Yes, there’s something dark in the human soul. For the most part human beings are not very nice. That’s why when you find those who are, you cherish them. – Robert Clary
Once upon a Thursday in early May, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba wandered into a sandwich shop near his workplace on the Kona side of the Big Island of Hawai‘i, in search of lunch. For once, the place wasn’t busy, and his turn in line came quickly.
“Please may I have [sandwich order].”
The server, a gentleman of European ancestry and early middle age, looked at YFNA quizzically, and then murmured:
“I haven’t heard that in quite some time.”
“What, please and thank you?”
“May I”, came his response. Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba suppressed the urge to ask if the gentleman wished YFNA to can it.
He continued, “All I hear, all day every day, is I want. ‘I want this’, and ‘I want that’, and it begins to grate, I tell you.”
“I suppose”, YFNA ventured, “that they’re pretty much parroting what they hear from the media, social and otherwise, and from the leadership of country and commerce.”
“I know”, the sandwich shop guy responded. “That’s why I try to teach my kids manners. I guess I’m one of the last holdouts. And it’s good to hear, every once in awhile, that I’m not entirely alone in this.”
Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba flashed back to his sense of aloneness when, for the sin of having manners, learned in the hard-knocks school of rural Puritan New England, his left-coast colleagues in graduate school labeled him ‘repressed’. He resented the ‘let it all hang out, politeness is a tool of the Man’ ethos that dominated the thinking of young ‘intellectuals’ in the immediate post-Vietnam era, and thought nothing good would come of it.
A corporate executive of YFNA’s recent acquaintance let it be known what he wanted, with increasing, and increasingly obvious, disdain for the people whom he served, and the expertise they had to offer, if they did not fall in with his plans – people who muttered, then cowered, then, finally, left. This person departed, leaving the one he replaced, a gentleman of informal but profound courtesy and genuine regard for those he serves – who, in return, would walk through walls on his behalf – to (successfully) clean up the mess.
A Chancellor of Germany let it be known what he wanted, and made no effort to conceal his disdain for citizens of the country he served who did not fall in with his plans – people who muttered, then cowered, then (if they moved in time) left. Or, obeyed willingly. This person departed, leaving a country bombed to the ground and split in two, the repair and rehabilitation of which would take decades.
One of the things this person ‘wanted’ was the removal of Jewish people from Europe. (That there is anybody out there – anybody at all – willing to believe claims that this did not happen is, to YFNA, indisputable evidence of the capacity of any individual persons to willingly obey filth if, by so doing, they perceive an advantage to themselves.)
Robert Clary – A5714 to those willingly obedient to filth, who tattooed the number onto his left arm – was among the millions to be removed. He, and twelve of his immediate family, were plucked from their native France and sent to the concentration camps. Clary survived, to be known later for his role as Corporal LeBeau in Hogan’s Heroes as well as for his Holocaust testimony. His twelve family members did not.
Clary has described his arrival at Buchenwald:
The first eight days there, the Germans kept us without a crumb to eat. We were hanging on to life by pure guts, sleeping on top of each other, every morning waking up to find a new corpse next to you.
Clary and his compatriots – his millions of compatriots – came to know what ‘want’ is. In YFNA’s opinion, the vast majority of fat, happy citizens of the United States of America, with roofs over their heads, clothes on their backs (which conform to the current fashion or else), and food on their plates (often sniffed over and rejected according to the ‘health’ craze du jour), haven’t a vestige of a clue what ‘want’ is, and have no business using the word in any context whatsoever. Except possibly when discussing Holocaust victims and other authentic human calamities.
Some years ago, YFNA resolved to purge ‘I want’ and similar expressions using the word ‘want’ from his vocabulary, when they don’t conform to the word’s original sense of ‘desperate need’. It has not been easy to accomplish; old habits yadayada. Hell, it’s hard work, and YFNA’s ‘sacred I’ doesn’t wa… [ahem] doesn’t wish to do that hard work. Manners are hard work, and would be even if our society had general agreement about what those manners should be; and the substance of manners, the genuine respect and care for those whom we serve, and who serve us, is harder still.
However, even business cultures in these Untied States of America – evidence from the White House notwithstanding – are coming to understand that the form, and still more the substance, of manners are necessary to attract and keep a competent workforce and keep that workforce at maximum productivity and flexibility over the long haul. As, perhaps, that executive of YFNA’s acquaintance has belatedly come to know.
The temptations of the easy path, the path of the willingly obedient tattooist, are strong – indeed, they are only a set of leading economic indicators away. But the Germans will tell you – have been telling us, to little avail thus far – that we succumb to these temptations at our peril.
And if all this means that Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba is still ