Saturday, November 23, 2013

Provoking Pictures



One is not always honourable. A single picture can provoke much in memory. And memories are not always good. Aside from the unfairness of advertising, the objectification and belittling of women, the crumple zones of impact upon a populace at large, there are the individual impacts we each perpetrate in the immaturity of our considerations as we evolve toward adulthood, and even then, as adults, we do not necessarily continue with clarity, with truth, with honesty, with ethics, with integrity. We are befuddled. And yes, I speak of more than crumpling a VW's fender. "Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things," is the advert's opener.

Much can be made of excuses. When a culture is predominantly brutal it teaches children to lie. It is easier to get away with things than to own up. Honesty is squelched in the face of fear or unfair reprisals, harsh consequences, and inordinate accountability. Especially in South Africa, where I grew up; one learned to keep secrets. Parents, church, school, peers, colleagues, the boarding school, the army, and even society maintained a sense of shaming way beyond the moment. To own up was to be punished, yes, but to be punished severely, caned, whipped, vilified, and traduced for the rest of one's life. (An uncle of mine who committed a childhood indiscretion was never allowed to forget it; every little cousin was reminded of how they did not want to be like Uncle X.) In boarding school one could get an unsavoury nick-name from being caught at something untoward, and in the army, the whole troop might pay for a foul-up by a single unfortunate. So one learned never to rat on anyone else, never to own up to the mistakes made, unless self-evident, and never to disclose vulnerability, softness, emotional honesty, or any of the misadventures of the exploring nature of youth. In Africa there remains many secrets in the sunsets of yesterdays. And there are indelicacies even here being perpetuated. Why, over here, Mr X or Ms Y will not ever be told what we really think of them, will they? Even now.

But, with reference to the picture of that VW Bug, seen above, I speak of the crumple zones in my youth. I have often felt guilty for the lies I told. And especially with that bug, I wonder that I was not hauled up for retribution, for accountability, for repayment, especially in the face of the fact that no one else could have damaged the car except me. But fear drove my response.

Mevrou F.J. Human was our Afrikaans language teacher. She was possibly 35, or even 40, which was old to me, and I was in my last year. I had just got my licence, and there was possibly only a month of school left. And on this day, for whatever reason, she acceded to my borrowing her car to go and see my mother in the hospital (which may have been my story.) I recall driving her VW to my friend's house, and then, Wally not being there, my turning the car around in his stone-walled driveway, and my hearing that unmistakeable scraping sound as the distant front fender buckled. But I returned the car and said nothing. I recall (now more than 40 years later) her asking me the next day or so if it was me who banged up her car. In my mind’s eye I can still feel my heart pounding, "Not me!" After all, I recall that her car was pretty old and the dent not that bad. Also, I had no money, no resources, no one I could rely on to bail me out financially, and I certainly was afraid she'd send me to the headmaster or some such authority. Fear does horrid things to ethical considerations. Fear fabricates. Fear cripples. Fear crumples integrity. Yet then again, perhaps I did `fess up?

That guilt of my instinctual inability to admit my culpability remains with me; resurrects. Even if I did tell the truth, I recall the fear so vividly that it colours my memory with shame, guilt, and my self-preservation. Then too, by our possible over-reactions to others' confession, do we as individuals or a society continue however inadvertently teaching children and others to lie? Fear is an awful master. And fear is not easily fixable. Yes?

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