“[E]verything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”—Viktor Frankl
[Previously spotlighted quotes]
“The Seven C’s”: A Short Story by Shaun SaundersThe Seven C’s
By Shaun Saunders
(For Sunni and her Conspirators, with special thanks to Cat Farmer for her brilliant, inspirational essay The Seven C’s: An Ideological or Social Spectrum)
When the spunky young guy dropped me the corny line, “So what’s a nice girl like you doing here?” instead of the usual retorts someone my age might use in my position, I thought I’d answer with the truth.
“I’m here because my father loves me.” There! That should wipe the smug authoritative look from his face.
And it did, for a moment. He opened his mouth, found nothing quick to say, and closed it again.
“There’s more to it than that, of course,” I added, taking the advantage.
“There usually is,” he answered drolly, with a half-raised eyebrow. He hooked a nearby stool with the toe of his boot and plonked himself down, all ears.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll stand,” I said.
He smiled. “But of course, whatever makes you most comfortable.”
I cleared my throat. “It all begins with the ‘Seven Cs of Freedom’.”
His smile became a grin. “Oh, this is going to be good. I must hear it all!”
“According to my dad, the seven Cs represent an ideological spectrum between ‘Contemplation’ and ‘Coercion’, or, as dad says, thuggery. He also says that the spectrum is a way of looking at relations between people in any given society, and that its rules and laws, and people’s attitudes and behaviours towards one another, reflect which end of the spectrum most people are at. Are you with me?”
“Oh yes, and most fascinated, too,” he said.
“Good. Would you mind bringing your stool a little closer? Thanks. It makes this a little more comfortable for me.”
“Of course. But what are the other five Cs?”
“Ok. I’ll start at thuggery – Coercion – and work backwards, just like dad did when he explained it to me. Coercion is the antithesis of freedom, because by its very definition it must mean an imposition of some kind by one person on another.”
The young man nodded. “Yes, it can only include freedom for the person doing the coercing, no matter how it is prettied up for general consumption.”
Wow! This guy is smart. “The next C is Control: this is about using rules and regulations, policies and procedures and customs to keep the majority in their place –”
“– But the minority with the ability to coerce determine what and where that place is.”
“Right again. Would you like to take over my monologue?”
“No, not at all – you’re doing a swell job. Please continue –” (with a twinkle in his eye) “– I think your father would prefer it that way.”
“Next up is Cajolery. This is much harder edged than merely getting your point of view across – think of it as persuasion with a sword aimed at your target audience’s throat. Your point of view is the only point of view...and everyone had better take it on board.
“It’s all uphill from here – although cooperation is sometimes a front for control and coercion –”
“– Like when someone puts a gun to your head or hires a thirty-thousand dollar a day barrister and says ‘please cooperate with me’? Sorry, I’m butting in again.”
“No, you’re actually communicating with me, and showing courtesy at the same time by questioning your own actions. But you’ve knocked out another two Cs...”
“Leaving us with?”
I sighed, perhaps a little over-dramatically. “Contemplation. Placing considered thought before action, or, in my case, inaction.”
The object of my attention screwed up his brow. “Okay,” he said slowly. “But where does your dad and his affection for you – his obviously lovely daughter – come into this intriguing ideological parable?” He cast a glance at the storm clouds gathering in the afternoon sky. “We may have exhausted the seven Cs, but I do hope that you can finish this story without working through any more of the alphabet: I have a feeling that might benefit us both.”
That twinkle, again.
I sighed. “As you would know, my father has strong views on what is just and right, and what a citizen’s responsibilities are in maintaining a just and right society. He expects everyone to contribute to that according to his or her individual capacity to do so.”
Big, cold raindrops began to patter around us.
More quickly now, “Last week a petition was circulating through the village... about boat people or something. Illegal immigrants maybe. Whatever. Anyway, this morning, during breakfast, my father asked me for my views on the subject. When he found out that I didn’t have any, and worse, that I hadn’t given thought to the petition, he was not impressed.”
“What exactly did you say to him?” the young man asked, grimacing as he chilled in the rain.
“I said, ‘Well, that has nothing to do with me...I’ll let someone else worry about them.’ My father stopped eating, looked at my mother and said, ‘Is this our fault?’ Mother’s reply was, ‘Yes, ultimately, but someone else can worry about it.’ Dad said, ‘Agreed.’
“Dad excused himself from the table, made a call, and shortly after some men in uniform were knocking on our front door. As they dragged me out of the house, kicking and screaming in a most unladylike fashion, I asked my father how he could do this to me.”
“Don’t tell me – he said, ‘This is the first C – Coercion – and you’ll have to plead to someone else, I’m not interested’?”
“Close. He actually said this was ‘Cajolery’.”
The young man shivered in the rain. “Whew. I’d hate to get him riled up to ‘coercion’, then.“
I put on my most endearing, please-help-me-I’m-defenceless-and-very-very-pretty smile. “Yeah, that’s about it. Put in the public stocks in the centre of town because I couldn’t be bothered helping someone else I’ve never even met.”
“Or even giving them thought,” he corrected. He shook his head. “Ah, the advantages of being the Mayor’s daughter...”
Fuck, it was cold, and I was starving, too. Enough banter. Time for some mutual ‘cooperation’. None too innocently, “Perhaps you could help me out of these wet clothes? They didn“t padlock the stock –” (Not that that would stop any healthy guy given the option of having some private time with me.) “– Dad said all I had to do was convince someone to let me out.” With a knowing smile, “How about it? If you’re still not convinced of my innocence, you can tie me up someplace warmer.”
The young man’s face turned to stone. He arose from his stool. “No, I’m sorry, but life is not a fairy tale – wolves do have teeth, and little girls in red capes do get eaten, cold or not. You’ll have to look elsewhere for your Galahad, but I do thank you for the parable. It was most...instructional. Good day.”
“How can you just leave me here?”
“Quite easily, I assure you. Your argument lacks a ‘C’ not on that list: conviction.”
The duty constable smiled once more as he departed. “Careful, or you’ll have me adding another C to that list, somewhere above coercion and far more personal. Give my regards to your father.”