The law student, for example, came from a residential grammar school; his home was in the country. He was normally rough and rumpled (‘rough as bags’, as he described himself). On his final day for a job interview with a legal firm, however, he was different. Clad in a dark suit, with polished shoes and white shirt, he wore a school tie. His speech was unusually polished and he presented a previously unsighted personality – the suave man. When I joked with him about his tie and his new personality, his response was most informative.
The tie would inform his prospective employer that the applicant had not only been taught to behave in a proper manner, but that he would be a team man, offering loyalty and due care. His speech would inspire confidence among the preferred clientele that he had come from good stock, and been properly educated. Why good stock? Well, good stock were established people (not immigrants) and also successful (fees were very high). Who could fault that kind of thinking?
Decades later I was told a similar story by a close colleague educated at a Catholic Church school. Products of that college, my colleague said, would prefer to employ other products of that or similar colleges: for reliability, teamship, and acceptance of authority.
The politician-to-be was a truly clever man. He was well read and knew a million or so facts. He could give you the history of any event and its causes. He told me how he had written to all the great men and women in the world and obtained their signatures for his collection. In every case, he wrote of his admiration for their achievements, which he cited. He was worth knowing.
The schoolteacher, with his two degrees, was a good example of a degree collector. He objected to spices in food, arguing that, if God had meant for us to eat spicy food, he would have included the spicy taste in nature. I hope that he was pulling our legs, or else I would fear for the future of some of our children.
The more mature of the Catholic fellows and I exchanged letters for two years while he was undertaking the higher degree. With his consent, I asked him to explain the basis of his Church’s teachings. We discussed the Church’s arguments for the existence of God, the nature of God, the nature, objectives and consequences of prayer, and so on. I would offer, in a purely intellectual manner, possible counters to his arguments.
I was, however, not to know that my questions had been discussed with his lecturers and that I was seen as a prospective convert. Finally, my apparent challenges must have been too much, especially when I referred to his Church’s anthropomorphic concept of God; I received some personal comment which I considered unchristian, and that was the end of what had been, for me, a fruitful exchange.
The student of the arts had a true love of art of all ages. His very expensive books would not normally have come our way. We compared styles over the various civilisations, noting how early man in all societies had comparable forms and styles of art. How impressed we were with the artistic output of early civilisations throughout the world!
Yet another student had a comparable educational impact on us. Having studied design, he was now completing a course in architecture. We were exposed to styles integrating man’s structures into natural forms and to styles which challenged nature as well as (sometimes) universal aesthetics.
A student of history took us into the distinction between those theories based on great men of history influencing society, and the theories that great trends, thrusts, and developments of history threw up great leaders. We also learnt about the assumptions and bias underpinning so much of what is presented as factual history.
Another colleague in that office was the son of a head of the Customs department in one of the state capitals. He told us how, as soon as his father had moved into the top job, their priest had come visiting and told his father that he would now expect “our boys” to be promoted ahead of the others. Apparently, his father, having obtained his promotion on merit, did not relish the idea of discrimination in selection, but was always under pressure from those of his faith. The father explained to his son that if he promoted a Catholic, the others say that it’s what they expected; if he promoted a Protestant, the Catholics claimed that he was against them.
(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ indicate not only how I and my young workmates had developed intellectually, simply by talking to one another at some depth daily, but also how I was exposed to so much of the world through such discussions.
When one’s eyes are opened so early in life to a wide range of societal and intellectual issues – eg. architectural styles, aesthetic criteria, philosophical and cultural differences, and so on – how could I not be aware throughout my life about matters of real import for society, both in time and place?)