How Far Should #MeToo Go?

To my knowledge the dilemma hasn’t happened yet, but it seems inevitable. One of the sex abusers identified by the #MeToo movement will die and need burial. Opposition to this will come.

Someone or perhaps many will say, “Not in the same cemetery with someone I respect, someone I love. Not in the same place I will be buried.”

There are historical precedents, as related below.

The question then becomes, how far do we take punishment? Do we make it posthumous?

The link here is to an essay I wrote in 2018, prompted by the death of a World War II Nazi war criminal and the opposition to his burial, not only in particular cemeteries, but by two different countries. Ultimately, no one wanted to inter this man’s body except a group of Holocaust deniers.

I’d be most interested in what you might have to say on the subject. Here, again, is the link:

Are Villains Due Respect When They Die?

The photo of Harvey Weinstein was taken by David Shankbone on May 4, 2010 at the Time 100 Gala. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Are Villains Due Respect When They Die?

Evil_red.svg

The old saying goes, “There is no rest for the wicked.” I’m not so sure about that, but I do know one thing: there is sometimes no resting place for the wicked. Two examples: one from a great Greek playwright, the other from an aborted burial in Rome last week.

The imaginary funeral took place in ancient Thebes, the work of Sophocles. His almost 2500-year-old play Antigone focuses on a sister’s effort to bury her brother, foreshadowing the funeral drama that just played out in The Eternal City, as Rome is known. The recently frustrated burial rites were those of a 100-year-old Nazi named Erich Priebke, the murderer of 335 Roman civilians as pay-back for a partisan attack near the end of World War II.

Almost no one wanted those funerals to happen, an eternal dilemma for the defeated bad guys of history. Both of these men were considered enemies of the state at the time of their deaths. Antigone’s brother Polynices had led a rebellion against the Theban leader, who also happened to be his brother Eteocles. Although the latter’s side was the winner, both brothers died in the conflict. Eteocles was honored as a fallen hero, Polynices left unburied in disgrace, fair game for dogs and vultures.

Then there is S.S. Captain Priebke. In 1944 the fascists who still occupied Rome were losing their grip. An S.S. police battalion of ethnically German Northern Italians aligned with the Nazis was attacked by 16 members of the Italian “Patriotic Action Group.” A bomb was placed in a garbage cart along their marching route. Twenty-eight members of the regiment died immediately in the explosion and ensuing gunfire, along with two civilians, one of whom was an 11-year-old boy. All of the partisans escaped. The date was March 23, 1944.

Antigone in Front of the Dead Polyneices by Nikiphoros Lytras

Antigone in Front of the Dead Polynices by Nikiphoros Lytras

The S.S. commander determined that the deaths in the ranks of the military column called for reprisal at a ratio of 10 Italians for every regiment member who died. Hitler reportedly wished this to be completed within 24 hours, by which time there were 33 dead. The Italian victims included some people already in Nazi custody, 57 Jews, as well as additional civilians needed to create the “correct” ratio. A total of 335 were ultimately killed individually by pistol shot in the back of the head as they kneeled with their hands tied behind their backs, their bodies disposed of in a group (without proper burial rites) until they were exhumed over one year later. All of this occurred in the Ardeatine Caves outside of Rome. The two S.S. officers who carried out the massacre were Erich Priebke and Karl Hass, who were eventually arrested.

In 1946 Priebke escaped from a British prison camp in Northern Italy and made his way back to Rome, where he was supplied with false identity papers by Bishop Alois Hudal at the Vatican. He then fled to Argentina, living there freely for 50 years until extradited to Italy in 1995 and ultimately convicted as a war criminal. At the time of his death on October 11, this very old man was residing in Rome, serving his time under house arrest. But now, it seemed, no one wanted any part of his remains. The Vatican (Priebke was Catholic) refused to permit a funeral in any Roman Catholic Church. Argentina, where he wished to be buried beside his wife, refused that request, as well. Only the Society of St. Pius X, a reactionary Catholic splinter group that has been associated with Holocaust denial, attempted a funeral before protesters intervened. For the record, Priebke never admitted guilt or responsibility for the murders, nor did he ever apologize.

