Can I Change You Or Should You Change Me?

The recent Wall Street protests remind me of an old Mullah Nasruddin joke. Nasruddin is a semi-mythical Middle Eastern figure, who is often portrayed as a “wise fool” in the anecdotes.

One day a rich man is drowning in a lake close to the shore. A number of bystanders shout to the rich man in an attempt to save him. “Give us your hand!” The rich man continues to thrash in the water.  Nasruddin sees the situation and steps forward. “Take my hand, “ he shouts. The rich man immediately grabs the Mullah’s hand and is thereby saved.

“When you are with the rich, you have to know how to talk to them: say ‘take’, not give—even if their lives are on the line.”

When you look at any of the rhetoric by the Republican Party or by associations of bankers or the incredibly rich, all you have to know is that whatever is proposed under whatever apparent form of necessity or set of ideals, more money will be taken from us and end up in the pockets of those who already have a lot.  And that when all is said and done, there will be a few people smoking cigars.

On the other hand, the impossible has happened in recent history: consider the effect of the Anti-War movement, Civil Rights movement, Consumer Rights movement all in the 60s and 70s. Or the fall of the Iron Curtain after mass protests in the 1980s. Maybe the Arab Spring movement will also lead to democracy in the Middle East.

What’s against it? The Past and all the ideas we have about what’s ours.  Forget about our rights and your rights and their rights: instead believe that everyone has the same rights. Imagine one large round table around which all humanity sits. Everyone, rich or poor, stupid or brilliant, shares the same right to food, shelter, clothing, education, health care, basic communications—whatever their religious or political affiliations. If people can afford baubles beyond that, let them have baubles for cash.

Ridiculous! That’s not how things are done! Secure peace at the end of a gun! I wonder: would that work on an individual basis? Could someone secure your peaceful cooperation with the threat of a punch to the face or worse?

No plans will work with our present way of thinking of how life must be lived. A second story illustrates the problem: a rich man and a poor man are always arguing about money. The rich man thinks the poor man is irresponsible in the way he allocates his cash.

“How much do you spend on food?” the rich man patiently asks the poor man.

“ I spend half my money on food,” the poor man answers.

“ Well, there’s your problem,” the rich man declares triumphantly. “I spend only 2% of my money on food.”

There will be no solutions to poverty, greed, or war because there is no understanding.

Well, enough of this. In future posts, I want to get back to my initial idea, which was more narrative-based.

Let me begin now with some personal history, in this case, how a specific fear has followed me around for years. When I was a kid, I was scared that I was stupid, and so I devised various tricks to get through school and through life. I managed very early on (from the age of 5 or so) to convince some people that I was bright, and so I did well in my studies. I just felt that I’d managed to fool others.  I was a secret moron.

For example, I had a very hard time distinguishing between my right and left hands. That kind of distinction was one of the ways people measured basic intelligence.  Knowing this, at the age of six I tied a string around my right wrist. So, I never got that question wrong.

Years later, I was praised in some of my university courses in Montreal. “Brilliant.” Or “Are you a genius?” That led to consternation. Were those comments a set-up? Would I now be exposed?

Many years later, and I was living in Vancouver. A sweet-natured four-year old boy lived on the same street as I did. Quite often, when I came home from work, he was playing outside. He was excited to see me, and he loved greeting people. For some reason, he had a hard time with my name, Ramon.

“Hi, Moron. Hey, Moron’s home.”

“Hello, Kyle, how are you?”

“I’m okay, Moron. I have a new seat on my bike.”

“That’s great. Can we keep our voices down? We don’t have to shout, do we?”

“Why’s that, Moron?”

He had a huge appetite for conversation, and for repeating my name.  But I didn’t have the heart to correct him. At least, not after the first two times.

I wonder what’s happened to Kyle. I hope he’s been able to keep his nature for all to see.


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