/ 6 August 2008

A charter to live by … or not

I’m cat-sitting for friends. Eddie is a tabby and Eric’s black with a white bib.

When I yawn, Eddie, sitting in the sunny patch in the corner, yawns as well. Then Eric does it.

I read on Wikipedia that contagious yawning is a sign of highly developed social awareness. Eddie and Eric, I figure, are good cats.

Let me tell you how the yawning began.

We’re listening to Tebogo Matima, the 9am to noon presenter on SAfm. The man has modelled his presentation style after a ship’s anchor being dragged along the muddy bed of the bay. By the time he gets to the middle of his sentence, you’ve forgotten how he began.

But we’re not giving up, Eddie, Eric and I, because this Tuesday morning Tebogo has the Moral Regeneration Movement on. You know, the one that invited then deputy president Jacob Zuma to talk at its launch? (No punchline required.)

It’s a big day for the MRM. It’s about to launch its ”Charter of Positive Values”.

Good people have them. Bad people don’t. And all bad people ever needed was to have these nine positive values typed up on a pocket-sized, laminated card.

To get to the list of nine, the MRM invited various religious leaders. The way these things go, I imagine they also included a small set of miscellaneous new-agers: a man with long white hair, a woman in a kaftan and that crazy lady who appeared on Sunday morning TV a couple of months ago to ask us all to meditate into existence a ”silver shield of goodness” to protect us from global warming. People with time on their hands.

But for the list of nine to fly it needed to cover the core principles of all the major religions, which is interesting, because how do you cover the Ten Commandments or the Thirteen Principles with a list of just nine positive values that everybody can live by and live with? What gets left out? Each representative must have come with a list, sat around a felt-topped table and traded items like Pokemon cards.

Now that they’ve got it down to what they can all agree is the important stuff, are they going to dump the nuttery left over from each of their religions? Or would they rather keep that to themselves — the ”click your heels three times” stuff that ultimately gets you into the better neighbourhoods in the afterlife.

That’s the problem with the Charter of Positive Values: it’s missing the ”or you’ll burn in hell” pizzazz of the better-known ancient lists. And there’s something about being carved into stone tablets and carried down a mountain by a man played by Charlton Heston. It buys you a couple of millennia’s worth of word-of-mouth.

The MRM should’ve considered some of that BC drama before having their Charter of Positive Values written by a committee and released to the internet.

Of course, there’s the big launch on Tebogo Matima’s show. And he’s holding the list back like the announcement of the best picture at the Oscars. He taunts us with an Earth, Wind and Fire triple-play. It’s not that he doesn’t have anything to say, he’s just building up the drama.

Eddie and Eric can’t take it anymore. They claw at the carpet and let out strangled meows.

Finally, the Charter of Positive Values is read.

”Ensure harmony in culture, belief and conscience.”

It’s just as we expected. Platitudinous, lifeless, limp.

”Show respect and concern for all people.”

I think you know the kind of person who ”shows respect and concern for all people”. She’s the one you wish you didn’t invite to the party. Sure, she’s packed a purse full of compliments and she hands them out like wafers at communion. But she’s the only one who doesn’t laugh when you make a joke about the homeless, opting instead for a counterfeit half-smile. And you’re relieved when she insists on washing the dishes while everybody else has a last glass of wine in the garden.

People who talk about ”values” are boring people and talking about values achieves nothing.

Luckily, the MRM has no jurisdiction over the content of your soul. But if we must have a Charter of Positive Values, and have nine of them, allow me to present an alternative.

The Charter of Nine Positive Values Worth Having

  • Don’t drive like an asshole. Being one with the traffic is being one with the world.
  • Don’t expect it to last forever. Everything ends and that’s okay.
  • Talk to strangers. There’s less to fear and more to learn than you’d think.
  • Stop buying useless crap. Actually, you don’t need the new iPhone.
  • Laugh. Even and especially when you fall off your chair.
  • Avoid having ”beliefs”. Ideas are far more useful and far more fun.
  • Make mistakes.
  • Get over sex. It’s not dirty. It’s not bad. And sexual repression makes you scary.
  • Lay off the carbs. Sure, it feels good now, but is a few minutes of bready loveliness really worth the sluggish digestion and inevitable weight gain?

There. Now print in out on a pocket-sized card and laminate it. Or don’t. Because it seems to me that life is better lived when we choose for ourselves.

On the edge of the writing table Eric is licking his butt. Over on the balcony, Eddie looks up at Eric and decides to join in.

Me, I stay out of it.