Wednesday, February 1, 2012

what is a 'whore?'

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If you don't like the answers, don't ask the question.

In the all-boys high school I attended, there came a day in English class when one hapless member of our group raised his hand and addressed the teacher: "Mr. Adams," he said in reference to a novel we were discussing, "what is a 'whore.'" He pronounced the "wh" as anyone might pronounce the same letters at the beginning of the word, "which." The classroom erupted in boyish, derisive laughter.

The question was so naive, so naked ... and the rest of us were in the process of convincing ourselves that we were not naive about the world and its ways. We knew (vaguely) what a "whore" was ... any man of the world might! We were kool, hip, savvy and self-serving.

Mr. Adams stilled the tumult and, as I recall, took on the question seriously. He needled the boy who had asked in the same way he might have chastised any of us: Dictionaries were built for questions like that. If you don't know what something means, look it up. Mr. Adams was a tart-tongued fellow who was in the classroom to teach, not to titter behind his hand at social improprieties. Any question was a legitimate question ... but that didn't mean Mr. Adams had to giggle like some boy who imagined he was informed. Mr. Adams was a teacher, not a bozo.

Looking back, I admire the boy who asked. It was something he didn't know. It was something he wanted to learn. So he asked -- a straightforward, no-fucking-around question. I doubt if the rest of us in that classroom would have shown a similar courage when it came to the aching questions that all teenagers (and adults) long to ask but don't quite dare. It was a question without defense mechanisms and therefore a very good question indeed.

I too have asked questions in which I hoped to choreograph the answer -- praying that that answer would go along with my own views and not be too painful. I have couched and hedged and come at it sideways. But when I think about it, the best questions I have asked have been the simple ones, the ones to which I honestly didn't know the answer (what is a whore?) and had no expectations about what the answer might be. I just wanted to know what someone else might know... and the devil take the hindmost. I too have wanted to take the risk without ever taking a risk.

I am happy that there are teachers like Mr. Adams in the world. Every question is legitimate ... and some are more full of self-serving bullshit than others. If pretense is what anyone wants, I would advise them to go to a whorehouse.
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