Tag Archives: World War II

Loyalty

cornMy father always extolled the virtues of loyalty.  Specifically, he extolled the virtue of him being loyal to his employer. He demonstrated this by buying its products when given the choice (for example).  He reasoned that his employer provided him with a living and for that reason he (and by extension his family) should be loyal to his employer.  The company he worked for was bought in the 80s by another larger company and my father lost his job as a result.  He remained unemployed for a couple of years before another company hired him.  During that period I remember him being very irritable and angry. I was young at the time and did not make the connection between the anger he vented on me and my siblings and the fact that he felt betrayed regarding his lack of employment. On one hand this was not an issue of loyalty per se. His employer paid him for the work he did and there was a reciprocal relationship there. Another company purchased his company and replaced the management team. There technically was no breach of loyalty in the scenario. However, there is no denying the fact that he felt betrayed. Perhaps it was the issue of loyalty on a higher level that seemed to be frustrated when he lost his job. Perhaps he felt that the universe was somehow being disloyal or had breached some sort of implied cosmic contract.

My father naturally passed this sense of loyalty on to me. Growing up, I always considered loyalty to be an admirable quality demonstrating one’s personal sense of responsibility and that being disloyal was a sin akin to  irresponsibility.  I connect this idea with the fact that I grew up in a family environment where the sense was constantly impressed upon me that World War II was a golden age for America. The war years were a time when everyone was loyal and patriotic (at least this was the way it had been described to me). This idea implied that the reason the United States of America of my youth seemed to be a declining power could be attributed to its citizens no longer being as loyal and patriotic as they were during the period of World War II.

I remember talking to my uncle (my father’s brother) at my wedding right before the ceremony was about to begin.  At the time I assumed my uncle had the same virtues as my father because they grew up in the same mid western family under the same parents. I remember telling my uncle that I learned the value of loyalty from his generation.  My uncle replied tersely, “loyalty is earned.”  This struck me as a different message than I was accustomed to hearing from my father but I put it aside for the time being.

I always felt a responsibility to be loyal to society at large and the organizations in which I was a member.  I felt that if I followed the rules I would naturally succeed and be rewarded in due time. My experience, however, did not prove this feeling to be true. It seems like every organization of which I was a member declined around me because other people were not as loyal to it as they should have been. That is, they did not take their membership seriously and they were not as loyal as I was. There were many situations where I remained loyal when other people bailed and I went down with the ship of more than a few organizations in my life.  At times I looked at these people who were not being loyal around me who in many cases went on to be more successful and less burdened by my concerns. This made me feel jealous, resentful and somehow guilty all at the same time.

I worked for a law firm for eight years and hated it because I never felt valued by the organization. I wanted to quit throughout these eight years but never did because I was afraid to loose the income I needed to pay for the obligations I had accumulated. And so I existed in a state of limbo where I forced myself to work for an organization that did not value me and that I intensely disliked. I wonder if this idea of loyalty somehow influenced me to stay with this law firm. If true, the fact that I was loyal to someone who did not seem loyal to me in return suggests to me that this strategy is flawed. It seems that loyalty in certain situations appears and feels on some level to be virtuous but is actually a self defeating manipulation. Similar to my father’s employer the law firm eventually laid me off in 2009 during the great recession.  At first I felt liberated but then felt like I had been screwed. All those years of loyalty were wasted years in many respects. I also question what exactly I was being loyal to. Again, there seems to be this larger, universal, contractual sense to loyalty at play here.

Is loyalty for suckers?  In many ways I think my uncle was right.  I suppose I am a sucker if I chose to be loyal to someone  who has not earned my loyalty. There certainly is a place for loyalty when it derives from a reciprocal relationship of mutual trust and respect. But I can see now that loyalty for the sake of loyalty itself (perhaps this in the universal loyalty I touched upon) is definitely for suckers. A person who adopts this philosophy is probably an easy target for any person, corporation or other organization that wants to take advantage of it.

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Hierarchy and Blame Attract Shame Driven People

Shame driven people are attracted to hierarchical organizations that espouse “us against them” mentalities. The reason is simple. The only way for the shame driven person to feel good about himself is to shame others and thereby place himself higher on the hierarchy existing in his mind.

Two good examples of shame driven organizations are the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. Both organizations arose out of environments of defeat giving rise to low self-esteem (i.e., shame). The Nazis rose to power after Germany’s defeat in World War I. The Ku Klux Klan arose after the Confederate States’ defeat in the American Civil War. It is easy to see how the environment in both situations gave rise to resentment and shame and thus the need for the inhabitants of these environments to feel good about themselves again. Both organizations became attractive to shame driven people because they offered an opportunity to rewrite the directionless narrative of defeat into something more organized and aspirational.