If you are a reader of the Greek dramas of antiquity and can set aside the Nazi connection, all of this might sound familiar. So should the ensuing dispute between those who sought burial and those who wished to prevent it. In Rome, it was the opposition to the funeral that carried the most weight, which included the city government, the Roman Jewish community, and interested parties like the Vatican. In Sophocles’s play, the state was represented by Creon, an ally of Eteocles, who forbade burial of Polynices on punishment of death. Only Polynices’s sister Antigone protested and decided to take matters into her own hands, by burying her brother so that he might go the Greek version of the afterlife, known as the Underworld. In so doing, she felt herself to be honoring the gods as well as her brother, and showing respect to his body lest it be savaged by birds and wild animals. Priebke’s defenders, virtually all on the extreme political right, sound a bit less noble than Antigone, at least by news reports.

Erich Priebke in 1996Erich Priebke in 1996

It was doubtless to avoid just such problems with the body of an enemy that the USA decided to dispatch Osama Bin Laden to the depths of the ocean. But remember that some believe that respect should be shown to a corpse no matter who is the evil-doer and no matter how much evil was done. As my Catholic friend Joe puts it, “The person is still a human being and therefore worthy of respect. If there is to be justice, it will now come in the afterlife, not rendered by man but by God.”

Others fear that the dead Hitlers of the world, if properly buried, will become tourist attractions if not pilgrimage sites, especially for those who share the deceased’s point of view; in effect, their final resting place morphing into a religious shrine for some sort of misguided, quasi-religious veneration. But again, my friend Joe had an interesting take. His fear is that someone will find Captain Priebke’s cemetery headstone (at this writing a secret burial is planned) and desecrate it. I should emphasize, Joe is no Nazi, but simply thinks that if we consider ourselves civilized, then that civility should extend even to the very worst of us.

It is also worth remembering that history is written by the victors, and that the identity of the good guys and the bad guys is very much determined by who writes that history. Priebke argued in court that the partisans who took on the SS battalion were terrorists and therefore it was they who should be blamed for all of the consequences that followed, including the retribution by the Nazis. Think of the posthumous honor that would have come the way of the World Trade Center bombers, were their supporters to have achieved an overthrow of the U.S. government.

Still another point of view has to do with the fact that we are talking about dead villains, not living ones. Presumably, they are not harmed by the lack of a proper burial (although Antigone would argue otherwise, because no afterlife would then be possible). By the same token, the one who has passed away doesn’t benefit from getting an appropriate disposal of his mortal remains, unless it is thought necessary according to the individual’s religion.

Obviously, those who definitely do care about the carcass are the people left behind: the loved ones of the deceased (if there are any), friends, perhaps some of his co-religionists, and people who are sympathetic politically (including the Society of St. Pius X). Most of us know what it is like to lose someone we care about, to go to funerals, to engage in grieving, and various acts of remembrance, including visiting grave sites. On the other hand, we also know that some deaths seem more than usually deserved. That category would certainly include child abusers and rapists, as well as people like Mr. Priebke.

Priebke made his own desires clear: he wanted to be buried in Argentina, his adoptive homeland, next to his wife. How much should that matter? Indeed, how many of us even know whether those we care about do themselves care what happens to their bodies after they die? If they haven’t purchased cemetery plots or informed us of what to do after they’ve departed, we can only guess. Some might expect us to regularly visit their gravesite. Others might think that to be a waste of time. But most of us, who, after all, will eventually join the ranks of the bygone, probably hope that an occasional kind thought by someone left behind would be nice.

But here, in Captain Erich Priebke, we have a man who never acknowledged wrongdoing, never repented, never tried to comfort the relatives of those he afflicted, and apparently never felt guilt or shame. And, never gave his victims a proper burial. Were you or I living in Rome, what might we have done, or wished to see others do concerning the disposition of his body? I imagine that the answer to that question says more about us than it says about Mr. Priebke, who was, at the time of his death, the oldest convicted war criminal in the world.

The top image, Evil Red, was sourced from Wikimedia Commons, as was the painting by Lytras. Some of the background material on Erich Priebke was sourced from Wikipedia.org/

Yes or No? “What Goes Around Comes Around”

Justice and Law

Many of us comfort ourselves with the notion that life evens out in the long run. The evil go to hell, the good go to heaven. Or, if you are not religiously inclined, “What goes around comes around.” Meaning that eventually justice is done, something bad will happen to those who have done something bad, even if it looks like they are better off in the short run.

Then there are those who believe, usually in conformity to a “religion of prosperity,” that if you are injured by another you probably deserved it, since God would not authorize something that wasn’t in your best interest. Or, perhaps that the Almighty is giving you some sort of test or opportunity to learn and grow that will ultimately be of benefit to you.

