Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Candied Ethics

For some reason, I was thinking of this on the drive home today from work:

I must have been about twelve yrs. old or so. Maybe in the 7th grade? I had just barely begun junior high school, and was still adjusting to the overwhelming experience of that trauma, after leaving the safe cocoon of elementary school. We had had a canned food drive in one of my classes for some cause; probably to feed needy people I suppose, and on a certain day we were to bring in our cans. Well, I had my cans set out the night before, after asking my mother if it was ok if I took some food, and what all exactly I could take. She put two cans in a bag on the kitchen counter, so that I could just grab them on my way out of the door to school the next morning. Morning came, and I rushed off to school, without the cans of food. I don't know if I'd even realized this, until I was sitting in that class, and our temporary interim teacher asked us all to come up to his desk and drop off our cans. Needless to say, I just stayed in my seat, with no cans to contribute. Afterward, one-by-one, on the basis of the rows in which we were sitting, each kid was called up and allowed to dip into a bowl full of candy and take a few pieces back to their seat. When my turn came, I of course dutifully went to the front of the room and took a share of the candy. When you're 12, you don't want to stand out, or seem different from the rest of the group; so it was not so much that I even wanted any candy, but rather that I did not wish to stand out or be singled out, and so I walked to the front of the room and took what I considered to be my share. I did this without any sense of shame at all or any consciousness that I'd done anything wrong. This would all be straightened out tomorrow, when I brought in the cans of vegetables that I had left on the kitchen counter that morning. No big deal. Or, so I thought. I was one of the “good” kids, who always did his work, and always did well. Always compliant, always complicit. Even the bad kids though, even the worst of kids, brought in cans of food for the needy on that day. But I didn't. I noticed that, and someone else had noticed it to. After everyone had got a go at the candy and was settled into their seats, the teacher asked for our attention, as he had something very important to tell us. There was someone in this room who had enjoyed in the partaking of the candy. This someone however, had not brought in any canned food for the food drive. Here, a lesson was to be taught. There are some people who take, who in a sense take from others, when they have done nothing to earn such a privilege. What kind of a person does this? You've not only wronged yourself, you've wronged everyone in this classroom. Come up here, and admit your wrong doing, and we can then end this situation. This all went on for quite some time, it seemed. If you don't come up here and admit what you've done, well it's a shame, it's a bloody crime against humanity....and I just guess that you'll have to live with yourself and what you are, and what you've done.

Well, I was having none of this. This may have been the first time in my life that I ever resisted authority, or had refused to obey an order, or felt a compulsion to not allow such a thing to happen. And I was a good kid. I obeyed my teachers, my parents. I did the right thing, all the time. People, older people, knew that about me. This teacher, a shaggy-haired recovering hippie-type with round Lennon glasses, probably a real feely-sensitive know-it-all, turned hard-ass, was going to teach me, in this inner-city school, about what I didn't know, about ethics, and right and wrong. And he was going to be tough about it, because these kids are all tough and they don't know between right-and-wrong, and the enlightened have to teach people like these and those around them, just basic right and wrong, so that they can know it, and then not forget it. I wasn't scared of this guy, and I was no longer scared of the situation that I'd gotten myself into, by my mistake. In fact, he disgusted me. All of the sudden, it was no longer me sitting there in that seat being berated by some do-gooder turned hard-ass fool, it was some other kid, some poor kid that couldn't stand up for himself, who was being beaten down and taken apart in front of everyone, by someone with all of the control, with complete control. Me though, I just sat there, as if above it in a way, and watched it all happen, with heels dug deep into the ground. And I knew at that moment, that I would never, never in my life, be complicit with such an act, such an act of the bullying use of power against the weak. No matter what he had, no matter what he did, no matter what he said; there would be no acknowledgment from me, never, in any way, whatsoever. Only resistance.

The next day, I brought in my cans of food and explained to the teacher that I had forgotten them on the previous morning. I can't remember exactly what was said, but the gist of it was that basically I knew that what I had done was wrong, and yes they'd take the food if it was still at all possible, although it was a real hardship for everyone involved since it was a day late, and that essentially I was a real sorry sonofabitch for trying skirt my way out from under all of this in such a manner.

Yeah?, well fuck you too. That's the day I became free.


Blogger Willowtree said...

Congratulations on the freedom! I think that was wholly irresponsible of that teacher, how in the world is that acceptable? Did they feel anyone was being helped? What if there was a child who would not have recieved freedom, but a jail sentence from being berated like that? Sometimes I wonder if they remember the damaging and potentially damaging things they have done.

5:16 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

I had a minor incident the other day involving the abuse of power by someone during my work day, and it took me back to that childhood incident. Just completely remove me from the picture though; it's just plain wrong that a teacher or authority figure would do that to any child, as I described what happened! What if that child could not afford to bring any food? Why would someone embarrass them in that way? That's what really made me mad; the shear wrongness of the whole thing. Freedom for me here meant that I'd broken those bonds which stated that authority always knows best, that why they're authority. Not always true I found.

My word verification for today is:

A little beach, a little alcohol; hmmm...doesn't sound too bad!!!

11:16 AM  

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