A man none of us knew invited us inside his head. A gift you don’t get every day.
The fellow wasn’t asked to. Our adult education seminar was considering the definition of morality, when all of us witnessed the lowering of the drawbridge into the new acquaintance’s psyche. What we heard from him puzzled some; foolish or innocent or honorable they thought, depending …
The question before us was how society sets rules for acceptable behavior. In ancient Athens or America’s pre-Civil War South, disapproval did not attach to keeping slaves. As southern defenders noted, slavery is in the Bible, without condemnation.
“Good” is relative. Group allegiance matters. Killing the enemy, for example, is required in war-time; not at home in times of peace.
The recent classmate appeared unremarkable at first: slender, sandy hair, and the casual dress of retired folk. Another look, however, revealed weathered features, as if living had gotten the best of him.
He’d been in the Navy in early adulthood. Once home on leave — then temporarily a civilian again — time beckoned to contact old friends and revisit the world of flirtation and love. Or so he hoped.
After several days passed, his sister asked him how that was going.
“Not so well,” he said.
“Why, what’s wrong?”
“Once I tell them I’m a sailor, they aren’t interested.”
“What don’t you tell them you’re an engineer? You are.”
“But I’m a sailor.”
Mariners of our antique time were not thought the most savory individuals. Moreover, when telling young women you are in the employ of your country, they understand you will soon be off to somewhere else: not an enticement toward prospective permanence.
One wondered, as his sister did, why he chose the disadvantageous identity over the no less accurate, more attractive one.
“I was a sailor, trained to value the corps over the self, the group over the person. I identified myself as a sailor first, as did all who served together. My particular job assignment came second. I couldn’t describe myself other than the way I did.”
One man in the class asked if that ever worked out — how he managed the dating business later on. Better after he left the military, he told us, but not the reason he left.
You might be thinking not all naval personnel live a celibate life for the service they honor. Or, you could be psychoanalyzing the ex-seaman, wondering if he used his allegiance to his mates as a way of inoculating himself against potential rejections that could otherwise have been taken as personal.
The young man didn’t use a common approach to meeting and mating, the kind we almost all employ almost all the time. We lead with our best qualities, tell our secrets and open our imperfections later, if at all. Assuming we admit them to ourselves.
A few classmates talked about this gentleman after the session. One found him too naïve and self-sacrificing; another admirable and principled, a third inflexible, impractical. Tribal allegiance came up, too, from a woman who thought the guy no different from the unthinking political types who always take their party’s side.
Perhaps you’ll be amused to hear another response. I mentioned the story to a charming, sixty-something divorcée not in school with us. When I finished, Sophia remained quiet for a bit, as if listening to an internal conversation with herself.
A moment later she asked, “Is he single?”
I said I didn’t know.
“OK. But find out. If he is, I’d like to meet him.”
The first image is called Sailor and Rum by Joe Machine. The one following is World War I German Sailor with an Iron Crescent (Medal). Finally, a portrait of Sailor Malan by Cuthbert Orde. All three come from Wikimedia Commons.
A puzzling title to your post. Not sure what to make of it. When I read your opening line, Brett Kavanaugh came immediately to mind. His self-revelation was indeed a gift that we-the-people don’t get every day.
As to the sailor in your story, I can only say that he could have been true to his group by simply saying: I’m a Navy engineer. For whatever reason, his affiliation with the Navy took pride of place. As you mention: “Tribal allegiance came up, too, from a woman who thought the guy no different from the unthinking political types who always take their party’s side.”
Boy-oh-boy, such tribal allegiance was in full display in our senate for all to behold and marvel!
