Eagle and Bad

It startled me—a phrase I happened to overhear in the schoolyard one time, while the children were playing. "I'm an eagle and bad." It was part of their game. Oh well, you tell yourself, kids play a lot of games and say a lot of things. But I remembered this one. I couldn't get it out of my head. It was a phrase that showed an ideal—an ideal version of what the child wanted to become.

An eagle is a predatory bird. It lives all by itself, isolated from the rest of the world, with its family-–t doesn't form groups. It grabs and kills other animals for its food. Some consider it to be the king of the birds, because it is larger than the others, and more cruel. So, if we apply that model to the human community, we can imagine a kind of person who is like the eagle, who lives alone or with a few others, who is not interested in anyone besides himself, who grabs whatever he wants from others. This is not the image of a community, but of a chaos, where everyone lives at war with everyone else. This is our ideal.
If you follow this model, you will live in isolation and hate everyone else. You will cause pain, and suffer pain. It is very likely that you will not survive, because any day you may meet another eagle, bigger and worse than yourself. And you will always be afraid--afraid to show anything but the egotistical, violent, destructive side of yourself to anyone. But it is a way of life. It reminds me of something I read in the book The House of the Dead, by Fiodor Dostoyevski. The book describes his experiences in the Russian prison system, in the nineteenth century. The convicts called their favorite director "an eagle and a friend." They called him that, because he did anything to relieve the misery they were in, but because he was not condescending. That was their ideal man.
A kid hears a lot of advice. It hears the other children in the yard who teach it games and manners. It hears the teachers at school, who teach it other things--grammar and mathematics, history (their history) and science. In school it learns other, more 'civilized' manners. What advice will it choose to follow? Of course, it will choose to follow the advice which seems better to describe the world in which it lives, which help it become successful in that world.
I feel trapped between two languages, the language of the streets and of the school yard, hard and cynical, and the language of the school, of the news, of official speeches of government minister, which is more optimistic but which sometimes seems to have lost contact with reality. They reflect two opposite views of the same world, and they have no point of contact because one language denies the other. Most people learn both. But in a society where everyone speaks two languages, there should be more discussion and analysis.

© Margaret Wesseling, 01-05-07