Sunday, April 15, 2007

Old People Can Say Anything They Want...

I remember George Burns saying something to the effect that he could say anything now that he was old. In his opinion, it was one of the great things about becoming old. You can say the most bizarre, and strongly opinionated things you like and people just let you get away with it. Picture the twinkle in the eye of a michevious little old man.
In fact, I would say this: Everyone knows that the truth is the hardest thing to say in public because it offends so many people. But you can get away with saying just about anything - no matter how big a truth it is - as long as you are old enough and frail enough that people would seem a bully and a brute by attacking you. Your apparent vulnerability can be your greatest protection.

In fact, I guess that's when you know that you are actually "old" - when you can say outrageous truths, and everyone lets you get away with it!

Well, my father is a little like that. He is 75 yrs old in about a week, and he is legally blind - though he does have some very limited sight. I just got off the phone with him for our now ritual weekly catch-up conversation every Sunday morning.

He told me about the interesting cab rides he takes with Muslim cab drivers every week when he goes shopping. Most of the taxi drivers in the Toronto area seem to be Muslims from Pakistan. He doesn't have a lot of friends left because he has now outlived them, so he talks to these drivers on the 20 minute drive to the shopping mall he likes to visit.

He is very much a student of the international economy and politics, and also cultural differences. Now that he is retired, he has more time to pay attention to politics, and world economics, etc. He is interested in all this, and he usually tells these guys his theories as a conversation starter, and then listens to their responses, in order to learn their perspectives. Then he tells me about these conversations.

Some of the things he says might cause them some uncomfortable moments here and there but what are they going to do - stop the car and beat him up? Stop and force him out to the curb? He is old and blind. Besides - it's only honest questions, and most of it is not really offensive, just a little impertinent. What does it hurt to talk to a harmless old man.

He preaches the idea that most of our problems with wars and violence and misunderstandings could all be solved if we simply adopted a single language to speak and write, a single monetary system, a single education system, a single type of political system, and a single religion. Well, that may be true, but it could never happen - too many people would have to give up their strongly held beliefs, and their advantages over other people. It's unrealistic - but it's interesting to hear the responses and perspectives that this brings out in people from different backgrounds - so it's highly useful as a way to draw people out of their shell into an interesting philosophical, social, and political discussion....

On one of the recent trips, he said to the driver, "So let's assume that the Muslim way is the right way, and everyone converts to the Muslim teachings, etc. What about the other Muslims who are attacking and killing people - which goes against the teachings of the faith? How would you stop them?"
The driver said, "Let me ask you something. Do you have a brother?"
Dad says "Yes"
driver says, "Would you kill your own brother?"
Dad says, "No, of course not - but that's what I mean right there! Why would you assume I was talking about killing them? Couldn't you just educate them? Is there no way to enlighten them to make them see that what they are doing goes against what they say they believe in?"

They have conversations like that. Also, he talks to them about jokes. He tells them Canadian/American jokes, and then gets them to tell him some of their jokes so he can see the difference in humor. He says our jokes make no sense to them, and their jokes make no sense to him. In fact, he says many of them have no sense of humor at all. Humor just isn't a big part of their life like it is here.
I find this especially interesting because a person's sense of humor tell you a lot about how they think. The things that press a person's funny-button, show a map of their thought processes, inclinations, and motivations. If you told them enough jokes and watched their reactions, you could map out their entire personality enough to predict exactly how they think and how they would respond in a variety of situations.

Today he told me about a funny one. They were driving along, and they were talking about the rewards to Muslims for sacrificing themselves to the cause. For martyring themselves to the great cause of killing Israelis or killing Americans or other infidels. The Muslim man thought that the promise of an afterlife with all the food he could eat, all the wine he could drink, and 72 virgins sounded pretty good and was worth the sacrifice of a life.
Dad says, "Did it ever occur to you that they might be lying to you?"
Puzzled, the Muslim man says, "What? What do you mean? It cannot be a lie. Why would they lie?"
Dad says, "Well, how many Muslims are there in the world right now. About one billion - isn't that so?"
Muslim man says, "yeees......"
Dad says, "Well, about half of them are men, right? So that means there are about 500 million Muslim men, correct?"
"yeees..." hesitantly...
Dad continues, "Well, simple arithmetic says that there aren't enough women in the whole world to have 72 virgins for each of 500 million men! Especially not if you only count Muslim women!"

There was silence for a minute as the logical implications of this sunk in. Then suddenly the Muslim man burst out laughing. "You are RIGHT!" he says, laughing and slapping the steering wheel. He thought that was so good, he gave him the ride for free and didn't charge the usual $20. So far, my dad has received 3 free rides because of conversations like that.

Of course, it would be harder for any of us to say those things and not get into trouble. But old men get away with saying almost anything political. And old women can berate and chastize a 300 lbs footbal player and get away with it. Protected by their frailty, and the fact that no one wants to beat up an old person - they are actually almost invulnerable!


At 4/17/2007 10:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


"He preaches the idea that most of our problems with wars and violence and misunderstandings could all be solved if we simply adopted a single language to speak and write, a single monetary system, a single education system, a single type of political system, and a single religion."

Funny, but isn't that exactly what all the Islamic Terrorists want. Oh, and all the Fundamentalist Christians. Oh, and all the...

I guess we all want the same thing. We just want our version of it.


Post a Comment

<< Home