Finally, there is a rather large group who don’t believe in any ultimate fairness in this life or the next — a darker view, for sure. They say that bad things do happen, sometimes randomly, and sometimes due to people who are malicious, unscrupulous, self-interested, and so forth. For those with that view, evil deeds will usually go unpunished and there isn’t much you can do about it. They ask the first two groups to defend the view that the world is ultimately just when they read the morning newspaper’s screaming headlines about chemical warfare, ethnic cleansing, and the like. They quote the great attorney Clarence Darrow’s comment that, “There is no justice — in or out of court.”

My own view is different from these. I am not counting on heaven to put things right, although I’d be very happy to be surprised on this point. Nor do I believe in the kind of God who would authorize injury to us on earth. If he exists, and if he is all-good and all-powerful, he can cleverly produce the results he wants without mayhem and heartbreak to we fragile souls.

On the other hand, I do agree with those who believe that many people escape external punishments: prison time, loss of money, that sort of thing. But, in my experience as a therapist and observer of life, I have seen very few people who behave badly on a regular basis and are happier for it. Let me elaborate.

Some of the most destructive people I’ve known are quite unhappy. Their self-interested actions discourage others from being close to them, so they have recurring relationship issues. Those who gossip too much (we all do it some) cause others to mistrust them. Then there are the promise-breakers, who also cause friendships to end. All these imperfect humans are usually clueless to what they do that injures others — perhaps even surprised that they obtain the reputation of being dangerous. If they are powerful or wealthy or beautiful, some people will stick around them hoping for a payoff. But that is not love or the kind of companionship that most of us want.

Would you really want to be the Mafia boss who must live in fear of arrest, imprisonment, or murder by someone close to him; who must have a body-guard or two around his palatial estate? Would you trade places with a person without a conscience because he has figured out how to lie, cheat, and steal his way to prominence? Do you imagine him capable of any real intimacy? Is money or property that important to you that you’d emulate his life if you could? Or perhaps you’d love the life of a gossip who works hard to believe that everyone loves her, but knows, deep down, that her relationships are shallow? Yet she is blind to the destructiveness that causes others to shy away from anything that is more than casual.

I don’t think you’d choose any of those ways of living. Nor do I imagine that it sounds appealing to become someone so self-interested that you trade the joys of friendship and sometimes even the good feeling that comes from self-sacrifice for the temporary personal satisfaction of selfishness.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned guilt. There is a lot less guilt out there than most people think. Most of us are pretty well able to rationalize the injuries we cause to others. It often goes like this: “He did X to me, so that means I can do Y to him.” Well, no, actually, unless you want to lose your own honor and decency, which usually comes in the process of trying to right the scales of justice or get revenge.

Martha Nussbaum

Martha Nussbaum

Here is an extreme example of losing your soul in an effort to extract revenge for a horrible betrayal. The speaker is Martha Nussbaum, Professor at the University of Chicago, in conversation with Bill Moyers:*

I wake up at night thinking about Euripides’ (play) Hecuba, a story that says so much about what it is to be a human being in the middle of a world of unreliable things and people. Hecuba is a great queen who has lost her husband, most of her children, and her political power in the Trojan War. She’s been made a slave, but she remains absolutely morally firm, and she even says she believes that good character is stable in adversity and can’t be shaken.

But then her one deepest hope is pulled away from her. She had left her youngest child with her best friend (Polymestor), who was supposed to watch over him and his money and then bring him back when the war was over. When Hecuba gets to the shore of Thrace, she sees a naked body washed up on the beach… She looks at it more closely, and then sees it’s the body of her child, and that the friend has murdered the child for his money and just flung the body heedlessly into the waves. All of a sudden the roots of her moral life are undone. She looks around and says, “Everything that I see is untrustworthy.” If this deepest and best friendship proves untrustworthy, then it seems to her that nothing can be trusted, and she has to turn to a life of solitary revenge. We see her end the play by putting out the eyes of her former best friend (and murdering his two young sons), and it is predicted that she will turn into a dog. The story of metamorphosis from the human to something less than human has really taken place before our very eyes…

One part of the message here, clearly, is what can happen to you if you become like the thing you hate, as Hecuba does when she murders Polymestor’s innocent children and puts out his eyes.