These organizations accomplished this in part by creating scapegoats to blame for their problems. The Nazi’s blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat and societal problems in the time between World War I and II. The Ku Klux Klan blamed and continues to blame the non white races for what they perceive to be the decay of American civil and moral society.

Consistent with this theme is shame’s love of uniforms and rank. The uniforms identify the shame driven individual as part of a larger group and cloaks them with power and prestige than they would not otherwise possess on their own. The rank insignia clearly designates their place on the hierarchy within the group. But more than this, the uniform masks their identity allowing their true self to hide from the pain of shame.

Shame itself is completely ego driven. It is highly judgmental. It constantly compares itself to other things. It constantly compares other things to each other. For example it is common for the shame driven person to say, “things were better in the past than they are now.” A shame driven person will point to other groups and say, “I am right, they are wrong.” Once this judgment is made, it then becomes easy to hate the other group and attempt to impose their will upon them through shame and bullying. On the international scale you might see one country invade another because they believe themselves to occupy a higher rung on the hierarchy of nations.

Of course shame driven people will never admit their real motivation is to deaden the pain of shame. This would only bring about more shame and pain (in the short run). It is far easier (although ultimately less effective) to hide in groups and uniforms blaming others for their problems while claiming to act in the name of morality. From this perspective they can feel better (relatively) about themselves. Ultimately, however, shame never leads to victory. In most cases it subconsciously self-sabotages and leads to self-annihilation.

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The Entitlement Generation

There is a meme floating about the internet condemning the “Entitlement Generation.” An article written by a woman calling herself Anchormom seems to typify the spirit of this opinion. In short, Anchormom argues that the current generation of young adults (I assume this means teen agers to late 20s) lacks the virtue embodied by the “Greatest” generation of World War II warriors / Depression survivors and to a lesser extent the Baby Boom generation that followed. From what I gather, Anchormom is of the Baby Boom generation.

She uses one example of a girl who wore inappropriate clothing to work and then refused to change into something more appropriate when asked to do so by her boss. She uses this girl as an example which presumably in the mind of Anchormom typifies the entire generation.

My first reaction is that I am not convinced this girl represents the entire generation Anchormom describes. Certainly all the young servicemen and women who went off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan refute her position that this generation is an “entitlement generation.” I don’t argue that no one in this generation is entitled in the way she describes but is that not true of every generation?

Anchormom also describes how her mother hit her with a wooden spoon to discipline her when she was young and seems to be insulted by another person reacting critically to this. The way she reacted to this criticism is telling. Instead of explaining that the criticism took the spoon out of context she exclaims “I honestly had to laugh.” This response (in my opinion) was intended to shame the person who criticized her mother’s disciplinary technique. This suggests to me that behind the spoon her mother used on her was an energy of shame, a shame that Anchormom feels compelled to defend out of a sense of loyalty. This is typical of the shame dynamic.

It depends very much on the energy that was behind the spoon. If the energy was shaming then it doesn’t matter if Anchormom’s brothers are a journalist a doctor and an HR executive (as Anchormom boasts). If the energy was shamming then I suspect they’re probably not living happy lives despite their lofty positions and passing their shame onto others just as Anchormom is trying to do in this article.

The tone of Anchormom’s writing comes off very judgmental and condescending further suggesting the motivation behind her writing is her own shame and the desire to pass on this shame to others to make her feel better about herself. In another paragraph Anchormom comes off defensive, critical and angry where she compiles a list of things her generation “didn’t do” in comparison to her “entitlement” generation. Again, the characteristics of this tone suggest shame is her motivation and are also typical of the shame dynamic.

In defense of Anchormom and her parents, the world was tough during the depression and World War II era. In that generation it was probably justified for parents to use corporal punishment to get their kids in line because the stakes were too high if they didn’t. Survival was at stake. However, survival is no longer at stake in the same way and since that time the cultural pendulum probably has swung too far in the touchy-feely direction. I’m not a fan of political correctness but I’m also not a fan of shaming others as a means of behavior control and a sense of loyalty to shame. The impact on their lives and the lives they will impact in turn is just too negative and miserable. I understand Anchormom’s nostalgia for her youth and an era that seemed better to her in many respects. But I suspect her motivation in writing this article has less to do with her desire to reform this “entitlement generation” and more to with her subconscious desire to pass on the shame that was passed on to her.

