The Dark Side of Talent

There is one infallible and quick way to determine the language level of  non-native speakers, that is, detecting the way they more or less nonchalantly use bad words, but also their reaction when they become the object of that language too. Hence, when the most common Italian  swearword, for example, the one which begins with a “V…”  , to be clear, is translated into the equivalent in English which  begins with an “F…”,  well,“ its native hue of resolution is sickled o’er the pale cast of translation and loses the name of swearword” for an Italian. Of course, one understands the meaning, but somehow it is as if it were blunted in its effect.

So, when I accidentally came across an Instagram page with the name of my school preceded by that word which begins with the “F”, the options were just two: either the owner of the page wanted to soften the effect of the word, fearing the impact of the one with the “V” – and that would make this person an excellent English speaker – or simply, and more likely, only the poor knowledge of the language was the reason of  that choice, thus underestimating the inevitable consequences.

On that page there was also a sort of manifesto where the owner blabbed about the absolute necessity of changing the school system introducing new subjects  – those you don’t have to study, of course –  to replace the old ones, pleading also that this revolution should have been made with the teachers. One thing in particular really struck me: the core of those words was the necessity to speak and to be heard by adults, which could be a good thing but for the fact that the name of the page began with the word which begins with the “F” and the few pictures that had been posted represented all threatening people holding a gun.

Something had to be done. It was decided to give CSI Casalpalocco/Roma the charge of the investigation in order to quickly spot the rebel out of 1.300 students. Despite all the efforts, after weeks of inquests the crime division came up with nothing – actually, I have to say I was quite disappointed, as this Italian unit seemed to be much below the standards of the American ones. However, there is one thing I have learnt watching series, namely,  these kind of minds enjoy being tracked down just to demonstrate how smart they are in eluding any attempt to spot them , but in so doing they often make a mistake and this is what happened. Our rebel, in fact, yielded the temptation of sharing the shot of a note from the electronic register. Even if names were deleted, it was easy to identify the class, so, after some cross interrogations and a few threats we found our culprit.

Yet, I am sure that had the name of the page started with the “V” rather than with the “F” the fate of our “hero” would have been a tad more trying, as, after all, everything ended with no much fuss: the page was deleted, one day suspension and not much more than that, as far as I can remember. This was four months ago.

After a few  weeks, while I was examining some videos, 253 actually, of the students who were taking part in a challenge I had organized ( https://makeiteasychallenge.it/) which aimed at selecting the best candidates for the Breakthrough Junior Challenge, my attention was particularly drawn by one of them. The subject was not that challenging but that guy definitely knew how to nail the attention: he looked straight into the camera, relaxed, with a confident smirk, he definitely enjoyed what he was doing.

The video was extremely accurate, he had even subtitled it and that meant he had clearly in mind the effect images and words had to have on the viewers. He wanted to be heard and understood.  I had never seen him before, so I checked his name as it sounded, somehow, strangely familiar. I am sure you have clearly understood that it was our guy we are talking about. It could not be otherwise, in fact , I had not  noticed before, but even in that video there was the stamp of his rebellious nature, that sordid pleasure one must feel in daring break the rules, even for one second.

The second I am talking about is the one I resolved about censoring, as while talking about Dopamine effects, he had  thought necessary to mention and show  the name of a porn site. I  had not said anything to him, after all, it was just a second. “He’ll never notice it”, I was sure. Well, he did notice it. One day, in fact, he came to visit me, claiming his second back.  He did his best to explain his reasons. Apparently, without that precious second the balance of his work so meticulously achieved was lost forever. He was absolutely determined, and as he didn’t mean to listen to my reasons, so, I had to tell him that the price for having that second back was being out of the competition.

It was an effective argument, and you know why? Because he cared about it and a lot. He cared, and when he learned he was among the 25 finalists in the school, he soon shot the most amazing video demanding the vote of his mates, friends and relatives for the following step of the competition, showing a great deal of pride for his achievement. He cared, as when we eventually were in more friendly terms he helped me promote the final award ceremony. He cared, as in that ceremony I noticed he was definitely the most elegant among the finalists and eventually, no need to say, he won.

Few days after his victory in a video on TikTok he had made for other exciting plans he was pursuing, he mentioned these four crazy months of his young life . “We decide what we want to be” was the moral he had learned from this adventure and now he had decided that it was much more rewarding being constructive than destructive, that he could also be, nay, he was an “excellence” of this school and even more. Way to go, Gabriele!

21 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Talent

  1. Or, he could be cunningly plotting the destruction of all things once he’s in power. After all, charisma is the hallmark of many tyrants as good guys, and given the characteristics you describe, I’m not sure how to classify him.

    Hopefully, I’m wrong.

    And interesting about words and native versus non-native speakers. I would assume that’s only true for people not constantly exposed to or using their second language. For instance, at this point in time (and for a few decades now) I would say Italian has morphed into becoming my second language because of its frequency of use.

    • Your doubts are my doubts. I have been teaching for too long and I have seen so many “changes” in a way on the other to believe tha t with a magic wand – a brilliant victory in a competition – we may set everything right. He has been given awareness. We’ll see, what he can do with it in the future.

  2. Ah ha, you have a found my namesake on the far side of the world! How delightful.

    Seriously, great story, very clever detective work, and an entertaining play on the nuances of bad words. I enjoyed reading this. 🙂

  3. “No tree, it’s said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” Carl Jung
    First, happy to get something new from you, Bella Madonna. Second, as you surely know, we all have both sides; the best way is to understand the dark side and find the balance between them.

    • I have been truly overwhelmed by a lot of school stuff ( the organization of this competiotion included). Another school year like this and I quit. You are right , I just hope the awareness of being perfectly able to do things well, might help him achieve a long lasting balance. We have tried our best.
      Cheers, my friend.
      Stefy

  4. I know him!! 🙂 What an amazing story! I still can’t figure out how from being the last he became the first! And I think this is fantastic, He wanted to leave a mark I’m sure he’ll do well in the future.

  5. Pingback: Marvelous Storytelling! | See, there's this thing called biology...

  6. What a lovely story about learning to control your talent. (Maybe. And maybe for good.)

    It is a lot of work to be evil, and sucks up energy you might use for something more positive. I hope his awareness carries that little warning to him.

    In this day and age, the fact that you could identify him (must have been worth it, to put all that effort in), and then encourage him, might just work. You can be right – and obscure, or almost-right – and win. I never had that lesson. I guess I didn’t push the boundaries hard enough.

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