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Hi Roasliene. I was on the fence between the debates between Kavanaugh and Ford. As a survivor, it was painful for me to watch that hearing. However, I respected both parties in the end and questioned the integrity of the system itself when it was all over. I haven’t read much into the two parties, but I respect their positions and the outcome. I like what you revealed about Kavanaugh – that “His self-revelation was indeed a gift.” I don’t know much about “tribal allegiance,” as this is the very first time I’ve heard that term, but now I’m curious. Then again, if it is what I think it is, there are more overt/explicit tribal allegiances (as evidenced by the sailor), and there are more covert/implicit tribal allegiances we all have as humans when we represent our identity in words born from our conscious and subconscious cognition. I’m not sure what party I want to belong to, so I suppose I’m an independent or a moderate at times. Either way, when I actually listen to the different parties and cultures across our nation, I realize that we all form an identity of some sort, and that identity often gets communicated in more than introductions of the self – especially when voting time nears, or some newsworthy issue goes viral. I actually enjoyed your response because it wasn’t the first thing that came to mind when I read this post, but I also didn’t see this post until today, so it may have not been near the time of the hearing you had referenced. Your post was interesting, as was Dr. Stein’s title for his post. To me, Dr. Stein’s title for this post made sense because, in essence, the world is the sum of its parts, and its parts are largely run by humans with identities. When a human builds and then maintains his identity, the world changes, and the world begins anew. The world becomes a new beginning with each change that it makes each second or minute of every day. Our identities play a strong role in our motivations to work in this world and affect positive or negative changes – and, by extension, positive or negative beginnings. However, life is too complex to attribute such beginnings as positive or negative; we can be optimistic or opportunistic and view the world as a new beginning with new possibilities. Ford was brave enough to share her story, and Kavanaugh was brave enough to defend his position. Their identities and their testimonies were powerful enough to create a new beginning – for themselves and for the world. What we do and how we interpret ourselves affect the world. That’s how I envision the title matching the text. I may be wrong, or I may read into people, texts, and stories too much, but I thought I’d comment because I enjoyed your comment.
I would say only this about the Kavanaugh/Ford confrontation. The full background of these two people, including all the friends who might have shed light on the character of the two individuals at the time of the alleged sexual assault by Kavanaugh, were not fully examined. Thus, we now live with a situation in which two of our Supreme Court justices have been credibly accused of being sexually inappropriate (or worse) with women. We can (and could have) done better in both instances.
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As a survivor of both childhood sexual abuse and adulthood sexual assault, I was triggered by that hearing, but I was also very interested in that hearing. It was so easy for me to side with Ford, and then I learned to understand the pain and weight that Kavanaugh felt. On a Justice level, I felt it unfair that juvenile problems that are supposed to be sealed and invisible (unless a minor was tried and convicted as an adult). However, I also know the pain that childhood problems bring (including bullying and childhood-peer-sexual-assault), and how that could affect a person’s entire life. Nevertheless, I am also aware of the iatrogenic effects of psychotherapy, and the fact that Ford’s therapist was not questioned with regards to her modalities and potential influences on memory recall (or dare I say false memories or misattributed memories). Then again, it is so easy to blame the victim that anyone could have misread the therapist’s modalities as well. But it would have been a more fair turnout if others were interviewed. As a survivor, I sometimes feel that the “perps” always win. As a person who served in both Defense and Justice (in a small role, nothing major), however, I feel due process is of utmost importance in these matters – for both parties. For argument’s sake, if Kavanaugh is innocent, then the “real perp” that harmed Ford is still out there and left unidentified. If Ford’s therapist is also outstanding, given her correct treatment modalities, then what can the field of psychology do to help victims not only do “process” work (as Ford called it), but also a sort of cognitive working on what clients can do with their memory recall to prevent false memories (or treat false memories if they already exist)? My passion when studying psychology as an undergrad centered on my attempts to figure out iatrogenic effects and the basic workings of the effects of trauma, in addition to strengths and buffers against traumatic sequelae. In such a case, it is very possible that both Kavanaugh and Ford forgot many of their own actions as well as others, that false memories can happen to not only victims of trauma but also those who have drinking problems or no problems at all. The research on false memories and studies on misattributions should include controls and comparison groups; they should include the possibility (or falsifiability) that non-victims can also experience false memories. Anyway, that’s my two cents on what I thought intellectually, while I tackled my own emotional responses to Ford’s powerful and brave testimony. My heart is with Ford, but I do have much respect for Kavanaugh and his defense. I believe in second chances for offenders and non-offenders, and I also believe in what corrections and criminology call “restorative justice.” If restorative justice occurred back then, then identifying perpetrators and victims would be more immediate, and corrections and public safety would also be more immediate and effective. That’s also my two cents. I have very multi-faceted responses because of my background and my own victimizations and mental illnesses, so I may be flawed in my reasoning here. But it is nonetheless another perspective to add to that discussion. It actually helps me, a trauma survivor, to speak about the Kavanaugh/Ford confrontation. Overall, I agree with you, Dr. Stein: “We can (and could have) done better in both instances.”
