The Jaws Of Life

However, this is to be done within the bounds of good taste (although what constitutes taste is waning on many fronts). Other cultures are more concerned with the good of the group than that of the individual. They are more respectful of their ancestry and preserving their heritage, whereas Americans may be aware of their honorable past, but tend to “live in the minute,” while looking forward to the next entertainment.

We do accept that social mores and values change over time. More ancient cultures defend their original ways to the bitter end, and view any infraction regarding a challenge to that heritage as a punishable offense.

A good example of this type of “cultural collision” occurred in 1994 in Singapore. An American, Michael Fay, was living there with his mother. He was convicted of vandalism and sentenced to the normal punishment for such an offense, “caning,” a grand version of American “swatting,” but in this version the punished one usually faints before the lashings are completed.

The lashings are given by a martial-arts expert trained to raise welts and draw blood from the offender.

Fay’s mother appealed to the American government to have him excused from this punishment on the grounds he was not a citizen of Singapore. President Bill Clinton then requested that the Singapore officials release Fay to the United States where he would be punished under American laws.

Although Clinton was able to get the lashings reduced to four, the Singapore government had no intention of letting Fay off the hook. The debate touched off an international controversy, but Fay received his swats and emerged from his punishment sore and solemn. Singapore made its point. “Don’t come here and expect to get away with that stuff. Now you’ll remember.”

Some Americans said, “Why make such a big deal over a little vandalism” while others responded, “We should import that caning tradition here in the states to discourage any type of juvenile crime.”

Most Americans, however, seemed to feel the punishment was brutal and unnecessary, too primeval for the American way.

It may be difficult to believe that, with the number of liberties most Americans take advantage of these days there still remains a sense of civility that overrules the temptation for unabashed self-expression. This negative concept may be lying dormant, but good taste, chivalry and discretion remain the traits of the honorable and respected.

Hopefully, these elements will keep the primal man at bay for the foreseeable future.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at

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