The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A misplaced sense of entitlement.

Courtesy is a two-way thing - but, oddly, many people seem to think of it as one way only: from others, to them.

Last week, I sat on the bus. When I got on, there were still more seats than people, so I sat on the outside of a double seat, with the inner seat left empty (since I don't like to be trapped inside, when I need to leave).

A few stops later, there were more people than seats, so I rose from my seat, and asked all those standing nearby if they would like to sit down. No-one did. Some shook their heads, others just didn't answer me. So I sat down again.

A few stops later, another group of people got on. A Caucasian woman, whose hair was dyed blonde and whose years were a handful more than mine, spoke in an Australian accent: "Can I sit in there?"

"Yes, of course." I answered, and rose to let her in.

She sat in silence. She didn't thank me.

Unperturbed I confided: "I did ask everyone nearby if they wanted to sit, but no-one did."

She looked out of the window, as if I did not exist.

I shut up.

I went into a reverie, to pass the time and find interest in my thoughts.

After a while, a voice penetrated my thoughts: "Would anyone like to give me a seat?"

The voice was strident, insistent and, again, that of an Australian woman.

She spoke awfully near me, so I looked up. There was a dark-haired Australian woman in her thirties looking down on me. At first, I wondered why she did so, but then I saw her bump: she was pregnant.

I was being asked to give up my seat. I looked briefly at the Australian woman next to me, to whom I had already given a seat. She looked away and out of the window, as if I didn't exist.

"Yes, of course." I said - and rose to let her in.

This new, pregnant Australian woman sat in silence. She didn't thank me, either.

Thus, I stood, without a seat, in the aisle, which was quite an accomplishment since ten minutes before I had had two seats all to myself.

Neither woman looked at me. They behaved as if I didn't exist.

I appraised these Australian women, as if for clues as to their surprising rudeness. Both of them expected courtesy from others - indeed, DEMANDED it - but neither of them was prepared to be courteous to others, in response. Both had secured a seat from me - yet neither had thanked me for doing so. I thought this more than a little rude. It seemed ignorant, too.

I still had the tone of voice of the pregnant woman echoing in my mind: it was such a demanding voice, a voice that said: "It is my RIGHT to have a seat! Now MOVE!" The odd thing is, she had never considered that other people have feelings and they, too, are worthy of respect.

Looking back on it, I think that neither Australian woman deserved a seat. The proper response to them, had I had full knowledge of their characters would have been to have said: "No!". I should then have done as they had done: look out of the window as if they did not exist.

Yet, I had not known. I gave both of them the common level of courtesy and helpfulness I give to all people. That is my way. Yet, sometimes, it seems the wrong thing to do - because sometimes that courtesy is punished by those who receive it. I rather wish I had full knowledge of people so I would know to whom to show respect and courtesy and whom to snub.

I learnt something from the encounter, though. I had experienced discourtesy from Singaporeans on many occasions - but this was my first encounter with Australian rudeness. Perhaps discourtesy is not just a local problem, then, but is fast becoming a global one. Either that, or these two ladies have adopted ways that fit in around here, a little too well.

If I had been that pregnant woman, I would have begun my request with a polite: "Excuse me..." and adopted a gentle, enquiring tone, rather than the demanding one that had been hers.

I know that, in general, pregnant women should be given a seat because the extra burden of the baby places a strain on their backs...however, I have just had a funny thought: does a sixty kilo pregnant woman (as I adjudged her to be), find greater difficulty standing for long periods than a 106 kg man (me)? I have nearly double the weight she needs to support, so there could be an argument there that the greater strain would be my own...

I raise the matter above in jest - but it does have a serious point: there may be other people with just as much, or perhaps, more need for a seat than even a pregnant woman. In this light, any pregnant woman should at least say "Thank you." when someone provides them with a seat. After all, someone has elected to give up their own comfort to make them more comfortable.

As for the Australian women: they have succeeded in lowering my expectations of what Australia might be like to visit (I have yet to go). I wonder if they are all as rude, there, as these two were to me?

Share your experiences please.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:53 PM 


Blogger WK said...

I am a regular visitor to your website.
I made a comment to one of your earlier blogs on the topic of "manners" --- that some people regard saying "Excuse me", "thank you", Sorry", etc as just a lot of EMPTY HOT AIR.
But in the tyres of cars, buses and planes there is nothing except empty hot air without which the journey would be much less smooth.

Perhaps it is because of my age (68 years young) that when I encounter manners of the kind you described in your blog today, I try to tell myself,
"The test of good manners is bad manners".

Incidentally, you mentioned that the 2 women were "Australian" ---
from their accents?

Another of my favourite sayings is, "Two wrongs don't make a right". I am glad you didn't respond along the lines of "One bad turn deserves another!" Yes, the real test of good manners is bad manners.
tan wee kiat

11:50 PM  
Blogger Colin said...

From my own experience, politeness and courtesy are apid a lot of emphasis in Australia. So courteous are they that it can be patronising and a tinge sarcastic at times. However, I had marvellous times in Australia when I went there on holiday. Beautiful country.

So I think that it is plausible that these two women have lost their manners over here, as it just doesn't pay to be polite in Singapore. Not all the time though, I think you know what I mean.

2:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You did the right thing, whether or not you were thanked. I'm sure you would do the same thing again.

7:06 AM  
Anonymous BP said...

Could they have been influenced by our every own Singaporeans? I don't know, really, cos a large percentage of Australians I have met down under have been really nice and courteous.

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Valentine

You had been in a rather unpleasant situation, and I certainly empathise.

While I cannot fault you for thinking that the 2 Aussie ladies did not deserve the courtesy you extended to them - I feel, on the other hand, that you acted rightly in being courteous.

This may seem an incongruous thought, but I hope that courteous people will continue to be so (because they believe this is the right way to behave) which has nothing to do with the failings of others.

One might think of courtesy (as a value, just like honesty for eg.) as something one lives by, and not as an item of commerce that one "delivers" in exchange for other people's courtesies.

Maybe just extend the lowest, minimal level of courtesy to strangers; raise that level when they are "deserving".

This way, you could be true to yourself while not being too giving towards the undeserving.

And avoid being taken advantage of.


7:22 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

You are right, BP: they could have learned new behaviours here, in Singapore. The only thing I can know about them, is that their accents were Australian. I don't know how long they have been here.

I rather wish that, just as they hadn't lost their accents, they hadn't lost their manners, too.

11:25 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Anonymous at 7.22 pm. Thanks for your comment.

I do not see courtesy as a medium of exchange, however it doesn't feel good to receive discourtesy in response to one's courtesy. It is rather like offering a gift to a stranger and have them slap one's face in return.

You are right, however: one should not give up courtesy simply becauses others don't possess it - that would be truly defeatist.


11:43 PM  

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