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The Jaws Of Life

There is a part of human beings that is still somewhat primitive. Every time I see a dental X-ray, and really examine those fangs and molars, some element in me envisions eating raw meat and ripping fruit from a tree with the passion of an untamed beast.

Our interactions can be pretty “earthy” too. Consider two men wearing suits, supposedly civilized, sitting at lunch talking and sipping beers, when one says something awful about the other’s family. In no time at all, a knock-down, drag-out fight erupts. One of them jumps over the table, beer goes flying, and the two wrestle to the floor. This type of behavior happens all of the time, even with spectators at sporting events.

Consider boxing matches in Las Vegas. Limos chauffer attendees dressed in tuxes and gowns to the arena to watch two guys slug each other until one can’t get up any more. There’s blood and violence, and we humans cheer it on. Yet we look at old films depicting people wearing flowing robes arriving at the Roman Coliseum in chariots to watch the gladiators, and we say, “Oh, those people were uncivilized barbarians to watch those warriors.” How far have we really come?

Culture Clash

One Sunday last summer, my family and I arrived at our usual picnic shelter in the park a little late, and a group of people were already there, so we set up a few yards away at another set of tables.

Throughout the day, their voices and their antics traveled over to us. The majority of them were foreign to American ways, and as they played dominoes and card games, every loss was met with angry outbursts, a few of which tumbled onto the lawn as the men took swings at each other. Yet they seemed completely happy and comfortable with each other; smiling and laughing. Clearly, they were perceived as a less-civilized group, but also simply a different culture.

Have you ever seen the video clips of the Asian stock market? Those workers are throwing fists left and right while people are wailing, toppling over tables, crying and screaming--all of this over gains and losses in the market! I’d like to see their annual job-performance review.

Some of you may remember the years of dorm life in college that were like a Lord of the Flies mini-camp. In that crude, chauvinistic, hedonistic water park of immorality, young men strove to be more primeval than the others. The biggest slob was often the most revered. “Eddie drank 20 beers last night and woke up on the Dean’s front porch. He is awesome!”

Living A Lie

So, if I’ve established that these negative traits lie within our nature, and as we mature, our outward performance of daily functions is intended to mask these tendencies, is it fair to say we spend most of our days living a lie? When someone says, “Be honest,” can we be true to our real feelings and express them, or are we trained to cover them up?

In the animal world, however, there is no such deception. Animals are blatantly “themselves.” What I’ve seen some of the chimps and gorillas at the zoo do in front of my family definitely constitutes a lack of discretion. I recall more than once thinking, “OK, leave it alone now, Mookie, no wonder the thing is red!”

The liberties that the simian males take with their ladies in front of an average Saturday audience is also indiscreet, but they are just being themselves, true to their nature. They seem to be saying, “You want to watch, that’s your problem, you Peeping Tom.”

Barbaric Or Justified

But, unlike the animal world, our American/human culture is supposed to be concerned more about appearance, fairness and individual liberties that allow everyone to do “their own thing.”

However, this is to be done within the bounds of good taste (although what constitutes taste is waning on many fronts). Other cultures are more concerned with the good of the group than that of the individual. They are more respectful of their ancestry and preserving their heritage, whereas Americans may be aware of their honorable past, but tend to “live in the minute,” while looking forward to the next entertainment.

We do accept that social mores and values change over time. More ancient cultures defend their original ways to the bitter end, and view any infraction regarding a challenge to that heritage as a punishable offense.

A good example of this type of “cultural collision” occurred in 1994 in Singapore. An American, Michael Fay, was living there with his mother. He was convicted of vandalism and sentenced to the normal punishment for such an offense, “caning,” a grand version of American “swatting,” but in this version the punished one usually faints before the lashings are completed.

The lashings are given by a martial-arts expert trained to raise welts and draw blood from the offender.

Fay’s mother appealed to the American government to have him excused from this punishment on the grounds he was not a citizen of Singapore. President Bill Clinton then requested that the Singapore officials release Fay to the United States where he would be punished under American laws.

Although Clinton was able to get the lashings reduced to four, the Singapore government had no intention of letting Fay off the hook. The debate touched off an international controversy, but Fay received his swats and emerged from his punishment sore and solemn. Singapore made its point. “Don’t come here and expect to get away with that stuff. Now you’ll remember.”

Some Americans said, “Why make such a big deal over a little vandalism” while others responded, “We should import that caning tradition here in the states to discourage any type of juvenile crime.”

Most Americans, however, seemed to feel the punishment was brutal and unnecessary, too primeval for the American way.

It may be difficult to believe that, with the number of liberties most Americans take advantage of these days there still remains a sense of civility that overrules the temptation for unabashed self-expression. This negative concept may be lying dormant, but good taste, chivalry and discretion remain the traits of the honorable and respected.

Hopefully, these elements will keep the primal man at bay for the foreseeable future.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.

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