons, steps can be taken in repairing a relationship. After all, you cannot fix a problem if said problem has not yet been identified. In To the Forums! 11 where the discussions had much to do with the harm and repair of the academic partnership between students and SUNY Geneseo, the college’s attendance policies were examined. The original attendance policies which penalized students for absences that couldn’t be helped did more harm than good to students under the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. To combat this, new attendance policies, which did not penalize students who could not show up for class for health-related (and other) reasons, were implemented for the duration of the pandemic. While these new policies come with the risk of students skipping class under the pretense of being ill, it also alerts the SUNY Geneseo Office of Provost of which students require outreach, counseling, or any other form of help. Similarly, in “Bloodchild”, Gan’s newfound awareness of the way the system of the Preserve harms Terrans by “protecting” them from witnessing the reality of N’Tlic birth, leads him to suggest a way to repair Tlic and Terran partnerships, should there ever come a day when the N’Tlic birthing process can no longer be shielded from Terran eyes. Rather than finding the “whole procedure wrong, alien” (Butler 17), Terrans would be mentally equipped to deal with seeing the process if they were shown from a young age and “shown more than once” (Butler 29). If harm could not be recognized without risk and reparations cannot be made if the source of harm is not identified, then the presence of risk is also necessary for any reparations to be made.

Throughout the INTD 105-04 course, the observation of Gan and T’Gatoi’s relationship in “Bloodchild”, the academic partnership between student and faculty at SUNY Geneseo as well as the one between students of INTD 105-04 and Professor McCoy, all attest to the fact that relationships that forgo risks also forgo the chance of forming real trust between all partners involved. Blind trust is by no means unconditional; it only appears to be strong for as long as the individual remains ignorant to the risks of the relationship that he or she is in – that is, if the individual’s partner is withholding or obscuring knowledge of certain risks that can potentially affect the dynamic of their relationship. Blind trust leaves all partners in a relationship vulnerable to the sudden exposure of risk and transparency. Like the way Gan struggles to deal with the sight of and N’Tlic giving birth to grubs, the individual would find him or herself struggling to accept the truth. The integrity of the individual’s partner would be questioned and doubted as well since neither partner could genuinely prove their good faith towards one another when they were involved in a risk-free relationship. In a relationship where trials and tribulations, understanding and making compromises, and the practice of transparency and self-reflection are not commonplace due to the absence of risk, are inexperienced in the act of repairing trust.  The reward of risk – that is, achieving real trust in a relationship or partnership – is an undeniably difficult journey, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Fragile as Gan and T’Gatoi’s trust in one another had been, they handled their fallout remarkably well in the end. How they managed to start repairing their relationship was a product of Gan’s transparent reflection of himself and his situation, and T’Gatoi’s acceptance of risk in their relationship.

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