February 20, 2011

When To Fight And When To Take A Beating

The young man and his girlfriend had parted ways in acrimonious circumstances. It was always a mismatch, but the pressures of adolescence were such that the gulf between them was filled with the vile interpositions of their classmates, who voyeuristically saw the relationship as a kind of soap opera for which they might have a hand in the script.

Teenagers are cruel animals and, if left unchecked, will revel in the sight of another’s public suffering. This group had hungered to witness, and had therefore worked hard to orchestrate, the couple’s loss of innocence. The physical aspect of love is something that must come when all parties are good and ready, and certainly not at the behest of the salacious mob. The girl, being of an easily led disposition, caved to the peer pressure and made a demand of the young man, despite his protestations. She would be in an out-of-the-way spot at a certain time, but where the crowd would have a splendid vantage point. All duly assembled, but the young man did not attend. A posse of girls were sent to summon him, and to drag him there if necessary, but the young man was intractable. The mere suggestion was abhorrent to him, and he stood his ground. Then came the ultimatum: if he did not respond within five minutes, the relationship was over. And so it ended. The trysts and entanglements of young passions are ephemeral things, fiery and fraught, full of hormone-fuelled emotional difficulty. They are over quick, but linger long in the conscience. The young man had fought, however passively, the bestial urges of his cohort, and felt a pang at their lack of humanity. He had surrendered the girl to them as their willing champion. Pyrrhic victory was his, but it was hollow.

Then came the bitterness. An onslaught of insults and depredations poured in the direction of the young man, who had satisfied his principles but angered the mob. Egged on by their disappointment, the girl launched a volley of invectives that lasted for a week. The boy remained silent for as long as he could endure, but driven to breaking point his character gave way and he summoned the worst insult his soul could muster. The words were aimed not at the girl, but at her mother. They were cruel words, designed to crush. The name-calling of children is an unimaginative business, but the more intelligent youngster can devise words to pierce the heart. As they left his lips he knew he had lost the high ground. He had surrendered to the level of his peers. Whatever happened now, he realised he had defeated himself. The girl was demoralised and went away to charge her anger. There would be blood.

The next day the young man stood in line waiting for his turn to go into the school dining room. The girl approached, jaw set, fists clenched. The young man turned his back in shame and she punched, hard, like a boy, three times in the back of the head and neck. The young man took these blows and turned to face the girl. Hands by his side he looked her in the eye, and then she swung at his face, splitting his lip, and making a colourful show of it. He did not speak, nor react. Another boy led him away to be cleaned up.

Feeling rightly punished, but also recovering some of his sense of character and propriety, the young man knew that was an end to it all. The girl had lost any right to compassion, and also put herself out of the reckoning so far as other suitors were concerned. The young man had learnt a lesson. Pushed to an extreme, he had faltered, but then recovered. It is a common cliché that one must learn from one’s mistakes. Of course, the unsaid but essential element of this axiom is that one must make mistakes in order to learn.

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