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Offbeat – 30 November 2012


That teacher was probably the most visible example of emotional vampires, so drained of humanity, that they have to take spiritual and emotional nourishment from the pain and discomfort that they inflict on others.

I wrote a kids’ story the other day, about a young girl who has to face down the ‘Aunties of Despair’. It’s a fantasy in which the Aunties feed off the misery of others. They are sort of like emotional vampires.
Blood doesn’t go down well with parents who are thoughtful about their kids, although it seems to go down well with kids who get to watch whatever they want because their parents don’t give a toss. Small wonder the kids are growing up giving violent expression to their impulses. Vampires are also fast becoming passe, matinee stuff.
I opted for a  bloodless approach. To get their sustenance, the Aunties have to create misery. My protagonist rises above it, and comes out the other side in a better condition. The Aunties are  banished for a bit but, as we all know, they will return.
I was proud of the fantastic premise of the story, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that it is not really in the realm of fantasy.
Taken literally, the Aunties of Despair are among us.
In the course of writing the story, I remembered an Afrikaans teacher from primary school. Her approach to education was to thrash almost everyone in class, at least once a week. The thrashings would be interspersed with long, moralising lectures which became all the more nightmarish because it just delayed the inevitable hiding.
Even the best got their turns. Sometimes it was just a whim with no reason whatsoever. “You. Come here.”
In a forty minute period there would be ten minutes of actual lesson and the rest of it was nightmare, misery and nausea. She wasn’t unusual in that regard. Many of the other teachers were damaged goods as well.
What made her stand-out was that she did not hide the pleasure that she took from what she did: the sick, happy smile, radiance put on display for the entire class to see. Parents put a stop to the excess, eventually. I imagine, from recent reports of teachers being beaten or charged by parents for using corporal punishment on their kids, that there were others like her, and that the memories are still raw.
I’m getting off topic. That teacher was the most visible example of emotional vampires, so drained of humanity, that they have to take spiritual and emotional nourishment from the pain and discomfort that they inflict on others.
Her smile was not and is not unusual. Watch people inflicting misery on others. Keep a close eye on their faces particularly as they turn from the scene or when they believe that nobody is watching them. It might not be a full smile, just a gleam in the eye or a raising of the right side of the lip.
We become habituated to it early. People do it to us and after a while it becomes accepted as normal, even though the discomfort is still there. Some become expert at turning people into prey, the kind who learned their lessons well from the repetitive behaviour of parents, teachers, schoolyard bullies and apparent friends. They store their opportunities, build towards the feeding frenzy. These are the most damaged. Others use it on a low level: an ocassional slight or a want on moment of cruelty or spite to fill a moment of emptiness.
The best defense begins with recognition, which can be read on faces. There’s another sign though. These people often try to build dependency and dominance, often with money, gifts and social influence, having no love to offer. Recognising the weakness, they will try to feed on it repetitively.
Once that recognition is in place, it is possible to ignore it, and hope that the person is not too thick to notice that his or her behaviour is having no effect. The most likely strategy though is to avoid that person.
The most important thing though is to watch and defend kids who are less able to withstand and weather the onslaughts. Sometimes they don’t have a choice but to be with people who hurt them. Aside from the happiness and security of childhood, which ought to be sacred, it is awful to think that children may be transformed into human parasites as well.

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