Saturday, January 23, 2010

Clothed in earnestness

“People who are too earnest bug me,” wrote an acquaintance on her Facebook wall. This is one of those statements that make your brain do a double-take. Earnestness is a garment we cover ourselves with as soon as we leave our homes – without it we would be naked, is what I replied. I like being naked, she said.

It’s a fact. Everyone you meet is so overwhelmingly earnest. I am as earnest as the best of them. My daughter, a ruthless observer of my every move, tells me that when I meet people my eyebrows seem permanently stuck way up on my forehead. That’s the sign of earnestness, raised eyebrows and wide open eyes. I do it; you do it; we all do it. And once you are aware of it, it will never cease to amuse you.

I love listening in on conversations. Here, allow me point out that there is a difference between listening-in and eavesdropping. An eavesdropper seeking entertainment and hot gossip will hide and listen to two people who think they are being discreet. A listener is someone who listens openly to two or more people talking in audible voices in public places.

It never fails to entertain. Take any civil conversation between two acquaintances or strangers. Both seek to impress the other with the uprightness of their character, the breadth of each one’s mind and the purity of each one’s heart. They form a bubble of goodness fed with more and more froth as they pontificate on their personal soap boxes.

The thing is, being in the newspaper line, one hears awful stories about people. One is aware of the king-sized warts underneath that garment of earnestness. The thicker the garment of earnestness - the bigger the warts.

Goa is a very small place and everyone knows everyone else. You see someone retired from the health department who made a fortune stealing microscopes and selling them, standing up at a public meeting and denouncing the corruption of our elected reps and bureaucrats. Someone else jumped up to do his bit of denouncing and you remember that he was under investigation for embezzling funds from the bank he worked at. You see many people around the two loud upright citizens, smirking just like you, and you know that a number of other people are aware of the comedy of the moment.

I am considering shedding the earnestness. What would happen I wonder if I went out and told the people I met that I was a liar and a cheat and that given half a chance would sell my grandmother down the river? I don’t have a grandmother, but you get the general idea ...? Just think of the situation we would find ourselves in if we told the truth. It would make for truly riveting conversation. Especially since telling the truth about ourselves would be received enthusiastically by the other person.

An even more interesting situation would be this: what would happen if we told the people we met that they were liars and cheats and that given half a chance would sell their grandmothers down the river?

I tell you solemnly, there would be civil war.

Thanks to my Facebook pal who must have had it till her raised eyebrows with earnest people unburdening their souls to her, I cannot help smiling when I listen to earnestness. Especially when it comes from the biggest blackguards in the state. The smile makes the earnest one bloom and then the earnestness is cranked up to really lay it on thick. It is all one can do to stop from laughing out loud. As entertainment goes, this is ranked pretty high on a scale of one to 10.

We all have feet of clay, which is why poor old Tiger Woods has to hide in the undergrowth. His garment of earnestness that he cultivated so well for so long, hid his feet of clay and when he crashed down, it disappeared when the knives of the moral brigade came out. Like I said, we all have feet of clay and given the same circumstances, who’s to say we would not go and do the exact same thing that this ace golfer, rich beyond belief, did.

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