I’m guessing, though, that an outcome without punishment for the murder of Hecuba’s son might not be satisfying for some of you. Surely something should happen to Polymestor. And, just as surely, we need to have some sympathy for Hecuba, even if killing the kids does go over the line. She did, after all, first go to the local authorities to seek justice and was spurned. Perhaps you imagine the sweetness and closure that would come from revenge. Or perhaps it is simply that it is not right that Polymestor get away with this.

Two possible remedies. The first one comes from my wife, who wishes that the bad guys could have just one minute of self-awareness. She thinks that to see themselves as they really are for just 60 seconds would be a fit punishment in most instances. As I see it, though, the insight that would come in that short time might be worth the pain it cost and actually increase their chances of leading a more satisfying life. Still, my wife has no superpowers that I know of (I may get in trouble for saying that) and so her ability to create the justice she’d like isn’t going to happen.

Ah, but I have a remedy, too! It’s pretty simple. The punishment for most of the folks who specialize in the garden variety hurts of everyday life — the lying, the cheating, the broken promises, and the betrayals that don’t have a criminal penalty — doesn’t require either a super hero or any equipment. It is simply to let these malefactors continue to live the messed up and unsatisfying lives they seem intent on living.

*The interview excerpt of Martha Nussbaum comes from Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas, published in 1989 by Doubleday, pages 447 and 448.

The top image by ElmA is called Justice and Law. The photo of Martha Nussbaum is the work of Robin Holland. Both are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

How to Make Yourself and Those You Love Miserable

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ae/Bertram_Mackennal_-_Grief.jpg/500px-Bertram_Mackennal_-_Grief.jpg

It is easy to find on-line guidance to a better life. But the recommendations contained on those self-help web sites (and in books that aim at the same audience) have become almost too commonplace to make any impact.

The remedy? Something that is just the opposite: a list of suggestions on how to make yourself and others miserable. Of course, I’m not wishing that you follow these directions. Rather, I’m hoping that some of you who might yawn at still another list of “things to do” to improve your life, will be struck by the things you already do that make it much worse.

Here goes:

  • Regularly compare your material and financial circumstances to others, especially to those who are doing better than you are.
  • Make a list of all the people who have wronged you over the years and try to remember exactly how awful they made you feel. Think about those who owe you an apology. Forgive no one. Let no slight be too small to dwell on it.
  • Carry on a vendetta. Stay up late at night planning and plotting how you might get back at people. Stay angry. Let all your hatred out in blistering, profane, and cowardly “flames” behind the mask of the Internet.
  • Give your children gifts rather than your time. Set no limits on them. Then wait until they are teenagers and wonder why they are depressed or rebellious.
  • Curse the darkness, the winter, the cold, the rain, the frailty of the human condition, and all the other things that you can’t change.
  • Get impatient with the people who are walking in front of you at a snail’s pace, the couples whose bodies and shopping carts block the entire grocery aisle, and the slow progress of the check-out line at the store.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/74/John_F._Kennedy_Inauguration_Speech.ogv/mid-John_F._Kennedy_Inauguration_Speech.ogv.jpg

  • Make no contribution to the betterment of humanity. Assume an attitude of entitlement. Figure out how to avoid work. Idle away your time. Ask “what your country can do for you,” not “what you can do for your country” in opposition to JFK’s 1960 inaugural address admonition.
  • Forever rationalize your dishonorable or questionable behavior or deny it altogether, even to yourself.
  • Persuade yourself that you need to wait until you feel better before you do the difficult thing that you have been postponing. Keep waiting, even if the time never comes when you believe that you can take action.
  • Do not let conversation with your spouse or children get in the way of watching TV. Keep the TV on most of the time, most importantly at family dinners. If possible have a television in every room.
  • Ignore the beauty of a spring or summer day, the newly fallen snow, and the cheerful laugh of small child. Stay in-doors as much as possible, year round.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d8/Sommerblumen01.JPG/240px-Sommerblumen01.JPG

  • Allow yourself to be upset by overpaid, under-performing athletes who doom the home team to continued failure. Yes, Cubs fans, this means you!
  • Treat emotions of sadness, tenderness, and hurt as your enemy. Push them away and thereby alienate yourself from yourself. Curtail grieving and try to deaden your feelings to the point of numbness.
  • Work up as much hatred as possible toward opposition political parties. Listen to every talking head who wants to whip you into a frenzy.
  • Expect justice and fairness in all things.
  • Drink too much, drug too much, and spend every extra minute on the web or playing computer games instead of having direct human contact with someone who is in the same room with you. Further distract yourself from your problems by watching TV and listening to music. Escape reality.

