Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Passing the Blame

The beauty of Hau’ofa’s writing is his honesty.  He spares no one in his incredibly blunt depictions and characterizations.  He portrays Tikong culture as a complete farce, but in doing so, reveals the pitfalls of our own society.  As we beginTales of the Tikongs, we scoff at the local stupidity and ignorance of the islanders.  Their culture seems so foreign to us, almost idiotic.  Yet somehow, this perceived foreignness fades, and we begin to realize that what once seemed outlandish now looks oddly comparable to our own society.    

From the American perspective, Tiko’s workforce is lazy.  They work one day, and rest for the six others.  Businessmen play cards with their secretaries and ignore meetings with important officials.  But as we look more closely, their work ethic is not too distant from our own.  There’s the boss who does nothing, the worker who lies for a raise, the “semi-honest and half-trusted” (9) civil servant, and the incompetent worker who gets promoted anyway.  This is Hau’ofa’s way of telling his readers to wake up, and to realize what is in front of us.  By making these concepts seem so foreign, Hau’ofa points out our own ignorance.  These situations ask readers how many times have we ourselves have slacked off at work or flattered our bosses for our own greedy purposes?  Hau’ofa wants us to see how we can so readily find the flaws in others others, but cannot recognize them within ourselves.  We are quick to judge, blame, and point fingers, yet we fail to see what is faulty in our own lives.  

While we were in Paris, my roommates and I were always very cautious about being the “loud and obnoxious Americans”.  We never wanted to stick out, and always wanted to be perceived as locals.  We did our best, but there were always times when we got that evil glare from some local who we had apparently disturbed with out inherent “American-ness”.  There was one time when my friend accidentally fell onto a woman’s lap when the metro made an abrupt stop.  Caught by surprise, and completely embarrassed, my friend blurted the first words that came to her mouth, “I’m so sorry”, she said... in English.  Realizing her mistake, she quickly re-aligned herself and gave her sincerest apologies to the woman in French.  The woman, without even acknowledging Anthea, turned to the man next to her and sighed.  “Américaine” she said, rolling her eyes.  Obviously, we were appalled.  Why did everything we did in Paris have to be defined our American nationality?   

Weeks later, my friends and I sat on the metro once more.  We rode along in silence (as any good Parisian would) and stared out the window, watching nothing but the gratified, concrete walls pass us by.  A few stops into our ride, the silence was broken by four women.  They came barging onto the train, laughing and yelling at one another from across the car, as they contemplated their next stop.  The tension on the train was palpable.  It was obvious that everyone was annoyed by their overbearing presence.  My friends and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes.  “Australians”, we muttered under our breath.  

Unfortunately we had conformed to everything we hated about French culture.  Here we were, not wanting to be judged when we overstepped social boundaries, yet were the first to pass judgement when others were in the wrong.  Just as Hau’ofa reminds us, it is all too easy to recognize the fault in others, yet so difficult to see it in ourselves.  

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