My mother had a wisdom about her. When given the formidable task of raising four boys, she needed it. With that experience, she could run Twitter.
I recall a stranger once called me 'young boy.' It wasn't my name, but I turned around anyway as I fit the description. I was with my mother and I had dropped something. What? I don't remember. Maybe it was a small stuffed toy monkey. The stranger, an old man walking behind, wanted me to know that.
I say 'recall' loosely. I was germinal, may have been four or five years old, walking and constantly dropping things- just to the age where memories start to stick. Now sixty-some years later, my recollections are like peering into a fogged mirror.
I picked up what I dropped and turned to rejoin my mother. She must have thought a kind gesture of a stranger be rewarded with a young boy's 'thank-you.' It was the proper thing to do- a teaching moment, if you will, of how acts of kindness should be acknowledged and appropriately noted. So I turned and looked up at the stranger to thank him- but seeing his face stopped me cold.
My "thank you" turned into the very first thing that came to my lips when I gazed up at this old man. I blurted, "You look like a monkey." In my defense, and God knows I would need it, he did look like a monkey. He had a thin white beard with pinkish cheeks that caved in a bit and dark yellowish eyes that were sharp and intense. His nose was kind of large and shaped like a ski slope. Perhaps he had some condition or was born that way but in no way was I suggesting he was ugly. To a four or five-year-old boy, a monkey is not ugly. Hairy and a bit unique? Yes. This old man was hairy, and his nose was… well.
Boys are beyond the range of anybody's sure understanding, at least when they are between the ages of 18 months and 90 years. James Thurber
To a young un-filtered boy, the connection between observation, brain, and mouth is nearly direct. And when telling someone that they look like a monkey intended no ill will, the whack to my hindside startled me. It was not because it hurt, but prior experience had taught me that a swat meant I had done something wrong- serious even. The look on my mother's face was the second clue. She was red from embarrassment turned to anger. That’s what young boys do- through our emerging tears, we read faces.
Later, when I too became a parent, I understood my mother's obvious embarrassment. I also came to understand that the cranial connection between humiliation and retribution is nearly direct. Each admonishment would slowly form a filtering system useful for mature living. But in this situation, I got some seriously mixed signals.
Despite having been told he looked like a monkey, the old man leaned back on his heels and laughed uproariously. He looked at me with his big nose and thin lips and gave me a warm, generous smile. He perhaps could relate to the unfiltered observations of young boys or, perhaps, he was no longer burdened by vanities grip. Or, he grew sympathetic to the tears welling up in a young boy having just been swatted.
The old man was not nearly as offended as my mother was embarrassed. She believed that telling someone they looked like a monkey was an insult so egregious, it demanded instant punishment. She’d rather I say things that would make her swell with pride or say nothing at all. Eventually, my indiscretions lead her to come up with a meme- ‘If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say it.’ I messed up. It would not be the last time.
I started by telling you of being called a 'young boy.' The old man knew that I was a young boy because my mother dressed me as one. She was in the room when I was born, naked I'm told, and saw the appendages necessary of a boy.
In the mid-50s, an ultrasound was thought to be sounds heard from deep in space or the rumblings emanating from grandma's lap while burping you. This may shock some but back in my mother’s day, she had to fully bake the baby, have it exit the oven before knowing if she was the mother of a girl or boy. No sneeky-peeky with something called an 'ultrasound.'
Young expectant mothers had to creatively devise other methods of divining the sex of the unborn that included dates, position, cravings, moods, the moon, and dreams. At best, it was maybe 50% accurate. And if superstition were to play a role, then by all means, publically wish for the opposite of what you privately wished for.
In my mother’s case, it was three boys in a row. Another boy followed leaving us just short of a basketball team. I have no first-hand knowledge, but my mother must have changed her technique to baby-making. Two girls would cap her career as a procreator.
Well, every little boy thinks he invented sin. Virtue we think we learn, because we are told about it. But sin is our own designing. John Steinbeck
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I started by telling you of calling someone a ‘monkey.’ Well, that’s not exactly what I said. What I said to the old man was ‘you look like a monkey.’ Subtle difference but never the less, it shamed my mother into embarrassment. Only recently did I consider the difference of telling someone they are a ‘monkey’ vs. that they ‘look like a monkey.’ I think it is possible that my mother would have been less embarrassed if I had called my brother a ‘monkey.’ It may have been easier for her to just consider the source- the silly immature banterings of a four-year-old. No swat but an insistence that I apologize.
Over the years, I, and perhaps you, have been called all sorts of things. Schoolyards are full of creative expressions of name-calling nastiness and ugly comparisons. Not willing to give up the evil pleasure of bullying on the schoolyard, Twitter became the new playground for many adults. With childlike behavior, one unfiltered insult after another is hurled back and forth with immunity. You’re only squelched if you run afoul of the acceptable ideological de’ jour of the day. My mother would not approve which got me thinking- what if my mother, or perhaps yours, ran Twitter?
If my mother ran Twitter, I believe she would instruct the programmers to add a ‘swat’ button right next to the ‘like’ button. You swear, or speak ill of someone, or offer an unfair comparison, or call someone a name, others could digitally ‘swat’ you. Each ‘swat’ you earned would bring up a picture of your mother on your screen with the meme ‘If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say it.’ It would occupy your screen until an algorithm would detect a sense of personal shame or the emergence of a tear. She’d think that all the filter necessary.
Mother would advocate for a ‘swat’ counter. That way, one could identify the naughty from the good boys and girls by the number of swats they got. But mother also believed in redemption. If an offender tweeted or retweeted a positive comment, a ‘swat’ would be removed. If they had the courage to tweet something positive about an ideological enemy, then the slate was cleaned.
Where she’d really tweak Twitter is removing the ability to pass on gossip.
Despite her proclivity to pass on a juicy tidbit now and then, mother knew the serious injustice of passing on information that was nothing more than hearsay or worse. The relaying of lies or distorted information, often magnified by many retweets, is terribly cruel to the subject of the tweet. She would instruct Twitter programmers to algorithmically exchange the names of the twitterer and the twitteree if a tweet is belittling someone by name. For example, if Trump tweets ‘only monkeys should be allowed to vote,’ the quote when retweeted would be ascribed to the retweeter. Ultimately, retweeting would collapse into a state of confusion. Who knows who said ‘monkeys are racists’ and ultimately, who’d care?
Eventually, heavy offenders of uncivilized discourse would grow weary of always being reminded that every time you tell someone to go ‘F…’ themselves, which is possibly Twitter's most used greeting, mother shows up to give you a swat.
Mothers unite! We need your instincts.
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. For They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. From Proverbs 1
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