Molehills and mountains

The Sophistes of Grece coulde through their copiousness make an Elephant of a flye, and a mountaine of a mollehill. (Erasmus)


I’ve been surprised at the public reaction and vitriol that has been unleashed towards the perpetrators of what, in the scale of actions deserving mass public opprobrium, is a relatively minor misdemeanour.

Two teenage boys in transit to the finale of a season of gruelling training and rowing competitions, facing what potentially could be the pinnacle of their schoolboy sporting prowess.

Two boys surrounded by their team mates, young men seething with testosterone, nerves, excitement, the teacher supervisor away securing transport.  A luggage carousel snaking its way round the concourse while weary travellers await their bags. Joshing, goading, challenging, who dares?

They know they shouldn’t, the signs make that clear; but what’s the point of a dare if it doesn’t involve forbidden deeds and rule breaking. Did they think about the consequences? Probably not, spur of the moment actions rarely follow considered thought. Did they have malicious intent? Of course not, it was an act of bravado, like streaking at a rugby match, good for a laugh and a touch of exhibitionism.

So they rode the carousel, breaching airport security and incurred a severe reprimand from the aviation authorities and police. End of the matter.

Hell no!

There are principles and principals, and their principal decided that his principles had been challenged and therefore his authority undermined and that would never do. The miscreants must forfeit their places in the rowing squad.

At this point, there is a disconnect between the principal’s understanding and the purpose of participating in a team sport that more than others depends on every single member of the squad. To remove two key players from the top eight not only decimates the crew, but totally undermines the morale of the whole squad.

The coaches said they would not stand the boys down. The principal figuratively stamped his foot and engaged a lawyer. Gauntlets were thrown.

Now, It is well known that parents of rowers are immensely proud of their offspring and participate with commitment and enthusiasm throughout the season and especially for the final – the Maadi Cup, the largest school sports event in the Southern Hemisphere with 125 schools and over 2000 rowers. Do you have an idea of the scale of organisation that is needed, and mostly performed and manned by parents? 

So when the parent of these two boys learned of the principal’s intent to deny their sons the opportunity to compete without fair hearing of the accounts of all sides, they did everything they could as good parents to move the immovable object from their path. Since there was no no reasoning that could be made, they contacted a judge and sought an injunction, which was granted in the interim; their sons were able to compete.

And this is where the molehill becomes a mountain.

Somehow the story made the mainstream media sit up. The details were reported, commentators started commenting, op-ed writers formed their opinions and universally the parents were excoriated. There followed a week of what can only be called pack attack.

Headmasters across the country rallied behind their colleague and together with legal eagles stated direly that a dangerous precedent had been set. Authority must be preserved or else the whole fabric of society will break down

School rules.

But authority without respect is worthless. Respect is earned by fairness. So a principal can demand that his principles be observed, but sometimes the law is an ass and as such deserves to be challenged.