It is a fine line

中国日报网 2013-03-01 11:51



It is a fine line

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: It is a fine line between love and hate.

My comments:

In other words, sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which.

Love and hate are feelings occupying the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. On the surface, they’re different as different can be. They’re as different as day and night, having nothing in common.

And yet, in actuality, if you care to watch the sunset one afternoon and observe exactly when day morphs into the night, you may find it a difficult task. Just exactly when does daylight changes into darkness? At 18:09:45? Or a few ticks before? Or after.

See what I mean? It’s a fine line.

“Fine” means thin and small. We talk of fine threads and they’re threads so thin that we can hardly distinguish one from another. We’ve been talking a lot about fine dusts this winter. By that we are not saying that they’re good as we talk of someone as a fine fellow or that we’re fine (OK and comfortable) with the air. On the contrary, by “fine dust” we are talking about those small, tiny pollutants in the air and we’re not at tall fine (OK and happy) with it.

Anyways, “fine” in “fine line” means thin. It’s a thin boundary line, so thin that it becomes hard to tell where one area ends and the other area begins.

Loving couples or one time lovers at any rate understand the love-hate dilemma perfectly. When they first fall in love, it’s all love for them, pure and unblemished.

They then get married and vow to love each other till deaths do them apart and so forth.

Then, of course, some couples grow to hate each other so much that their relationships lead to murder, which prompts Alan Watts to humorously point out that is perhaps what they mean by “till deaths do them apart”.

In short, of all people and amongst all relations, friends and acquaintances, one’s spouse is sometimes the person one hates the most. They’re often also the person they love the most, of course.

Usually one’s spouse is both – both the person they love the most and the one they hate the most.

Both at the same time.

And in this situation, the distinction between love and hate is blurred – you no longer know where the good feeling ends and where the bad blood begins to boil.

At any rate, I think you now understand that whenever they say there’s a fine line between two different things, they mean to say the distinction is actually not very clear. In other words, instead of being as clear as black from white, it’s kind of gray.

In Chinese, we have Jing Wei Fen Ming (泾渭分明) and that means two rivers with two different colors. As you know, River Jing is, or used to be at the very least a much cleaner river. As it runs into the bigger Wei River, it’s easily distinguished from the sandy waters of the Wei. Two clear-cut waterways, one clean one muddy run side by side for a distance before they fully merge – and that’s when a fine line begins to emerge.

In other words, a fine line between two things is not at all Jing Wei Fen Ming.

Alright, here are media examples:

1. Perhaps it was his way with the overhead projector, the quaint leather patches on his brown corduroy jacket. Or maybe it was how she scribbled her notes so furiously into her spiral-bound notebook. The relationship between university tutor and student is a delicately poised one.

Tuesday saw the acquittal of one Russell Griffiths, a 36-year-old lecturer who had been accused of drugging and raping one of his 18-year-old students when he was working at the University of Lincoln and Humberside two years ago. The jury was prevented from hearing of a book kept by Griffiths, telling of his sexual exploits. The student in question was number 84, of a total of 90 women.

This case was exceptional. Griffiths is a man with previous criminal convictions, all of which involved obsessive behaviour towards women. In his “little black book”, he gave explicit details of his sexual encounters with women, rating them out of 10 under categories such as BT (Best Technique) and BF (Best Feature). Summing up, Judge Richard Pollard described Griffiths’ actions as “unattractive, repellent and disgusting”.

Sex and students are synonymous. Roving hands groping the breast, the knee, the buttocks of some unwitting 18-year-old happen every Friday night on the crowded dance floor of a Ritzy’s near you. They come with the territory of student life and the cheap offers on Carlsberg. But sherry-soaked lurches in the faculty library are a different matter.

University is a time of exploring one’s own identity away from the family unit. The proud gaze of your mother no longer follows you; she is not there to disapprove of the state of your bedroom or your latest beau. For many, this is a time of sexual experimentation. A survey of male students at Cambridge University found that two-thirds were virgins at the start of their degrees, but only one-third had not tried sex by the time they had completed their finals.

