Q. What’s With You Irish And All This Guilt Stuff?
A. I like guilt. And I think it gets a bad rap.
People who go around feeling not guilty, feeling comfortable with their place in the world, and believing that they’re worth it, well not only do they sicken me but they are not to be trusted.
Back at school in Dublin we had a head teacher to which those of us who regularly misbehaved were constantly sent for a few whacks of the leather, or maybe just detention if it was nice outside.
One day he came up to our class to rant. He was sick of kids complaining that they hadn’t done what they were getting punished for, and that it wasn’t fair.
-I don’t care, he compassionately put it. In fact, I know you didn’t do it, he added, puzzling us. But think of all the times you did do it and you didn’t get caught.
And we all instantly went quiet, and carried that guilt into manhood and thoughts of women. Well okay not all of us fell quiet; a couple of days later I was sent to him for two whacks from the leather because I’d been looking out the window at the rain or answered the teacher when I didn’t realize the question was rhetorical.
Anyway I thought it a good time to point out a weakness in our headteacher’s theory.
We’re kids, I began, going for the sympathy angle before the application of physical pain, and we’re supposed to be kids. He told me he didn’t care but I persevered. Just like Prisoners of War have a duty to attempt to escape, kids have an inbuilt responsibility to break the rules whilst attempting not to get caught.
Now I had his attention. When we are successful in not getting caught, we are successful at being kids, but when you punish us with total disregard for our success in not getting caught, because we probably did it anyway, you undermine childhood itself.
And then for the final Gandhi salvo, Imagine if we behaved ourselves all the time, you’d be hitting totally innocent kids.
-Are you totally innocent?
-Well no, but you don’t know that
-I do because you’ve just told me. Now give me your hand.
And he gave me my two whacks with the leather, and then another one that he said was for annoying him.