The Oracle sat upon the mountain. Billy and I had walked a long way to get there, which was bloody hard work if you don’t mind me saying, so we sat our respective asses down and listened. And thus the Oracle spake:

“If thou want to live a long and fulfilling life, thou shalt avoid violence and abuse. Thou need to learn to use the skills of the violent and abusive person, just in case thou need them, but thou shalt remember that the best response is avoidance, always. The only way to really win the game is not to play it.”

I nodded, because that sounded good to me. I’ve always found pain painful and paperwork boring, and it seems to me that violence and abuse have a tendency to lead to at least one of the two. The Oracle carried on:

“Thou must think ahead and avoid situations where violence is likely. Not doing so is extremely foolish, and if thou find thyself hurt as a result you’ve only got thyself to blame. The same applies to abusive situations. When thou see an abusive situation developing, thou need to get the hell out of there. Otherwise it’s a case of play stupid games, win stupid prizes, yo.”

I kinda got that, but I also kinda didn’t, so I raised my hand. The Oracle gazed upon me and said:

“Toilets are the second tree down the left-hand path.”

“I don’t need to go. I’ve actually got a question.”

The Oracle blinked a few times. “I don’t normally do this, but ok.”

“I’m having a problem at home…”

“Then thou must raise it! Thou must make the problem known, so that it can be resolved!”

“Yeah, well, I did that, and it didn’t really help. I was told to shut it and stop making shit up.”

“Then thou must bring it up to the authorities!”

“I tried that too. The authorities don’t seem too interested. You see, I’m managing not to get beaten up or fucked, so nothing much is effectively happening, and apparently they don’t have a great deal of power in that kind of situation. It’s like I’m doing too well to get help. But it’s exhausting, it makes me feel like shit, and I don’t know how long I can keep it up for.”

“Then thou shalt leave your home!” boomed the Oracle. “If thy community does not support you, thou shalt find one that does!”

“Yeah, but, it’s not that simple. I can’t just…”

“Oh yes thou can! Thou just choose to make excuses for thyself instead of taking action!”

“But if I just take my shit and go I’ll literally end up living in a cardboard box somewhere, for a while at least. That strikes me as a situation that is pretty likely to put me in the path of violence and abuse. Things are bad now, but at least I know I can manage them. And, like, I won’t die of hypothermia.”

“Whatever. If thou doesn’t want to listen, then thou can continue making excuses. I shalt not waste my precious time over thee until thou gets thy shit sorted out!”

My friend Billy raised his hand next. I like Billy. We go back a long way.

“Oh, go on, then!” sputtered the Oracle. “I’ve completely lost my flow anyway!”

“I’m having a problem in school…”

The Oracle sat up and suddenly looked really keen. “Then thou shalt face it!”

“Say whut?” said Billy.

“Thou cans’t run away from thy problems! Thou must face them, because only in resolving them there is growth! Also,” the Oracle whispered conspiratorially, “thou will gain a lot of experience in the process. A few years down the line thou’ll be bloody glad of it. The chicks dig men with experience.”

“Yeah, but, like, you just said that the best thing to do with violence and abuse was to avoid them. So if I changed school…”

“NO!” shouted the Oracle. “If thou start running, thou shalt never stop! These problems are to be conquered!”

“But you literally just said that if we have a problem at home or in the street we should just up and leave.”

The Oracle leaned forward to stare into Billy’s eyes. “Look, man, thou need to get this, because it’s really important. School is thy assigned place of responsibility. If thou have a problem there, thou need to resolve it. Thou can’t just leg it.”

“But I’m paying to be in school. My family and the taxpayers are paying for the privilege of having me spend a ton of hours there, day after day, for the purpose of my personal development. And what it’s boiling down to is that all that money is buying me the privilege of being forced to interact with people who seek to harm me.”

“Wherever thou go, thou will find people who seek to harm thee. Thou needs to learn to deal with them by thine own self.”

“But while I’m in school I can’t. When I’m there I’m under someone’s supervision. Each and every interaction I have is covered by a strict behavioural code. So not only going to school is putting me in the path of harm, but my school is failing in its stated obligations to me.”

“That’s not the point. The point is that thou can’t learn to deal with thy problems by avoiding them or farming them out to third parties. Running away from those problems makes thee a weakling and a fool.”

“But if they were at home, or in the street…”

“Then it’d be totally different. Then thou’d be a weakling and a fool for not running away.”

Billy pressed his thumbs against the bridge of his nose. He does that when he gets confused. “So, if I have a problem at home, I need to learn to leave it. If I have a problem in the street, I need to learn to walk away from it. But if I have a problem in school, I need to learn to face it? Even knowing from the onset that chances are that I won’t manage, and that if I do I will be punished for doing so?”


“And if I left home, as you advised, and found myself in another difficult living situation, because it’s not as if I’m overburdened with good options, then I should learn to leave that, too?”


“But if I got a job to support my new life, and that job put me in the way of harm, then…” Billy squinted, “then I should stick with it?”

“Precisely!” beamed the Oracle. “I’m so glad thou get it!”

“To be honest, I don’t. I don’t understand why you’re applying different criteria to different situations.”

The Oracle started to look pissed off. “Because those situations are different! Some things thou gets to choose, and some thou don’t!”

I piped up. “That doesn’t cut it. I’ve got more of a chance of choosing my school and my job than my parents or my neighbours. And with partners half the time you only get to know what you’ve chosen after you’ve chosen, it seems.”

“Thy job and thy school are thy assigned places of responsibility! They’re not meant to be fun!”

Billy folded his arms. “My cousin has a kid with her partner. Seems like her home is her assigned place of responsibility, too.”

“Then she needs to take the kid with her and start a new life for them both.”

“That’d be, like, illegal?”

“One must do what is right, regardless of what society dictates.”

“But I can’t cut school to avoid getting my head beaten to a bloody pulp against a toilet, because going to school is my socially dictated responsibility?”

“Yes! Thou shalt learn to manage that!”

“And my sister should try to change her life completely, regardless of the consequences, apart from her job? She should stick with that even if it sucks?”


“But why? There isn’t just one single, monolithic Job. There are tons of jobs. Some suck more than others.”

The Oracle looked too pissed off to speak.

I leaned over towards Billy and muttered in his ear. “Dude, are you getting this?”

He muttered back. “Nope. It makes fuck-all sense to me. I’ve only got one life. I figured I should take every step I can to make it as good a life as I can, regardless of the setting.”

“Yeah dude. I thought oracles would be, like, more holistic and shit.”

“Me too. Hey, did you spot those bushes we passed coming up the path? Those were blackberries.”

“Really? I love blackberries.”

“Fancy getting some?”

“Yeah man. I’m peckish.”

So me and Billy got up, said our thanks to the Oracle, and made our way back down the path to pick some blackberries. For a long while we could hear the Oracle talk about us, explaining to people that we’re what’s wrong with our generation, that we’re quitters, that we don’t know what’s good for us, that we don’t want to listen to our elders and betters, and so on and so forth. But in all honesty we didn’t give a fuck, because between an Oracle spouting bullshit and a bellyful of blackberries it ain’t even a competition.


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