For the herd of 18- and 19-year-olds who scramble, colt-legged and wet-nosed, into our universities each autumn term, the student room, small and grotty, is often the first of their own. There is a pervading smell of toast. The walls are thin and speckled with greasy Blu-Tack marks; your spider plant is half-dead and a pair of cheap brown curtains mope around the window frame. You keep your milk outside on the windowsill, swathed in a Tesco carrier bag, and a packet of Durex Featherlite under your lumpy mattress, in the half-hope, half-fear that you might get lucky.

For the first time in your life, you can get up and go to bed whenever they like. More importantly, you can drag home whoever you choose in the wee small hours, to fumble and frolic in a creaking, narrow bed.

A sexual frisson between students and tutors is almost inevitable. The tutor can become a parent substitute: the elder figure to whom a student will always defer, the central person in her life, whom she strives to impress and to please with her academic efforts. Intellectual sparring can fast develop into a form of flirtation.

Verity Coyle, president of the student union at the University of Lincoln and Humberside, where Griffiths used to teach, confirms that the lecturer is a “glamorized” figure, almost guru-like in his appeal to female students. By comparison, their male peers seem immature and inexperienced. Any kind of sexual approach made by the tutor is unlikely to be rejected, she says.

For the tutor, it is flattering to be feted by his young female students. But Coyle believes it is up to him to resist. “The responsibility should always be with the lecturer to draw the line,” she says. He is, after all, in the position of authority. But she hopes cases such as that of Griffiths and recent allegations at Edinburgh University, where a reader in social anthropology has been charged with sexual harassment of female students, will not discourage tutors from holding one-to-one tutorials.

In 1995, Pam Carter and Tony Jeffs of the University of Northumbria published a study entitled A Very Private Affair - Sexual Exploitation in Higher Education. Several years spent interviewing university officials and students revealed a profile of the “serial exploiter” - a heterosexual male tutor, frequently lecturing in arts subjects, who makes inappropriate passes at his female students.

The most concerning outcome of the report was that such incidents are likely to be brushed deftly under the carpet. University authorities do not wish to receive the adverse publicity a sexual harassment case might bring, nor do they wish to lose an eminent academic from their staff.

University officials continually told Carter and Jeffs that students were adults, responsible for their own sexual behaviour. David Melhuish of the Association of University Teachers (AUT) agrees. “This is not the sort of substitute parent relationship you get in schools. The students are adults.” The AUT’s own guidelines stress that there should not be any “potential perceived impropriety” in a student-tutor relationship. A tutor should not be “perceived as having a relationship with a student”, as this could have grave professional repercussions.

Melhuish concedes that the kind of contact that occurs between students and teachers in a university environment makes incidents of sexual entanglement more likely. “Tutorials bring together varying ages and outlooks which might not otherwise meet,” he says. However, he does not believe that it is ultimately the responsibility of the AUT to advise on such matters, other than in a professional capacity. “It is not for us to tell members how to conduct their personal lives.”

Peter Lang, senior lecturer at the Institute of Education at Warwick, believes there should be escape mechanisms for tutors who do become overly involved with a student. The line may easily be crossed, he points out: “If a student breaks down in tears before you, it is an instinctive response to put your arms around her.”

He believes personal tutors in particular require special training to deal with such emotionally charged situations. At Warwick, a tutor can approach his head of department with any concerns regarding conduct. It may simply be the case that it is deemed inappropriate for the tutor to mark a particular student's work - but the key factor is that the relationship, however trivial, should be dealt with openly. Lang himself met his wife when he was a tutor for the Open University and she a student, albeit of another tutor.

The unnamed student at the University of Lincoln and Humberside is continuing with her studies at the university. Verity Coyle stresses that she is immensely proud of the girl. “She didn’t do that well in her A-levels,” she says, “so going to uni took courage in itself.”

As exceptional as the Griffiths case is, wherever questions of power, responsibility and attraction meet, there will inevitably be problems. The student-lecturer relationship is complex and it is a fine line between hero-worship and exploitation.

- A hard lesson,, October 12, 2000.

