Conforming Beats Embarrassment

Regina Cano

Cubans trying to hitch a ride. Photo: Isbel Díaz

The transportation inspector in blue* commented, “The driver said he’d take two passengers, though he had four empty seats,” with the official’s acquiescence going that far in relation to what someone else asked. “I’m not going to face embarrassment asking him to let one more person in,” said the inspector, conceding his right to further negotiations.

Acquiescence, or conformity, is reflected in many ways.

To feel embarrassment or shame in relation to what should be a right is common among Cubans, who silently accept the reduced weight of a product they buy, be it meat, vegetables or whatever.

Otherwise they’ll have to listen to the griping of whoever’s providing the service – the food vendor a bus driver, some store clerk or any other worker who deals with the public, who on other occasions are themselves victims of similar acts.

The embarrassment of possibly being wrong, accompanied by the fear of being hammered with blame (because the offender will act as if the dupe were guilty), offers favorable circumstances for those having a small bit of power in their hands to abuse the even less powerful.

It’s an endless chain of “give me back what I didn’t give you,” (cheating the person that didn’t cheat you) while the receiver of the blow looks around dazed, at least until their turn comes to do the hitting.

Honesty and humility toward one’s fellow beings are qualities that are disappearing daily in the streets of Havana and one that generates contemptuous interactions that turn the days of the ordinary resident into a living hell.

People are trapped by the moral norms of shame (or fear) of what others might think about you, with this based on a morality that has degenerated and is commonplace in recent times.  They come to believe in what individual chaos recognizes as truth.

It is a mistaken and contagious shame that hammers heaviest and harder on the weakest layers of society.

(*) These transportation inspectors are assigned to high-traffic areas of neighborhoods or highways, with their jobs being to stop State-owned cars and fill them with citizens needing a ride.