Due process does not apply here. This was not a legal proceeding, but a confirmation hearing as to whether the nominee should be placed on the highest court in the land for a lifetime appointment. A careful review of the record indicates that he may have lied about other elements of testimony. His testimony at the hearing in question did not match up with his testimony at a previous confirmation hearing for a different position in matters having nothing to do with sexual assault. Moreover, Kavanaugh’s self presentation as a kind of choir boy was inconsistent with the group of young men he hung with in high school and college and the comments and writings he created in that period of his life. Yes, give a person a second chance if he acknowledges that he was not at his best earlier. The new Justice will be stained (like Justice Thomas) for as long as he lives and would have been stained even if he was not confirmed. Then the question becomes, which is the greater risk to the administration of justice in the US? That we should have a court that might include (for decades) a man who has lied about his life when giving sworn testimony and has sexually assaulted a woman or that we should not have a man as a Justice because he was wrongly accused and therefore denied of a job he desired. In the latter case, of course, we would have a different judge who would likely be his equal in terms of credentials, philosophy of justice and his/her job responsibilities.
I stand corrected. I do not know the difference between a confirmation hearing and a legal proceeding. I just did not want to be biased because of my own sexual traumas, but it sucks when people in those positions of power can lie, have others lie for them, and continue to harm their victims with their lack of remorse and hypocracy. I cannot imagine how he could be a justice if he did those things to her and not provide justice for her. An apology, an admission of guilt, and a resignation from that post would be justice for her. That is what I thought was my biased interpretation, though society has its ways with gaslighting victims and making victims like me question their own position in these matters.
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Yes, I wondered about the title myself, Rosaliene. It makes sense to me, but if an author has to explain it, he has already failed! The Navy Engineer wanted his group affiliation to take precedence. It was the thing he valued most and his self-description to young women most clearly demonstrated that allegiance, as I understood his explanation in class. As to the new Associate Justice, the Navy man had no comparable agenda to further his own position. Indeed, he disadvantaged himself, as his sister noted. Thanks for your thoughts, as always, Rosaliene.
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There are elements of our core identity that are so intrinsic that to deny them would be experienced as a betrayal of self and a lie. Ethnicity, race, religion and sexual identity come to mind. Thanks for another interesting and thought provoking post.
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Thanks, Harvey. I think you’ve captured very well why I wrote the piece; perhaps better (and shorter) than the recent experience I described in the essay. Much appreciated.
As a veteran and a friend to Naval veterans and one current Naval officer (whom I’ve known for at least 20 years now), I TOTALLY RELATE TO THIS POST! Thank you, Dr. S!
The identity that one receives after military training lasts FOREVER!
Although most civilians, without recognizing it, base their identities on the kind of work they do, the job titles they have, the degrees they hold, or the industry they become a “family member” to; when they get laid off, discharged, fired, or to the point of quitting, they eventually overcome their temporary identities and move on to a different field, job, or career. They, while in the hustle and bustle of their job duties, can greet and meet people – including potential significant others – and identify themselves as a person with a job title (including titles such as “mom” or “dad” or “student” or “volunteer,” if not currently employed).
As military personnel on leave, they are first and foremost their “training.” Similarly, as veterans, we have this connection, or identity, to that “training” in terms of military “family.” If veterans are disabled, we “rank” ourselves as a “disabled veteran.” For those veterans who are not disabled, they are considered “fit for duty” for government or other jobs – ranked above the rest of us who are sometimes judged as “casualties” of service (if not war as well). We veterans, however, no matter the hierarchy, have respect for all those who have served and continue to serve the DOD or DOJ. And, as much as I struggle with certain government leaders (especially those who have never served in the military), I still respect the Commander in Chief – no matter who he or she is, and no matter what political party that person belongs to. Our training is an extension of our childhood upbringing. And, if you’ve been reared in a partial or full military family, your childhood was partially a form of “military training” (for me, my father was a veteran of WWII, so I was partially reared from only my fathers’ aftereffects of the War when he, at times, ordered me to call him “sir” instead of “dad”; for others who are considered “military brats,” they were fully or partially reared by one or both parents who served in the military at the same time they were rearing their children).
It is funny, however, how civilians view military personnel, government employees, veterans, and their families; there are many different interpretations. Some civilians I have spoken with over the years had considered me brainwashed, arrogant, not “Marine enough,” too tough, too cowardly to be a veteran, not a “real veteran,” strange, inflated, too patriotic, too scary, too unpredictable, too predictable, too “square,” not “free enough,” etc. Other civilians, however, will thank you for your service without even asking you what services you, in particular, offered; it is as if we were all assumed to be “soldiers” (Marines, Army, maybe other branches, too) or, in cases of what Marines would call “squids” – all in good humor, of course – such Navy personnel were true “sailors,” and they served honorably right along with Marine “devil dogs” and “leathernecks.” We may not introduce ourselves to civilians as such, but we will call ourselves “Marines” because we worked hard to earn that “title,” or that eagle, globe, and anchor symbol.
