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Faking failure

By Terry Joseph
September 23, 2005

Most complaints about escalating crime dwell on physical restrictions imposed on law-abiding citizens, but among the seldom acknowledged casualties of our current condition is a debilitating intangible-the subduing of success, potentially more damaging than fearing the streets after dark.

Sadly, we have come to the pass where today's high achievers feel pressured into feigning failure in order to avoid predictably ominous consequences. Today, no sensible successful person wants to flaunt realisation of ambition, lest celebrating triumph invites elements who would pillage not just liquid assets but the fundamental glory of accomplishment.

Even those who conquer overwhelming odds to arrive at positions of comfort are now mortally afraid to rejoice in victory, some deliberately wearing faded clothes and driving rickety pre-owned cars, as though still in abject penury, while their investments deliver astonishing returns that may never be enjoyed; at least not in the fashion such rewards should be fĂȘted.

Taken in isolation, this development is itself deeply worrying but there is worse to come, as it quietly portends long-term social damage by providing deceptive visuals to observers, particularly youngsters, who interpret these images as negative results from hard work and who must find growing up futile, if the only reward of lawful labour is having to work again at concealing its deliverables.

Small wonder they so often decide on anti-social approaches to earning a living, opting for banditry and kidnapping, living fast, dying young, taking whatever they can get by ruthless means, because what becomes quickly obvious is that pursuit of objectives similar to those of their grandparents only makes followers of that model magnets for murder.

Parents attempting to instill socially acceptable practices find themselves up against formidable challenges from competing peer group distractions, which produce wealth without exertion. Youngsters see former schoolmates sporting a level of "bling'' not easy to acquire through lawful means and select lifestyles that also bring them such trophies without having run the allegorical "rat race''.

And if adults can live so glaring a lie, pretending they have much less than is really the truth, their offspring cannot be blamed for wishing to alter the perceived lifestyle, albeit proceeding on a flawed premise concocted by their parents to deal with external forces the State seems unable to control. Which teenager would want to be like daddy, coming home tired every evening with little to show for decades of daily effort?

On the evidence, when some kids so circumstanced discover the real worth of the family jewels, they callously decide to rob their own parents, developing another generation of pretence

Nor is this self-effacing but imposed trickery among adults limited to the fruits of achievement. Even the best of luck stretches only so far as selecting correct lottery numbers but immediately the prize is announced, winners fake losing, never able to properly rejoice in the windfall, fearing they too will become targets of weapon-wielding oppression.

Contrarily, when Brad Duke won TT$1.4 billion last May 28, the fifth largest jackpot in the history of Idaho's Powerball gambling game, he immediately went on national television, revelling in his new-found fortune. Mr Duke, manager of Gold's Gym fitness centres in Treasure Valley, continued working, heightening his visibility, as is the style of many multi-millionaires in the civilised world. In fact, first among the team of advisers he hired was a publicist.

Were Mr Duke a Trini, he would have gone the opposite route, retaining a third party to collect his winnings in order to preserve anonymity, selecting a travel agent as first option and seeking to migrate, abandoning the land of his birth, sending women and children first as if his ship was sinking rather than finally being put on an even keel.

The prospect of having to keep success a secret makes efforts toward that condition more difficult with each new rung of attainment. No one really wants to win life's trials and feel forced to accept its bronze medal for fear someone is waiting to steal the gold and, worse, escape detection. Consequently, we have developed counterfeit responses to questions about personal wealth, most popularly: "Boy, I catching my arse to make ends meet," when precisely the opposite is true.

Psychologically, at least, no society can withstand successive generations faking failure, lest it becomes reality-as is clearly the case after an equally long period of pretending we can't identify and convict the criminals among us.

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