Cellphones, controlled crying and 1984

“Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress toward more pain.”

“Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”

– George Orwell, 1984

“Controlled crying.” Modern doublespeak for: ignore pain til they get used to it.
I bump into a mom from Kolya’s swimming class. Let’s call her Mary. Mary and her husband and their little girl just got back from the UK (medical locums for a few months). I ask how it went. It went great.
We discuss how adaptable kids are.
We discuss how good it is to have grandparents around to help.
We discuss how it’s often anyone but the mother that can put a child to bed easily at night. Mary says, yes, she has to rock and cajole and soothe and wait out a long bedtime ritual in South Africa, but in the UK she didn’t have the energy. “So we did that controlled crying thing,” she says. “In South Africa we couldn’t do it, because wherever you are in our house, you can hear her cry. But where we lived in the UK, you could close the doors and you didn’t hear the crying. So the first night she cried for half an hour. But by the end of the week she was going to sleep just fine.”
Would you do it to an adult? I think, speechless. Would you do it to an animal?

Just how it is
A friend tells me about something that made him angry. His wife prepares a wonderful meal for her brother, who’s coming to visit. The brother visits, and spends the entire visit – a full 2.5 hours – on his blackberry, sending texts and emails. When he leaves, my friend’s wife says “Wasn’t that a lovely evening?”
“Well, no,” replies my friend, “it was a fucking horrible evening.”
An argument ensues. She doesn’t want him saying anything unpleasant about her brother. He reckons the brother’s conduct was indefensible. She says he should just be more accepting; that’s just the way the brother is.
The way society is going, my friend says, good quality human relationships are disappearing.
– What do we have in their place? I ask him.
– We have things, he says. Work, which gets us money to buy things. And things, which are supposed to fill us with satisfaction and meaning and a sense of connection.
– But do they do the job? I ask. What about when we have the things, and they don’t bring what they promised?

Passing it on
There is a silence as we contemplate it. The brutal cycle of it.
Ignore your children when they cry. After all, they need to learn that crying is fruitless; routine is all.
Be exacting in your criticism, and strategic in your praise. Teach your children that random creativity is dangerous. Seeking the approval of others is all.
Teach your children ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ and make sure you draw thick lines around each concept. The communal bowl is a waste of time. What is the value of time shared, experience shared, stories shared? No. Look away from the now, turn from the people around you lest they demand that most threatening resource: your love. Rather focus on projects, any projects, no matter how mundane. Whatever you do, don’t feel, don’t relate.
And soon, your children too can reach this pinnacle of modern existence, and spend their days avoiding and abandoning their lives, their selves, their wives, their children in order to amass a pile of money and things. If they’re lucky some of them will wake up sometime before they die and start paying attention to the missing piece. A few. Maybe. But most will continue, part of the machine, continuing the ethos of the corporation: produce, amass. Look inward. Shut others out.

There are days I feel like making placards – big, loud shouting instructions to the forsaken world in her lostness. Today’s placard would say: JUST BE KIND.

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About Lisa

I live in South Africa with my husband and two small children, doing things, thinking about things and sometimes writing about them.
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3 Responses to Cellphones, controlled crying and 1984

  1. Thank you for this. I often ask the first question around controlled crying. Would you do it to anyone who could call you on it? The question of whether you would do it to an animal really made me pause. When I was 6, we got a puppy and my parents made her stay in the kitchen until she was house trained. She cried from loneliness all night long, loudly. My brother and I sneaked into the kitchen with our sleeping bags and slept with her to calm her down. I guess as children we were more aware of what was right, even if it went against rules and convenience?

  2. Evelyn says:

    The other day I left my two year old at my sister’s house for a few hours as I needed to go to a meeting, outside of regular working hours. My sister has two children whom my daughter, Catherine, adores. So although she was mostly happy about playing with them, every now and then, inevitably, she became a little tearful at my absence. Tremendous energy was then put in to distract her; face pulling, song singing, etc. She would then stop crying, but after a while return to tears.
    When I arrived back, all was well enough, although Catherine was obviously very glad to see me.
    My sister tells me that after we left, her 8 year old daughter Michelle said: “All Catherine was saying when she was crying, was that she was missing her mommy. But no one listened, everyone just wanted her to stop. Not so that she would feel better, but because they didn’t like the noise.”
    From the mouths of babes…

  3. Jeannine says:

    mmm. . . we just can’t seem to join the dots can we? Something that astounded me – met up with friends from our former Joburg life and their kids, 7 & 5, had their own cellphones.
    My two, of course, thought it beyond fabulous. Me, I thought it was insane.

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