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4b/Jack_rose.jpg/120px-Jack_rose.jpg

  • Keep using failed solutions to your problems even though they haven’t worked in years, if ever.
  • Behave in mid-life the way you did as a young person; or, if you are a young person, behave the way you did as a child. Do not reflect on or learn from experience which might teach you something new.
  • Use others instrumentally. That is, value them only in terms of what they can do for you. Lie, cheat, betray, and steal from them if that serves your interests. Then wonder why people mistrust you.
  • Spend as much time as possible worrying about the future and regretting the past, rather than living in the irreplaceable moment.
  • Aim low. Avoid the disappointment that comes with high expectations. When the going gets tough, quit.
  • Train yourself to be a miser. Practice selfishness. Hold on to your money as if you expect to live forever and will need every last cent. Make Scrooge from A Christmas Carol your hero.

File:Chicklet-currency.jpg

  • Judge others less fortunate than you are by using the phrases “he should have known better,” “he didn’t try hard enough,” and the like. Assume that all people deserve whatever misfortune befalls them. Disdain compassion, but remain puzzled when others call you heartless.
  • Indulge in every available excess: unprotected sex, food, spending, smoking, caffeine, etc. Don’t exercise. Ignore medical advice and, even better, avoid going to your doctor. Treat your body badly and then wonder why it betrays you.
  • Be sarcastic, passive-aggressive, and indirect whenever you are injured rather than looking someone in the eye and expressing your displeasure in a straight-forward fashion.
  • Avoid facing things. Give in to your fears, anxieties, and phobias.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5b/Children_in_Sonargaon.jpg/240px-Children_in_Sonargaon.jpg

  • Don’t let anyone know you well. Believe that your vulnerabilities will always be used against you. Keep social interactions on the surface. Eschew intimacy and maintain your distance, thinking that this is the best way to avoid personal injury. Trust no one!
  • Assume that the normal social rules regarding fidelity to friends and lovers don’t apply to you. Hold on to a double-standard that favors you.
  • Insist on having your way. Don’t compromise. Don’t consider others’ needs or wants. Assume a position of moral superiority, self-righteousness, and arrogance in things religious, political, and personal.
  • Do everything others ask of you. Rarely say “no.”
  • Try to control people and events as much as you can. Don’t go with the flow. Micromanage. Hover over others. Repeat complaints to them incessantly. Remind subordinates, friends, spouses, and children of small errors, even if they are ancient history.
  • Make no significant effort to better your life. Depend on others to take care of you and make all significant decisions for you. Be a burden.
  • Raise all your children exactly the same way even though it is obvious that they are not all the same.
  • Imitate vampires (who have no reflection in the mirror and therefore keep their mirrors shrouded) by never really looking hard at your own reflection in the looking-glass. That is, never take a frank inventory of your strengths and weaknesses or the mistakes you’ve made. Be like the evil queen in Snow White, whose only desire was that the mirror would tell her that she was “the fairest of them all.”
  • Whenever you talk with someone, wonder what they really mean, pondering the possibility that they find you boring, stupid or physically unattractive.
  • Feed yourself on gossip more than food. Delight in talking about others behind their backs.
  • Value beauty, appearance, reputation, and material success over integrity, knowledge, kindness, hard work, and love.
  • Try to change others, but do not try to change yourself. Take no responsibility for your life circumstances, instead blaming those who have stymied you.
  • Stay just as you are regardless of changing life conditions. For example, if wearing warm clothes worked for you when you lived in Alaska, continue to wear them when you move to Arizona in July.

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/37/Enrico_Caruso_VI.png/240px-Enrico_Caruso_VI.png

  • Don’t forgive yourself. Maintain the most perfectionistic and demanding moral and performance standard even if you are not a brain surgeon. Stay up at night castigating yourself over every imperfection, no matter how small.
  • Make a list of all the things that are wrong with your life, all the opportunities lost, every heartbreak, and the physical features and bodily changes that you don’t like. Stew in your own juices. Salt your wounds. Pick at your scabs.
  • Take everything personally.
  • Permit friends, family, and co-workers to walk all over you. Do not stand up to them for fear of causing offense and disapproval.
  • Discount your blessings. Concentrate on the dark side of life.
  • Never even consider going into psychotherapy. Assume that this is something only for those who are weak and that anyone who needs to grapple with emotional issues in counseling demonstrates a failure of will power and logic.

