I'm looking for a story
"Sshhh . . .", a 1989 short story by David Brin. Aside from translations, it has appeared only in Amazing Stories, May 1989 and in Brin's collection Otherness. Any of these covers look familiar?
about aliens who are about to make first contact with Earth. These aliens are definitely better than humanity.
They also seemed omnipotent! Terrifically strong and coordinated, they lived, as corporeal entities, for thousands of years before going on to join their Universal Mind. Skills a human might spend a lifetime perfecting were the study of a lazy weekend to a Lentili. Their accomplishments, both as a race and as individuals, were awesome.
The Lentili spoke kindly of the arts and achievements of humankind, never qualifying their praise as some of us would have, allowing for the fact that these were, after all, the simple works of children. And yet, how could we avoid inserting those burning qualifiers ourselves?
The President of Earth, or the USA,
Joseph Tridden, President of the Interim Council of Terra
tells people to destroy library indexes or card catalogs in order to conceal from the aliens a mysterious human quality, listed in these tools.
"At the very start of our long relationship with a kind, decent race—one whose interest in our welfare is indisputable—we find it actually within our power to wreak untold psychic harm upon our benefactors. The Lentili have a mental block, something like an odd inferiority complex, and it concerns something so mundane to us that few human beings ever bother even thinking about it past the age of ten! It certainly isn't our fault. And yet we can hurt our new friends terribly if we are crass or rudely force them to see what they would rather not. We are duty bound to try to minimize that harm as best we can.
"Therefore, I have decided to ask you all to join me in making a grand sacrifice.
"Over the coming weeks, as we prepare to receive our visitors, our guests and future guides, we must expunge all references to this human talent from our literature, from our language, from our outward lives!
"To begin with, I have already given orders to various governmental agencies, using my emergency powers. Commencing this hour, the indexes to the UN Data Bank and the Library of Congress are being destroyed.
"Let me emphasize . . . no books will actually be burned! But in the laborious process of reconstruction, the new indexes will exclude all reference to this human ability that so disturbs our new friends.
"All of you can do the same, in your towns and villages and homes. We must not, of course, destroy our heritage. But we can at least make an effort to mask this thing, so that when the Lentili arrive we might spare them avoidable pain."
The mysterious quality is not identified. It is a sham by the president to protect the humans from the comparison with the aliens. It gives the humans sufficient self-assurance to survive first contact.
They walk among us like gods. But we have our revenge.
For the Lentili know Tridden must have been mad. They know there is no secret talent. We are not sheltering them from some bright truth, hiding something from them out of pity. Out of love.
They know it.
And yet, every now and then I have seen it. I've seen it! Seen it in their deep, expressive eyes, each time something new from our renaissance surprises them, oh, so briefly.
I have seen that glimmer of wonder, of unease. That momentary, fearful doubt.
That is when I pity the poor creatures.
Thank God, I can pity them.