2. It is a fine line between getting rid of pesky rodents and in doing so, attributing to the deaths of birds of prey. Researchers have been working tirelessly to try and determine which bird species are more susceptible to the poison and which birds are affected immediately, as well as trying to find ways to curb the accessibility of poisoned rodents to birds of prey. Their studies have had some remarkable and disturbing results, showing that less poison than previously thought is enough to cause serious damage.

It has been an ongoing study to figure out exactly how much rat poison is fatal for birds, and it seems that it does not take much to cause major harm. For years it has been known that wildlife is exposed to rat poisons through affected rodents. As rats were becoming resistant to the old poison formulas, new ones were created, but these poisons also pose a great risk. To understand the risks, a group of scientists from Environment Canada, with Philippe Thomas leading, began researching the effect rat poison had on birds by analyzing the livers from dead red-tailed hawks and great horned owls that they had found across Canada. It was important to the group to try and determine an estimated mortality rate for the birds, the rats and the population. It seems that some poisons do not kill rats immediately. Rats are still able to function for several days after poisoning, but as the poison begins to take its toll, rats become disorientated and easier prey for birds such as the great horned owl and the red-tailed hawks.

While studying the great horned owls, it was found that they were at serious risk of being fatally effected by the secondary digestion of rat poisons. The owls that were analyzed showed a higher percentage of poison in their livers than the red-tailed hawks, and their livers showed the presence of bromadiolone and brodifacoum. Scientists speculate that this result could be due to the different feeding habits and dietary needs of the birds. The lethal poisons that are in question are SGARs, or Second-Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides. While it is understood that rats are pests and should be controlled, the team has stressed the urgency of educating the public on how to use these poisons safely, to pose as minimum a threat to wildlife as possible.

- Rat Poison a Danger to Birds,, May 10, 2011.

3. Derrick Rose stood chatting with coach Tom Thibodeau for several minutes Wednesday after practice. Then, the Chicago Bulls’ superstar worked on his jumper.

When he’ll suit up in a game remains anyone’s guess, and just for the record, Thibodeau insisted they weren’t discussing a return against Philadelphia on Thursday.

“Nope,” he said with a grin. “Just talking about basketball.”

Everyone else, it seems, is talking about Rose.

Thibodeau wanted to make one thing clear: Don't blame the Bulls’ recent slide on the speculation surrounding the star point guard's possible return from knee surgery.

“Hey, we knew going in what the circumstances were going to be this year,” Thibodeau said. “There was no timetable. There was no date where we were saying, ‘OK, he’s going to be back this date.’ It’s when he’s ready, and we knew that going in. We can’t allow that to be an excuse for us not getting the job done. We got to get the job done. We’ve shown that we’re capable and obviously capable of playing better than we have been recently.”


It’s all created a blurry picture. Yet, at the same time, Rose has been participating in five-on-five drills since the All-Star break, and a video of him dunking before the Oklahoma City game on Sunday sparked more enthusiasm among some fans.

“He sees how he’s improving,” Thibodeau said. “As I’ve said all along, we all have to understand the intensity of an NBA game is totally different than practice. So he’s preparing himself for that and he’ll know when he’s ready and we’ll know he’s ready. So we just got to be patient.”

Is it more mental or physical for him at this point?

“There’s physical, there’s mental, there’s both,” Thibodeau said. “He’s handled himself great. And as I said, we’ll know when he’s ready.”

For now, he’s searching for solutions, a way to stop this slide. The Bulls are 4-8 in February, just their second losing month in 21/2 seasons under Thibodeau.

There’s a fine line between winning and losing,” he said. “Oftentimes, it’s the bounce of the ball. It’s a loose ball here, a loose ball there. It’s one play. We can’t get down. When you’re facing some adversity, you have to be mentally tough. You have to get through things. I’m confident that we will.”

- Thibodeau: Don’t blame slide on Rose speculation,, February 27, 2013.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



That would be stretching it

Large shoes to fill?

Career hits a bump?

Obama hit with friendly fire

No coat tails to ride on?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



















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