What lies beneath the skin


I sometimes look at people, friends of mine to be more specific, and a certain image forces itself on me. The image is one of children – let’s say seven-year-olds – who are playing house, pretending to be adults.

It’s like when you scratch something to see what lies beneath the surface. In the case of these good people I call my friends, I scratch them and under the skin the children are then revealed.

It is important to mention that these people are in no way inclined to childish behaviour. On the contrary, they are worthy adults in terms of their relationship, the things they are interested in, their household, and their financial responsibilities.

Still, I can’t escape the idea that they are just trying to emulate their parents. An example of this emulation is when such a child-adult buys their first home, and proudly shows it to their parents: “Look Dad, look Ma! I bought a house!” And then Mom and Dad proudly clap their hands and say, “Will you look at that! Johnny (or Sally) bought a house!”

I usually feel a little guilty when I think such cynical things about my friends, especially after I had just thanked them for the coffee they offered me as hospitable adults. I thought the other day, if I get such interesting insights when I “scratch” other people, what will I discover if I start scratching my own skin?

Without much delay I came up with an answer: an old geezer with a week-old stubble, in his pyjamas in front of a mute TV rubbing his head while he argues with himself.

Not quite satisfied with this critical self-understanding, I went a step further – I scratched the old man. What then appeared was a little closer to the heart: a child, no more than five years old, late afternoon, standing at a farm gate wondering where all the people went, why they left him alone, and whether they were mad at him because he had been sleeping on the living room floor. And why does that jackal sound so close?


“Chimps can codify their cultural behaviour – how to hunt, how to groom oneself and others – and pass that knowledge along to their young.”

~ From a TV program

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“All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance.”

~ Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794) on the decline and fall of the Roman Empire (quoted from A World Lit Only By Fire, by William Manchester)