I read something some time ago by a man who had spent World War II in a German concentration camp. This man and his fellow prisoners tried both to save their lives and their human dignity, and to resist the demands of their. To do this, they adopted an air of amiable dull wittedness, of smiling foolishness, of cooperative and willing incompetence. Told to do something, they listened attentively and nodded their heads eagerly. Then they asked questions that showed they had not understood a word of what had been said. As far as possible they did the opposite of what they had been told to do.If they did do something, they would do it as badly as possible. They realized that this would not stop the war or even the administration of the camp. However, it gave them a way of preserving a small part of their integrity in a hopeless situation.
Does this not happen often in school? Children are prisoners. School for them is a kind of jail. Do they not, to some extent, escape and frustrate the relentless pressure of their elders by withdrawing the most intelligent and creative parts of their minds from the scene? Is this not at least a partial explanation of the extraordinary stupidity that otherwise bright children so often show in school? The stubborn and dogged "I don't get it" with which they meet the instruction and explanations of their teachers—may it not be a statement ofas well as one of panic and flight?
"I don't believe you," said Guy to his friend, who was telling him an incredible story about himself.
"Why? Have you never heard of these things?" replied Jimmy, who loved to pull people's legs.
"How could you expect me to believe that?" said Guy heatedly, "I'm not a fool you know."
"Well, let's forget it and find a place to sit down."
Guy was ready to forget what Jimmy had told him but was not ready to forgive him for the insult of thinking that he was stupid, or that he was easily fooled.
Jimmy knew very well that he might have hurt Guy's feelings and his pride, but his sense of humor was such that he continued as if his story was true and he was prepared to stand by it, pretending he thought whoever would not believe it was a fool. In fact, Jimmy's apparent pity for the poor fellow beside him infuriated Guy who wanted to hold Jimmy responsible. The more Jimmy seemed to sneer, the more Guy became upset and unable to find the right words to say.
So Jimmy said, "Do you see that path over there? It must lead to a picnicking spot near the river. Let's go there and rest for a bit. When we finish our sandwiches, I'll tell you another story like the one you are still thinking about."
Guy could not control himself any longer. "I am not thinking of your story. . . I don't want you to tell me another one. . . I think you are vulgar and inconsiderate. . . that you tell lies to show off. . . that you . . ." Guy turned around and strode quickly away from Jimmy who, though pleased with the effect on his friend, was sorry to be left to eat his lunch by himself.
He watched Guy disappear around a bend some distance away and said to himself, "How can mere words have such power to make people angry and unhappy?"
So many gods, so many creeds,
So many paths that wind and wind.
When just the art of being kind
Is all this sad world needs.