In essence, even civilians identify themselves as their job titles in similar ways that military personnel identify themselves as “sailors.” The job title, to military personnel, is their “family” affiliation – namely, their branch of service. The “boot camp” of the educational system is no different. Some graduates of certain prestigious universities will identify themselves as such before identifying their major or current post-grad or post-bacc title. We all pride ourselves in the work we do, the “family” of work we belong to, and the identity we’ve formed as a result of hard work and dedication. It’s just different perspectives, branches, and training that makes us communicate that identity differently.
Thank you for this enlightening comment, multinomial. Values such as duty and loyalty often get less attention as moral qualities than some others in our public conversation, but should be included in any consideration of what morality is. With respect to how service is viewed, especially that service that includes the experience of war, those of us who have never served have no real idea of the “experience.” We can watch war movies, perhaps, such as “Saving Private Ryan,” but only get so close because we have not lived it. For me, the obligatory pre-game salute to veterans these days seems inadequate. We have become a nation of arm-chair quarterbacks who benefit from those of you who did and do defend us; and we are all too prone to agree to war-making by our country (or ignore it) because we and our children have no “skin” in the game. Much as the military draft was a terrifying thing during Vietnam, wars such as WWI and II bound the country together and overcome our tribal tendencies; our wars today instead seem more prone to tearing us apart.
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Thank you so much, Dr. Stein. But, the Department of Defense (DOD) aren’t the only ones who serve our country. Psychologists, scientists, janitors, volunteers, and disabled persons helping others also serve our country, as do our educators and on-the-job trainers. Although I never served overseas (i.e., I was never deployed), and thus, I never served in combat, I nevertheless did serve in the military as a support behind-the-scenes to those military brothers and sisters who did. Also, we are all trained to defend (i.e., we’re all trained to be soldiers or sailors), even if our job titles do not require such defense on a daily basis. I see everyone as contributors to our nation. Despite the natural hierarchy that our system upholds, and the job titles that demand more work and/or intelligence than others, everyone is an integral part of our world, and everyone serves our country in one way or another (even if they don’t intend to). For those who attack our country while living in it, whether it be intentional (e.g., terrorist attacks) or unintentional (e.g., violent crime, property crime, corporate crime, non-criminal or justifiable actions), also contribute to the losses and problems our country faces (and the need for Defense and Justice departments such as the military and police to protect and serve our country against those who act against it and/or intentionally harm it). Although my father was not the healthiest of fathers to me (i.e., he was, in part, abusive), he was also a veteran, and I learned many great things from him. I have always and will always love him and, now, the memory of him. I have more understanding for his pain, even if it was projected onto me as his child, and for how some veterans or police have acted in ways that may have unintentionally harmed our country through their unresolved traumas. I also have an understanding of the broader community whose non-traumatic and traumatic stressors have led to such externalizing behaviors that also untionentionally or intentionally harm our country. But don’t get me wrong – my understanding does not mean that I condone their behaviors. Instead, my understanding is that we need more than Defense and Justice Departments to serve our country; we need psychologists and therapists and researchers and lawyers and corrections officers and educators and physicians to help prevent and/or ameliorate the problems that affect our nation as well. In essence, psychologists like you have helped many people and, by extension, the nation. We all play a pivotal role, and we all serve in one way or another. Therefore, I feel like veterans should not be the only ones who are thanked for their service to our country. What if everyone was thanked for their own methods of service to our country? Would that bring us all closer together, and would that reduce crime? Perhaps. Why? Because when identities are shifted on a national scale, their importance and duties to our country also shift. Perhaps more people would find commonalities with other groups, as opposed to being hostile toward military personnel, government, or police. Although police brutality, for instance, is a problem, as are those veterans who turn violent against their families or others in our nation, if they knew the importance that they still continue to have, and if others in the community know their own importance as well as the importance of Defense and Justice, then maybe we could all work together. Maybe there would be more peace.
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Dr. Stein, when you said, “…our wars today instead seem more prone to tearing us apart” – I totally agree! I know service men and women are not supposed to question orders or Wars, but as a civilian and free thinker, I completely agree with what you said. I feel the wars today are not building peace but, instead, creating more wars – both established violent wars and systemic violence (non-violent wars that are nonetheless aggressive, such as stigmatization and ostracization). We are not only as strong as our “weakest links,” but also as strong as the decisions our leaders make. In fact, leadership decisions affect who and what become our “weakest links,” which in turn reduces our strength as a nation. Although the intent is to serve our country, some actions and decisions that leaders make do cause “iatrogenic harm” to our nation, and, possibly, to the world.
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