Corruption: We must have the courage to remove the stubbornly rooted disease

BizNews community member Albertus Ziervogel has been ruminating on the rot in South Africa. He has drawn some painfully accurate parallels between the lies, hypocrisy, greed and manipulation which exist in Syria and South Africa. A parable by Kahlil Gibran relates how the rot of corruption has turned these countries into dark places that exude a hateful stench. The health of these places lies in the hands of citizens who must decide when to put work into saving a tooth. When the rot of corruption runs too deeply, the people must have the courage to remove the tooth before it poisons everything. South Africans must push past habitual behaviours and choose what is right, rather than what is familiar, in the fight against the decay of corruption. – Melani Nathan

Learning from the parables of wise men

Decayed Teeth – Kahlil Gibran

Edited and adjusted for South Africa by Albertus Ziervogel

A decayed tooth in my mouth was causing me quite a lot of pain. In fact, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say the rotten thing was torturing me; it was disturbing my daylight hours as I would wake up confused. But in the calm of the night when the dentists were asleep and the pharmacy was locked, the pain grew even worse. After a dreadful night, I hurried in the morning, the second day of this excruciating misery, to the dentist, and pleaded with him, “Could you not remove this wicked tooth that will not allow me a single hour of peace; a carious fiend that malignantly deprives me of the happy serenity of the night and turns it into hours of cacophonous silence.”

“That sounds positively awful,” said the dentist, though I sensed a derisive undertone.

The dentist shook his head, looking at me with his habitual affectation of professional dismay, and observed, “The stupidity that leads to decay must require deliberate application.” Then he probed the carious surface of my sore tooth between his instruments and cleaned the corners and crevices, clearing away the debris and the plaque and microbes that had infected it. I had not believed he could eradicate the beastly mites that had inflamed the molar. For a moment I had hope that I could keep my fang; I was grateful for the protection of my gold-plated fillings. But then he furrowed his brow, as he advised me, “The molar has become infected and the decay is quite severe; it will require extensive treatment to correct the harm to the tooth.” His words of concern masked the joy he felt in the expectation of lucre.

But the lustre from his costly treatment lasted barely a week before it faded, and I tasted the smell of decay. I fancied the sound of the molar crumbling in my mouth and my soul was rattled with anguish as if it stood on the edge of a howling abyss of decay

So I went to another dentist. I gushed at him in a voice of entreaty, telling him, “This tooth has become shrouded in evil with which it does not contend. (It is as if it is basting me with cudgels prepared by some fiend).”

The dentist spent a long hour, one filled with agony for me, operating in my mouth but it was also a blessed hour for the relief it finally gave me. Once he had extracted the tooth and had examined it carefully, he told me, “You did well in to have this diseased molar removed, for it was too decayed to be saved.

That night my rest was unchecked by any nagging toothache so that I praised God for divorcing me from the irksome remnant of decayed bone. In the parliament of the human mouth, the carious teeth carve their illness deep to the very base of the jaw. Yet human wisdom has not learnt how to eradicate such disease any more than it knows how to end hunger or the need for sleep. All mankind knows is how to nurse the pain, to clean away the filth that collects on the outside, or to fill the cavities with a golden amalgam.

Most doctors who treat our teeth behave with humanity, at least outwardly, providing an image of friendliness and warmth. Yet there are more ailments to follow for any who surrenders to the allure of the temptation. Doctors may advance the idea that we should treat aches and pains as warnings against unhealthy behaviour. But we persist in deceiving ourselves once the pain has lost its edge. However, whole nations persist in their unwholesome habits, if they do not suffer an immediate recurrence of their suffering. In the same way, whole communities will persist in social ills, falling deeper into a collective iniquity; they borrow against time until delinquency has left them with nothing.

The mouth of the whole Syrian( South African) nation has become the mechanism for creating a dark place that exudes a hateful stench. Though our doctors have struggled to clean it away and to fill the odious cavities or laminate them with gold and silver, they cannot remedy the ailment; not even by extraction. Let us keep in mind that a nation whose fangs are diseased will also suffer from a weak stomach; the entire, unhappy polity is bound to become a martyr to indigestion.

If all the teeth of the whole nation of Syria (South Africa) fall into a state of decay, we must wonder what will become of the grown men of tomorrow. We must remember the wise words of our ancestors. We can be confident that the Syrian (South African) women would not let the men forget.

Just as we must be mindful of dental hygiene, we must not allow wisdom to be manipulated by cleverness in the way that a cat plays with a ball of wool, twisting and tangling legitimate concerns out of recognition.

Or the homes where we grow become polluted by lying and hypocrisy.

Or leave the weak and poor unprotected so that fear causes them to be cowardly and fall into folly.

Permit those with problems with their teeth to go to the dentists who will apply the touch of their soft fingers, and calm them anaesthesia; who will rinse out the holes in their molars with water; clear out the corners of canines with scrapers, spatulas and burnishers. These are the dentists who know how to converse about their drills and wrenches and retractors. They are if eloquent rhetoricians who make up associations and hold meetings for the purpose of teaching oral hygiene in the squares and coffee houses of Damascus and Aleppo. They deliver their lectures with silver tongues coloured with sorrowful tones of compassion. So it is that I realise when I visit the dentist I am in the hands of a millstone that croaks out songs of noble sentiment, as I lie supine, struggling for air.

Such a speaker might preach, “Tribes of the Syrian (South African) nation, take care not to spread disease by sharing the food you consume with your neighbours and loved one, for the saliva will spread the contagion of the illness from which you suffer, and which has invaded into you to the pit of your stomach.”

But the ignorant lover would glibly answer, “Yes, truly you speak truthfully, dental scholar, but once we are strengthened as man and wife our loving bond protects us from the contagion that would otherwise follow from intimacy.”

And if the man of learning asks, “How does this holy bond eradicate disease?” the Syrian (South African) would laugh at him just because he is a doctor, and because the Syrian (South African) had not studied the noble science of dentistry, and sees no reason to value such learning.

If the scholar repeated his question, he will reply, “You only hope to bore into my teeth, to abrade cavities because that is your dream; to discover cavities even if you must create them. You would hole the world if you could.” The Syrian (South African) peasant remains stubbornly rooted in his ignorance and in his filthy traditions.

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