With thanks for the inspiration for this essay to Dan Greenberg and Marcia Jacobs, co-authors of a very funny, but ironic book entitled How to Make Yourself Miserable.

The top image is Grief by Edgar Bertram Mackenna. The video frame that follows is from John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural speech. The next image is Sommerblumenstrauss by A. Gundelach. The following photo by Andygoodell is A Jack Rose Cocktail. The fifth picture is of two children in Bangladesh by Nafis Kamal, while the sixth is called Chicklet-Currency courtesy of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. After the image from Disney’s Snow White, is a 1911 photo of Enrico Caruso, the great Italian tenor. All but the Snow White frame are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

On the Elusiveness of Vindication (and How Special It is When It Happens)

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/86/Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_013.jpg/256px-Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_013.jpg

I suspect there is hardly anyone among us who has not hoped that the person who broke our heart would come back to us, see the light, apologize, and say:

You know what? I was wrong. I didn’t give you a chance. I should have. You deserved better treatment than you received from me. It was unfair of me to blame you as I did, not to see how good you are.  I hope that you will forgive me and we can start over.

Vindication can take a number of forms. It might involve being reinstated to a position you lost unfairly, being exonerated of a crime you were alleged to have (or convicted of having) committed, receiving a belated medal for acts of courage performed in combat, or having a parent apologize for abusive or neglectful mistreatment.

There is only one problem.

When the injury is great, these things almost never happen. Or, if they do, they come much too late. Think about the occasional news story that documents the exoneration of someone who had been wrongly imprisoned after years behind bars, now finally permitted to return to civilian life. Or the long-denied medal for heroic service to one’s country in an almost forgotten war, awarded to a man now aged or perhaps deceased, and therefore only a posthumous recipient of the honor.

Perhaps even rarer is the parent who apologizes for child abuse. First, such people rarely acknowledge the extent of what they have done. And, to the degree that there is any recognition or admission of  mistreatment of their child, it is nearly always minimized on the one hand, and justified on the other; justified, usually by the child’s alleged misbehavior or provocation.

By the time the parents in question are senior citizens, the fog of time and self-deception has clouded and distorted their memory. Moreover, were they to admit (even to themselves) what they had done, they would almost certainly be shattered and humbled by that self-awareness; and left with the fact that there would be no way to make up for the lost time and the pain they inflicted – not enough of a future available to redeem the sorry state of the past and remove the stain on their conscience.

Perhaps it is therefore not surprising that they do not admit their errors even when confronted – in effect cannot do so psychologically without jeopardizing their ability to live with any measure of equanimity.

My wife likes to say that her favorite punishment for such people would be one minute of self-awareness. Unfortunately, they are the least likely among us to achieve this kind of insight.

A useful book to read on the subject is Frauen by Alison Owings. Owings interviewed numerous German women who had lived through the period of the Third Reich. She observed the extent to which self-deception, rationalization, and denial were present as they looked back upon what they claimed they knew or witnessed (or didn’t know), and what they did or didn’t do in response to the mistreatment and murder of their Jewish neighbors by the Nazis.

Beyond the individual level, even nations have a problem admitting that wrong has been done in their name. Turkey continues to deny the Armenian genocide of the twentieth century’s second decade, while Austria and France have historically skirted their participation in the Holocaust, preferring to be considered co-victims with other sufferers of Germany’s misdeeds.

And, it was not until 1988, that the United States formally apologized for the 1942 forced internment of Pacific Coast residents of the USA, solely because they were of Japanese decent, in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Of those people, 62% were US citizens.

While none of what I’ve described thus far permits a very optimistic take on human nature, I do want to relate one very beautiful story I heard from a former patient on this subject. It stands out because it demonstrates that obtaining personal vindication does happen every so often, and can produce any enormously healing experience for both parties involved. I’ve changed the circumstances of the story to disguise the identity of my patient, but I think you will get the idea.

The young woman in question was a high school volley ball player, a member of the school’s team. She was a junior and had played, usually as a starter, for most of the season. Her coach was a young woman as well, that is to say, a relatively new teacher, just shortly out of training.

