Shark-infested waters and macho men

  • Howard Feldman 2018
A few years ago, when it wasn’t as windy in Muizenberg, and when great white sharks would still hang around the False Bay area, it was fairly common for the siren to sound and for swimmers to be told to get out of the water. The “shark spotters” would keep a close eye out, and then signal when the danger had passed.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Mar 12, 2020

I recall one such event clearly. An older (and wiser) member of my extended family was about to go for his daily swim when the siren sounded. Without hesitation, he took off his t-shirt, and went down to the water. His wife, unimpressed, tried to reason with him and begged him to wait until the shark had reached Sunrise Beach at the least. He was horrified at the thought, and before diving headfirst into the water, turned to her and said the immortal words, “No shark will keep me out of the water.”

I was younger, and I was impressed. At that moment, he appeared brave and strong, and his logic was flawless. It took me years to realise that although his statement was accurate and true (because no shark did keep him out of the water), it could be equally true that a shark could eat him.

There are a number of ways to approach danger. Whether it’s the threat of a shark attack or the coronavirus, our response says a lot about who we are.

On the advice of Dr Anton Meyberg, who I interviewed on my morning show, and on the instruction of the chief rabbis (both in South Africa and Israel), I have refrained from shaking hands with people. The idea is to try and contain the virus, and not spread it to the more vulnerable in our community.

The reaction has been fascinating. Whereas some share this approach, some don’t. A few of those who don’t are still able to respect my choice, whereas a number of people even managed to be offended by it. “Oh, are you one those?” is the refrain I have heard repeatedly. For the first time, I can appreciate what being vegan feels like.

The absurdity of it is that this reaction appears in some way to be a consistent South African male response to conflict. In this case, their refusal to be cautious must imply that they are stronger, more manly, tougher, and better endowed than the virus.

The harsh reality is that this virus is new, unpredictable, and virulent. And it presents a significant danger to the compromised and elder members of our society. It’s our moral imperative to do what we are able to in order to contain the spread. Simply put, it’s one thing to make the decision to swim in shark-infested waters when it’s only you who might get eaten. It’s something completely different to introduce the great white to someone’s swimming pool.

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