“The Best of Our Breed”

This year I have a brand  new class, let’s call it….5(I)D. It is the conclusive year, so when you take a class at this stage, it is like adopting a full grown up child: the room for action is quite thin. Nonetheless, I could not resist the allure of 5(I)D as soon as I learnt about its existence. Why? Well, because it is a small group, very small, a selected one, apparently. Hence, I did whatever it was in my power to come into possession of this rare gem. The reviews about the 5(I)D were not that inviting, actually, but rather ” bizarre” I would say, and, strange indeed, there was not a single voice to controvert them. Yet, I was not in the least intimidated, after all, for someone like myself who has had the fortune of working in both the best and the worst school in Rome and nearby, how could these young scoundrels be of any problem? So, even when fate seemed to have taken a different turn, as I was informed that the principal had planned to direct me to another class, I headed straight to her office and said decidedly : I WANT THE 5(I)D. And so, I had it. 

Well, I couldn’t believe my eyes, when I first saw them – we are talking about adolescents of 18/19 years old – as before me there was displayed the most incredible bunch of weirdos grouped all together as I had never seen before. Apparently,  they didn’t – and don’t – seem to respond to the norms of proper behaviour to be followed in class, or better, they do respond, till their basic needs come pressing such as: watching or even answering the cell phone ( “May I? You know, it’s really important”), eating ( “God, I was starving”), talking  loud ( “But , we were just discussing about what you’ve just said) , sleeping ( at least they are silent) , fixing makeup and…. having breakfast .

This is a typical scene at around 8:20 a.m.:

Curly boy : “Excuse me, Mrs Tink!”

Mrs Tink : ( while explaining and deluding herself into having caught his attention), “Do you have a question?”

Curly boy: “Yes, may I go to the bar? I haven’t had my breakfast yet and I’ m not feeling that well”.

Mrs Tink : “Of course”.

Yes, I say ” of course ” , which is of a caustic, sarcastic sort ( in the hope they will understand one day), of course you can go and have breakfast, of course you can a bite to your sandwich or fix your makeup along many other things while I am teaching a class. Of course. After all, do you think I should still explain what is right and what is wrong at their age, or sanction them? No way. All things considered, I never sense their way of behaving as a form of opposition, this is just what they are. If I may say so, this is a class where the “EGO” fails in balancing the urges of the “ID ”  and  the impositions of the ” SUPEREGO”.

So, when it was time to introduce  them to Freud’s tripartite theory of mind and apply it to the characters of Wuthering Heights, I decided to go just a little out of the box to catch their attention, thus using one of my tricks. 

On that occasion , I theatrically took my wallet out my bag and picked  a 50 euro note. I placed the note on the desk and I addressed them with the following words:

Mrs Tink:”Let’s figure that this note has slipped out of my bag. You know it is mine. You are alone; nobody can see you; I could never spot  you.  No cameras, no witnesses. Well, would you keep that note or would you return it to me?”

Curly boy : ( with no hesitation) “I would keep it! No doubt.

Ginger girl: “Well, it depends!”

Mrs Tink: “On what?”

Ginger girl:  “Well, it depends on whether I like you or not!”

Mrs Tink: “And…. do I meet you approval? “

Ginger girl (blushes, mutters something indistinguishable I can’t understand, but I feel I’d better not investigate further).

Curly boy: (while trying to convince the others) “I would keep it, if she can’t spot me, I would keep it.”

Mrs Tink: “All right, let’s say, and I want to include myself in this, that we all would share the instinct of keeping that note for ourselves, so, what would prevent us from doing it? As I am truly confident that eventually you would hand it back to me.”

Curly boy: ” I would not!”

Hooded boy: ( reawakening from his torpor) “C’mon! If you knew to whom it belongs, you’d hand it back!

Mrs Tink: “So let’s say that either a moral imperative, Kant’ s moral law, might press you to give me back my note, or simply fear, the fear of being caught, as somebody might have seen you and report it to me. This would not be a crime, to be sure, but if I knew it, I would eventually  see the “culprit” with different eyes, wouldn’t I? So, this is how the superego works.”

Curly boy ( decidedly): “I would keep it, no way!”

Well, at least I had gained their attention. Eventually the bell rang, I put my 50 euros note back in my wallet and while I was heading to another class, I realized that I had left on the desk something more precious than money, that is, my packet of paprika flavoured crisps. I turned back, but I saw one guy running towards me holding my packet. He handed it to me smiling: ” You see? The superego is at work!!!” 

P.S. When I said I would have produced an article about them, they seemed to be very pleased about it and one went: ” I am surprised, it took you so long to write something about us” . I guess I’ll have material enough this year to develop a series.


A New Sense of Freedom

You cannot imagine our surprise when a couple of weeks ago, we Italians were complimented by WHO for our approach to stem Covid-19 outbreak. It was, you know, something between being pleased and amazed at the same time, as we are not used to such kind of praises, expecially when the efficiency of our organizational model is the subject of the matter.

Our surprise turned into a shock, when we read that English Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that his country had a worse COVID-19 rate than Italy and Germany because it is a “freedom-loving country.” Freedom, this is the point. What kind freedom was he taking about? If he meant the freedom of ignoring rules, from a historical point of view we are the champions, as we may say that Italy has mostly behaved since the fall of the Roman empire as the Becky Sharp of the continent, always striving to earn a place in good European society anyhow. Or maybe he was hinting at the bloody dictatorships of the previous century, which have made obedience part of our cultural heritage. By the ways, we follow rules? Please, Sir. You must be joking.

We Italians also love freedom, but we also care about seriousness,” was the patriotic reply of our President Mattarella. Maybe he is right, after all, it has always been national sport to underestimate our “virtues”. It comes so natural. Indeed, if you asked me how we actually managed so well in this Covid matter, my first answer would be luck rather than wisdom or seriousness. Yet, I can say by daily experience that the majority of the Italians now are no longer willing to keep up with their “virtuous” behaviour, as it has recently become for many an umbearable burden, like a heavy chain that must be broken to be released from the actual state of servitute, they say. Becky Sharp wants to be free again.

Day by day I see more and more people, friends, collegues contaminated by the new “liberty denied virus”.  They don’t see themselves as negationists, of course, but rather, “libertatis vindices“, for whom social distancing is one of the ways the state controls citizens and masks are like burqas. Others claim news should break in a less scary way, softly, so that we are not afraid to go restaurants, bars, theatres etc.,  as the economy the country, rather than people’s health, has to be preserved. Of course, those who follow the rules like me are the slaves, born to be so.

Well, my dear fellows, friends, collegues, it is about time to say that your strife for all those lost liberties due to the pandemic is not guided by the love for freedom, but rather, ignorance. I don’t need a law decree to do what is right for me and the people I interact with, because of that “moral law within me”. I am free. But you are not. Since you cannot discern between what is necessary and what is not, you need somebody to take decisions for you, which, of course, are childishly interpreted as liberties denied.

So while you keep complaining, I keep the distance, wash my hands and wear my mask, which is the symbol of my free choice to stay safe as long as I can and my detachement from the rest of this foolish world, whose inhabitants look like Yahoos to me day after day.

I began last week to permit my wife to sit at dinner with me, at the farthest end of a long table; and to answer (but with the utmost brevity) the few questions I asked her. Yet, the smell of a Yahoo continuing very offensive, I always keep my nose well stopped with rue, lavender, or tobacco leaves. And, although it be hard for a man late in life to re-move old habits, I am not altogether out of hopes, in some time, to suffer a neighbour Yahoo in my company, without the apprehensions I am yet under of his teeth or his claws.(Gulliver’s Travels. Jonathan Swift)😏