Recently, whilst walking through a major shopping centre in Johannesburg, I came across a young man in his early twenties covered in tattoos of various colours.
He had tattoos covering his arms and neck. He probably had more on his body but these were, mercifully, covered by clothing. The first thought that came to me was to ask the gent how long he had to spend in prison to get so many tattoos.
My ingrained sense of self-preservation coupled with the fairly high likelihood of violence prevailed upon me to bite my tongue and to remain silent. This did however get me thinking about the ability or lack thereof of our youth to make good decisions.
A little reflection would bring the following basic information to the attention of the man in question:
1. The average home owner moves at least once every 5 years;
2. The average car owner replaces his or her car every 3 to 4 years;
3. A house gets painted every 5 to 10 years;
4. The furniture in a house gets changed every 3 to 6 years.
and so on ….. ok much of the above information may be based on old data or pretty much from personal observation.
Even if the man in question was still living at home (he seemed to be from a reasonably affluent background) and did not own these assets himself, he could have observed the above from the habits of his parents or, at least, the people in his extended family, school or neighbourhood.
Taking all of the above into account, the questions remains, why did he think it was a good idea to permanently mark himself in such a hideous fashion in such a prominent place on his body?
If most people cannot even live in a house for 5 years, what made him think that he would want to look like a schoolboy project in 5 years’ time, or 10 years’ or 20? Heck if people cannot even remain married to the same person on average for 5 years what are the odds that he will want to look like a Picasso painting at the end of his life?
The above may seem like a diatribe against the youth or against tattoos. That such is not my point in writing this essay is easy to prove. First the youth aspect. I harbour no illusion that previous generations were more wise or restrained on the whole as compared to the “youth of today”.
That would just be rubbish. So far the youth of today have not started any world wars, mass genocides or anything apocalyptic approaching the scale of previous generations. Only time will tell if the youth will refrain from such stupidity or not, but for the moment they certainly have the benefit of the doubt.
With regard to tattoos. Whilst I certainly think the whole idea is foolish, I have no problem with a tasteful (if tattoos can be tasteful that is) tattoo on the ankle, leg or back. These are relatively private parts of the body that can easily be covered up when necessary, for example, a job interview, meeting important clients or prospective in-laws for the first time.
My purpose in writing this essay is to motivate for the inclusion of a course in how to make good decisions in our schools and universities (too late for the older generation I am afraid).
Let’s have a look at the potential negative consequences of this man’s actions in getting all his tattoos:
1. It will be harder to get a job;
2. It will be even harder to convince a bank to give you a loan to start a business;
3. It will be more difficult to get customers for a business;
4. It will be difficult to get a permanent mate (once she sobers up that is);
5. It will certainly be more difficult to get her parents to accept you as a suitable partner for their daughter.
Let’s have a look at some of the longer term consequences that may not even be remotely relevant to his life at the moment:
1. You will look like a character from the Avengers in your wedding photographs;
2. Your children’s partners will not want you in the pictures at their wedding;
3. Your grandchildren will be afraid of you.
Alright so as not to harp on a theme, I can think of some good reasons to get the tattoos. If he needed to prevent bodily harm whilst in jail, if he was suffering a mental breakdown and the alternative was suicide, if he really needed the tattoos to get the girl he will spend the rest of his life with, all of these may be good reasons. Finally if he can paint like Picasso, nobody will give a damn what he looks like.
The point comes back to decision making. Given that most people do not decide to have tattoos in such drastic places, what are the practical consequences of the failure to teach good decision making skills as soon and as often as we can? Consider the following questions:
1. Is it a good idea to spend next year’s salary on buying furniture, a holiday or a party today? To put this question differently, how much should you borrow (and at what rate) to pay for necessities or luxuries today?
2. Should you be prepared to live on dog food or cat food when you are 80 to pay for a new car today? To put this question differently, when leaving an employer should you reinvest your pension fund or buy a car?
3. Should you allow your father and mother to make decisions for you when you are 30 or 40? To put this question differently, should you vote for a political party based upon loyalty ingrained by your parents or based upon an analysis you have made of the performance of the various parties?
4. Is it better to cross a river full of hungry crocodiles in a boat or to swim across? To put this question differently, if you are going to indulge in casual sex should you use a condom?
5. Should you let a professional liar decide where you should live, when you need a new house, if you need new furniture or where you should bank? To put this question differently, do you really believe everything you read in advertisements put together by people who get paid for getting people to buy things they do not need?
The answers to the above questions may seem obvious but based upon the actions of the majority of people in society the ability to get to the correct answer is severely lacking. The only difference is where society will place the blame for the bad decision making. Society will most likely think that the man with the tattoos made a stupid mistake and blame him for his own misfortune.
When it comes to credit, reinvesting pensions, choosing political parties, sex and believing advertisements (think Ponzi scheme), Society will most likely blame anybody except the person who made the stupid decision.
Perhaps in this case Society is right, just that they look for the wrong people to blame. The correct person to blame is the various Ministers of Education but even more so, the legion of educational experts who design school curriculums the world over without teaching logic and decision making. Shame on you!