Back in primary school, I always looked forward to the morning assembly, with the evergreen SOP (Songs of Praise) — trust me, i hated it at first — and a recitation of nursery rhymes. Of all the rhymes back then, my favourite – and also the most puzzling was the Humpty Dumpty rhyme. Whenever it was being recited, I played back the scene of the king’s horsemen who could not put ‘Humpty Dumpty together again’; in my mind’s eye, it was like an action movie.
I had questions; why did Humpty fall? Why did he sit on the wall? Why were the king’s men not able to put him back together? Could horses put stuff together on their own? Why was he so broken? If he wasn’t glass — or an egg, why would he break in the first place? Questions I should not bother my little mind in the first place but they were questions nonetheless. Besides, I believed asking my dear teacher would make me look silly – talk about a seven-year-old with an ego.
Now, I look back on those days with a difference; with the realisation that Dumpty’s tragedy has some insights for us as human beings. When I remember the poor fellow, all that comes to mind is the human act of trying to play it safe; living like a neutral. This has come to be aptly described as the act of ‘sitting on the fence’.
A lot of things have gone wrong today because there is no definitive stance on critical issues affecting our lives. Awful things are happening, not because bad people have taken over, but because good people are now content to stand by and watch. We say exam malpractice is wrong but if our children are not well prepared to write exams, we simply enroll them in ‘special centres’. We decry bribery but if we are offered one, we rationalize under the premises that we did not ask for the bribe in the first place and still take it. Some even go far into the delusion as to see it as a tip or gift. The majority of people screaming blue murder about corruption now are living it out at a level that would make you shudder about what they’d do if they ever got involved in government.
The reality is that the most precarious position we can ever condemn ourselves to is the ‘middle ground’. How many times have you decided to be neutral on an issue or action only to end up finding yourself on the wrong side of the fence? You say that if you want to dine with the devil, you have to use a long spoon; in the end, you just might find yourself sharing chopsticks, so why dine with him at all? As far as I’m concerned, it is a sheer lack of principles.
The inability to define things or set a standard is what has led us where we are today. A politician that has rigged and maimed his way into power will come to church for thanksgiving and we will join in rejoicing with him, only to go home on pothole-ridden roads and complain about corruption. Sometimes, we act like this because we want to avoid the hate and jeers that come with being principled. The truth is that someone might still hate you anyway so why bother to please. Where do we really stand?
In life, most of the most important issues are on two extremes. Its either good or bad; life or death; heads or tails, etc. There is no middle ground, no buts. Try balancing a Kobo coin (I wonder where those things are now) and see if the slightest tremor won’t knock it to its side; place it on one side and the difference is clear. I’m not saying there is no room for neutrality in ‘some’ cases, there are tons of grey areas; such situations require a lot of wisdom to navigate them.Humpty fell because he sat on the wall; we fall at one point or the other because we love sitting on the fence. The fence looks safe, comfy; might even allow you to swing your legs and sing kumbaya a little bit, but it’s also dangerous and we fall hard when we make it a home. In fact, some of us really need that fall as a wake up call. Unlike Mr. Dumpty, we are not made of glass and we can put ourselves together – at least till a time when we get no second chances. Then, there will be no kings, no horsemen to try and put us back together. I know it’s cliché but if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. Let’s begin to call a spade a spade so the changes we seek in our lives and in our society will come sooner than later.