Toward the end of the season, the student’s mother was to receive a special award from her workplace. Mom and dad both wanted their daughter to be at the dinner honoring the mom, and the young athlete wanted to be there as well. Unfortunately, the award ceremony conflicted with an important game for her team. She explained in advance to her coach that she would not be able to play in that game, but the coach was furious. Thereafter the coach repaid her absence by keeping her on the bench for most of the remainder of the season and treating her with disdain.

Although she liked volleyball, my future patient chose not to try-out for the team as a senior, expecting either to fail to make the roster chosen by the same coach; or, if permitted to be on the team, anticipating the same sort of mistreatment from her for another year. And so, the athlete’s high school athletic career ended prematurely.

This turn of events did not, however, destroy her love for the game. She continued to play in various park district leagues for many years. But the memory of being humiliated by the coach did not go away, nor of the lost senior year of competition that she might otherwise have enjoyed, playing a game she loved.

Perhaps 10 years after the incidents I’ve described, this woman was now my patient. And one day she told me that just the day before she had found herself in another volley ball contest against a new team. And, wouldn’t you know it, she saw that one of the opposing players was her old coach, now in her early to mid-thirties.

My patient recognized the coach, but hoped the recognition was not mutual. As the game progressed they soon enough were face-to-face across the net from each other. The coach said “hello,” calling her by name, and my patient replied in kind. Perhaps, she thought, that would be the end of their interaction.

At the end of the game, however, the coach came over to my patient. She asked if she could speak with her privately. They moved away from the other volleyball players to a place where they would not be overheard.

What the young woman’s ex-coach said went something like this:

I’ve thought about you for many years. I realize that what I did to you was very unfair. I took your decision not to play that game too personally. Of course, there was nothing wrong with your attending a dinner recognizing your mother. Who wouldn’t have? I was very young, but I should have known better than to treat you as badly as I did. I have felt guilty for years that I caused you pain and that I made it almost impossible for you to even think of trying-out for the senior team. I have been hoping to run into you all this time, so that I could say this. I’m so sorry.

As my patient related this story to me she was in tears, enormously touched by what the coach had said. The coach had given her closure for a painful part of her history and had done it with grace, courage, and integrity; taking full responsibility for injuring my patient. In so doing, I suspect the coach found relief too, because her former charge was an enormously likeable, decent, and forgiving person.

Everyone here was a winner.

As I said, the tale stands out for me because this kind of ending occurs so rarely. I suspect many of us have been the victims of similar hurts.

But, perhaps more importantly, some of us have probably inflicted comparable injuries on others.

Sometimes its worth reflecting on that — on one’s own failures and mistreatment of others.

You just might discover that like the coach, there is still an opportunity to put things right.

Of course, that is up to you.

The image above is Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer by Rembrandt, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Learning From the Wrong Example: A Story of Five Teachers

Patricia Daley Martino and Peter Martino

For the most part I am grateful to my old teachers. By and large, they were an earnest and dedicated bunch.

Teachers like Patricia Daley Martino (pictured above with her husband Peter) were a treasure.

But I remember five with less kindly sentiments. Still, they did teach me something:

What not to do.

My very first high school science teacher laid down the law on the first day of class. And the “law” went something like this:

“I may make mistakes in marking your papers and grading your tests. You may be able to prove to me that I made those mistakes. It still won’t matter. I’m not going to change your scores or your grades no matter what you say.”

I can’t remember precisely what went through my mind when I heard this, but it was probably some version of “Is this guy nuts?”

What I learned from this man (whose son I knew in grade school, when he was already a juvenile delinquent in-training) was that power corrupts, and authority needs to wielded with a sense of justice, lest you become some sort of bully or dictator like my science teacher.

I also learned, in a practical way, that the famous quote from trial attorney Clarence Darrow is true: “There is no justice, in or out of court.”

But, I doubt that the teacher in question intended to instruct me in that particular lesson.

Still another high school science faculty member, a year or two later, took off a small number of points from a test paper because I didn’t put my home-room number on the page; or perhaps it was not in the right place, I don’t recall which. Since I was already “detail-oriented” he taught me nothing new about attention to small stuff. But, what I did learn was a lesson about nit-picking, something he was quite good at.

Going back to the primary grades, I observed a bad example displayed by two different teachers, one female, one male.

For reasons still unknown to me, both of these single adults, neither probably older than their early 30s, felt compelled to tell my class a bit about their dating lives. The man fancied himself a “Don Juan” type and indicated that he could easily have been married if only he wanted to. The woman, for her part, explained why it was that she was still single.

