#14: It’s A See-Saw World
I have just seen this photograph in the online Observer on Sunday 11 August 2019. In an article entitled ‘A world of walls: the brutish power of man-made barriers’ the photo is attributed to Luis Torres/AFP/Getty Images. As soon as I saw it, I said to myself, ‘This is one of the most arresting photographs I have seen’.
I suppose one of the first impressions is whether to smile or cry. Children being children, playing see-saw, smiling at each other as they play a game. The see-saw teaches the requirement for collaboration, for interdependence. We must both push, and the timing of the push is important also – you can’t see-saw if you are always dominant or demanding because the other person will simply dismount. We rely on each other for this game to work. The see-saw also teaches about ups and downs. What did Kipling say about Triumph and Disaster in his poem If -?
‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/And treat those two impostors just the same’
You cannot always win; you do not always lose. In the end, what does it really matter? What counts is how you look on life, not how well you do. One moment, you are up, the next you are down. Children seem to understand this basic lesson (of gravity perhaps) better than adults.
The see-saw is a companionable occupation; it is difficult, if not impossible, to see-saw with one’s back turned to the other. It promotes friendly communication about a topic of mutual interest. And like a pendulum it can go on for a very long time.
And yet. This photograph is deeply disturbing, is it not? Brings me close to tears.
Through a border fence, Mexico bordering California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas? Children playing happily enough for a time, but then down to earth with a bump when the other gets off. They cannot run around as they so often do to the other seat and swap sides. No real interdependence there, between kids of two nations separated by more than iron palings. These children will not know that the GDP per capita of the USA is 6.4 times that of Mexico (USD 62 904 to 9 811, in 2018) – no wonder the repeated attempts at migration across that border - yet there will be some indefinable sense of ‘betterness’, some emotion of ‘you have more than me’, even if it’s not true. They are only children after all.
And the flip side of this disturbing coin? That children will be children, for all that the Donald Trumps of this world spout and pose. In this respect it is quite inspiring to see them ‘cock a snook’ at the attempt of older people to inhibit their play and association. And the fact that someone put the see-saws into that position, saw the opportunity, made a plan, put up a budget, organized the manufacture (not easy if you think about it, either side of that row of palings), and advertised the playground.
The image is so bizarre I found myself considering if it is fake. I don’t think it is, but I don’t really know, and after some thought I don’t really care. It is one of the most stimulating images I have seen for a while, it caused me to think – a lot – and it caused me to write these words. When Picasso painted Guernica, what did he see in his mind’s eye? Hard to know but marvellous to ponder. Most of us cherish his interpretation of the horror of war, more than most paintings in the world.
August 11, 2019