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The Greatest Generation *

Tom Brokaw wrote a book entitled “The Greatest Generation.”  I never read it but I’m pretty sure I know what he wrote about because I grew up with parents who also sung the praises of this greatest generation.  Like Brokaw my parents belonged to the baby boomers.  They always talked about how great their parents were and sort of implied how ungrateful my generation was.  They told me or implied that things were better in the past because they and their parents lived in simpler, more virtuous times.  The United States was really united back then, also more patriotic and religious.  We had the strongest economy, best education and the most powerful military.  My parents both went to college, found professional jobs, bought a house, my mother became a house wife and my father retired in his 60s with a pension.

My earliest memories come from the 1970s when things seemed to be in decay.  Jimmy Carter was the President.  Pollution was horrible.  The military seemed weak after Vietnam.  Faith in the government had been undermined by Nixon.  There were gas shortages and hostage crisis.  Crime was up.  The purity was somehow gone and had been replaced by malaise, irony and sarcasm. The golden age was clearly over.  Ronald Reagan seemed to lift the spirit of the country but something told me that it was a paler, less authentic reflection of the spirit felt during the time of the greatest generation.  The country longed to return to that time and pretended it had somehow returned but everyone really knew it wasn’t quite the same.

What bothers me about the concept of the “greatest generation” is that it implies all other generations are not as great.  It implies the way to pay tribute to that generation is to feel like our generation would not have persevered and stepped up to fight like the greatest one did.  It also implies that the US as a country was better because of the virtue of the generation that lived at that time.  They fought the war, they joined civic organizations, they were patriotic.  As such when a member of my generation doesn’t pull his own weight it not only reveals him to be a weaker, flawed person than the gods of the greatest generation, he is also contributing to the downfall of our civilization.

The concept of the greatest generation implies that my generation is somehow responsible for American decline because we cannot measure up to that generation.  It is a form of original sin.  The concept of the greatest generation implies that our generation missed out on something better and that we didn’t deserve it anyway because we just aren’t as good as they were.  The concept of the greatest generation implies also that it is our duty to feel ashamed of ourselves to atone for this.

I grew up wishing I lived during World War II when people were patriotic and united.  I wished I had destiny handed to me like that generation who were drafted into the military.  I felt lost and unnecessary all my life and told that I did not deserve what I had.  When I graduated college in 1993 I could not find a job.  I would have given anything to be told I was needed and given a destiny.

When the greatest generation was in its heyday everyone in the street wore a suit.  Now, not even the President wears a tie at times.  It feels like the standards are slipping but I know would have been one of the ones to maintain the standards and yet was never given an opportunity to do so and then blamed for not maintaining the standards in the end. Every organization I have belonged to was great once and decayed during my lifetime.  The US is just one example of this for reasons I have discussed.  The Catholic Church is another example.  The soulless folk masses I attend as a kid seemed half assed in comparison to the rigid, solemn splendor of the Latin Mass my parents attended when they were kids.  My Boy Scout troop disbanded while I was a member.  The fraternity I joined in college was the strongest on campus and then decayed when a kid fell off the roof during a post initiation party.  After that most members stopped contributing.  I (for some reason) felt compelled to keep it going.

This myth of the greatest generation was devised by the baby boomer generation.  I imagine the greatest generation came home from the war where they witnessed horrors.  Perhaps they suffered from PTSD.  They came back to live in a society that did not experience the direct assault of the war in that the cities and infrastructure were not destroyed.  The standard of living in the US at the time was far superior to devastated Europe.  The greatest generation saw their soft kids growing up like this and shamed them because they could not deal with it.  Clean your plate – there’s starving kids in Europe!  So the baby boomers in turn grew up with a great deal of shame.  And what does a person who feels shame do?  He dumps it on to someone weaker than him.  This happened to be the children of the baby boomers, my generation that grew up in the 1970s.

There’s the sense that I’ve been carrying the weight of civilization on my shoulders.  That things were better back then because people are more selfish and less disciplined now.  So every act of selfishness now is further undermining civilization.  When I’m bad I’m not just undermining myself, I’m undermining civilization.  But is that any way to live a life?  I did not decide when to be born (as far as I am consciously aware) and it’s not my fault that times have changed.  I’ve wasted enough time feeling ashamed for being given a higher standard of living than the Baby Boomers and yet having less career opportunity than they did.  Up yours Tom Brokaw.  It’s time to move forward put the myths of those two generations to bed.

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