Who asked?

Should I have taken notes? What would they have said if someone queried, “Will we be tested on this?”

Even as a little kid, I thought to myself, “I’m not supposed to hear this.”

Finally, the teacher I had for music in the 8th grade told us all that she had been a famous opera singer, but for some reason had given up that career. Moreover, she offered that she had a stage name different from her current married name. What was it? She wouldn’t say. From time to time she would also rant about Harry Truman, who hadn’t been President for a number of years. She was, however, a heck of a good choral director.

Another case of kids being a captive audience. Too much information — the wrong information, I knew even then.

I suppose the moral of this story is that we learn equally from those who are good models and those who aren’t.

Teachers (and others) often don’t realize that the lesson they intend to teach is, in fact, not the one being taught.

Teenagers, Chicago Parking Meters, and Left Fielders

https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/68/Alfonso_Soriano.jpg/500px-Alfonso_Soriano.jpg

The “Windy City” — the “City of Big Shoulders” — has a way of making some big mistakes.

Recently, they’ve come in the form of some fiscal short-sightedness affecting both baseball and government. Just over four years ago, the Chicago Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to an eight year contract, all for the measly sum of $136 million dollars. Alfonso was 31 before he ever played for the team. They will “own” his contract (although the words “owe” and “ouch” come to mind) for three more seasons beyond this one.

After only the first three, he demonstrated that his sunny personality, million dollar smile, and ability to hit home runs when no one is on base don’t make up for declining offensive production and an attitude toward playing left field that suggests, according to Baseball Prospectus 2010, that Soriano believes the outfield wall at Wrigley is actually covered with poison ivy.

Not to be outdone, the local city fathers decided to lease every last parking meter in the city for a term of 75 years to an independent company that agreed to pay 1.15 billion in up-front dollars for the privilege. They doubtless wished to out-do the Cubs in boondoggles, since it is reported that the money is already spent. It has also been said that the city could have negotiated a better deal, and certainly one that didn’t so offend the parking populace by the inflation of parking fees to multiples of their previous size.

In both instances, there is more to come — more parking fee increases and further productivity decline from the Cubs left-fielder. And, long before the end of either contracted term, we will be saddled, metaphorically speaking, with the back-end of an animal that didn’t even look too great from the front-end.

When I think about this sort of short-sightedness in clinical terms, the behavior of teenagers inevitably comes to mind. Teenagers are stereotyped for taking risks, acting on impulse, and using poor judgment. Some of them tend to allow tomorrow to take care of itself, not fully grasping that tomorrow will indeed arrive soon enough and claim payment for the errors of today.

Now, I’m not talking about all teenagers, but rather those prone to vices like smoking, drinking and drugging to excess, blowing off academics, etc. And, it is not as if adults are free from this “live for today” approach, even adults not employed in management by the City of Chicago and the Cubs.

In a just world, all such folks would pay for their indiscretions somewhere down the line.

But, of course, the world isn’t just. And sometimes this works out quite well for the impulsive and heedless joy-seekers in our midst.

I recall one woman who ate and smoked and drank and had unprotected sex as if there would be no tomorrow. When I reminded her that tomorrow would likely come, she assured me that she would be dead by then, and so it didn’t matter. Even as she entered middle-age, she ignored the pain in her joints and her diabetes, continuing to indulge herself well beyond the bounds of medical advice and good sense. This lady believed in the motto uttered by John Derek in the old Humphrey Bogart film, Knock On Any Door:  “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.”

I doubted the wisdom of this, but she turned out to be right, dying of a cancer unrelated to her excesses in her late-40s. I guess if you know with certainty that your time is relatively short, then indulgence might become the preferred path, although it can also create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, most of us don’t know the appointed day of our departure with the prescience that characterized my acquaintance. Many decisions depend upon just such an estimate of the future: whether to go to college, how much to save for retirement, the care and feeding of your body, the need to exercise, and so forth. In a way, we all are gamblers, those of us who imbibe and those who abstain, those who are profligate and those who save for a rainy day.

We place our bets on what “feels” right now, how we expect to feel in the future, and how long that future might last, if there is one.

Let’s just hope that our bets are wiser than those practiced by the City of Chicago and the Cubs.

The photo above taken by Scott Ableman at RFK Stadium on May 5, 2006 is of Alfonso Soriano in his days as a Washington National. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.