No one can make you feel inferior without your permission. Eleanor Roosevelt
Humility and humiliation are two different things, although the latter may lead to the former. However its not a path I advocate for achieving humility. My life philosophy is about building self esteem, not destroying it. And yet this seems to be the formula of many television shows. There are winners and losers; winners are lauded and losers are humiliated. A finger sign has even been conceived to denote ‘loser’. From weight loss to talent quests, humiliation is integral to the shows’ formats. What is most alarming is the acceptance of humiliation as entertainment. It could be argued that laughing at someone fall over has been done since time immemorial. However, this is a comedy genre called slapstick, as old as the hills and relatively harmless in itself. It was supposed to be funny and certain actors were known for their skill at making people laugh with their fall over routines. However, the plague of mortification melodramas inflicting television screens today, although containing elements of slapstick, are not benign entertainment. We are watching real people, not actors, publicly trying to achieve ‘success’ through self-abasement. They are subject to abuse and bullying by show judges, leaders or other contestants. Group humiliation has always found a home in cults and interrogation rooms, and now we can vicariously experience it in our lounge rooms. With interactive television, viewers are also seduced into being part of the whole shebang by voting for their winners, buying the array of advertising products connected with the shows and modelling on the show contestants. While many people work on promoting non-violence and anti-bullying programmes in schools and workplaces, these shows are simultaneously promulgating attitudes that allow bullying to thrive. We return to winners and losers. The word ‘loser’ has only been in currency as a denigrative term for the last decade. It is a common bullying insult perpetrated by both adults and children. A word popularised by the mortification melodramas. There is no place for contrived humiliation in my life and my vocabulary does not include ‘loser’. This doesn’t mean that I don’t seek humility or have desires. I am just aware of how my words and actions affect others… because they do. As individuals, we all affect others with what we say and do, to a greater or lesser degree. When we join with others and project a group attitude, idea or action, the consequence can be very powerful and persuasive. We must ensure that Humility not humiliation is at the heart of our desires.
Growing up on a sheep farm allowed me a few insights into the life and times of a sheep. The following story written many years ago could be described as my sheepish attempt at a contemporary fable.
There was once a sheep who wasn’t stupid. While his woolly companions wiled away their days grazing, or walking in single file around the dam, Harold contemplated the meaning of life. He spent hours deciphering complex, mathematical equations, pondering the theory of relativity and coming to terms with quantum physics. Having solved most of the world’s problems through comparative studies of philosophy, religion and science, the question still stumped him… Why are we here?
The farmer’s whistle and sheepdog’s accompanying bark rudely interrupted his meditative pose. Harold was jostled and pushed into the herd of woolly companions. They were being rounded up and taken to The Shed. Harold knew therein lay the key to the mystery.
After a rough pedicure and cut, Harold endured a humiliating exit; a shove down a narrow chute into a small and exceedingly cramped yard. Harold searched for an escape. A loose railing offered an opportunity. He squeezed his body through, and found himself in another yard. It was larger than the first, but if he stuck his head through the end rails he could peer up through the cracks in the slats of The Shed floor. Harold placed his eye to a gap and surveyed the area above him. What he beheld chilled his bone marrow. The carcass of a woolly companion was being hacked to pieces by a razor sharp blade. The farmer committing this dreadful deed sang in time to the cleaver’s thump.
Neck chops, chump chops,
cutlets, flaps and shanks,
A nice bit o’ mutton
on the dinner plate thanks.
Harold averted his eyes. But the sickening melody and the accompanying rhythmic thud continued to pound in his ears. Alas the disenchantment of enlightenment. Knowledge such as this did not deliver the soul…it burdened the heart.
That night he gathered together the flock of woolly companions. Underneath the twinkling stars he revealed the terrible truth of his discovery. After he spoke, there was an uneasy silence. One of the older rams broke it with a sneering bleat.
‘We’ve all been to The Shed and come back alive and unharmed haven’t we?’ he asked.
There was a chorus of assent and much head nodding.
‘What about those that don’t come back?’ countered Harold. ‘What happened to our fathers?’
A confused mutter spread through the assembly, and they turned to the ram.
‘We know our fathers went to greener pastures,’ he said, ‘where they live in eternal good health.’
‘Yes, that’s right,’ the flock agreed, comforted in the belief that a better life awaited them all.
‘To think any differently requires imagination,’ stated the ram, staring at Harold.
‘It is true,’ said Harold, ‘the process of thinking often requires the act of imagination. Why Einstein himself said that imagination was more important than knowledge and he was-‘
‘A fool,’ said the ram, ‘imagination is a dangerous thing for a sheep to have.’
‘Yes. Yes,’ the woolly companions chanted together, ‘can’t imagine it any other way.’
Harold turned his back and shaking his head, walked the track less travelled, to the farthest end of the paddock. The taunts and jeers of the woolly companions echoing in his ears. But he would not suffer the ignominy of death for a dinner plate. No! From this moment on, Harold would be master of his own destiny. Not a lamb following blindly to the slaughter. Tomorrow he would escape.
The next day Harold woke early and began his journey to freedom. He set off toward the rising sun, until he came to a fence. All that day, he followed the fence line, but found it impossible to get over, under or through it. Realising that a paddock is only a large, gilded cage, plunged him into a bout of depression… Harold wept.
The day after, Harold awoke at dawn and meditated on the sunrise. When he opened his eyes he saw a crow fly overhead and perch in the Manna Gum at the end of the paddock. An evil portent? As he ruminated, Harold recalled the Buddhist maxim; your enemy is a better teacher than your friend. The crow had shown him the way. It was up to Harold to pursue it.
He ran to the tree and when he reached it, lay at the foot of the trunk and prayed. Then waving farewell to the woolly companions, he began the long ascent. Harold hauled himself up onto the lowest limb, and spelled himself. From here he could see the wide blue yonder. It touched his deepest yearnings. Ever so slowly he inched his way out along the branch, until he came to the edge. For a moment, he paused and reflected on his life. Raising his eyes to the clouds drifting above, Harold took a deep breath… and jumped. For one split second he flew. Then plummeted to his death on the ground.
It was some time later the farmer discovered Harold’s body.
‘Life’s a mystery alright,’ he said, shaking his head in dismay. ‘And the missus was counting on those fleeces. Of all the rams to up and die on me it had to be the black one.’