The dung beetle spends its days rolling manure into neat little balls and storing them in its underground den. On the surface, this seems a noble activity. The ultimate repurposer, the beetles recycle poo into nourishment.
After the initial “yuk” reaction, you have to admire a creature that makes use of the lowliest of earthly substances.
Humans can be dung beetles, too. I enjoy the television show American Pickers. With equal parts horror and delight, we observe people who haven’t thrown out anything in decades. When a valuable treasure from the American past is unearthed in a storage shed, barn, or basement, this hoarding behavior is suddenly justified.
But some human hoarding can be turned to evil purposes. Am I being dramatic? Not when the balls of dung are lobbed at others with harmful intention.
The human dung beetle I abhor saves up hurtful bits of information about fellow humans. The remembered error from the distant past is saved for an opportune moment to shame the perpetrator. Like a dung beetle extracting a particularly juicy ball of poo from its den, the beetle-person announces, “I remember that time you-”
“I knew you when” can take on hurtful dimensions when the past was an ugly place. Change is not easy. Let the accomplishment stand.
Fiction provides endless examples of humans who change, from good to bad, or vice versa. A subplot in To Kill a Mockingbird involves an older neighbor who needs help from Scout Finch to end her morphine addiction. What happens after the novel closes? Mrs. Dubose doesn’t need her struggle dredged up every Sunday at church services by some old biddie with an agenda. “I remember when you used to be addicted to morphine. How nice you’ve changed.” Let’s hope her neighbors let her get on with her life.
In my novel Stone Cold Dead, a young man claims to have turned his back on his troubled past. Will the other characters believe him, or hold his past behavior against him, never trusting his change to be genuine?
What fictional changes have you enjoyed reading about? Can you imagine how that triumph could be diminished by a human dung beetle?
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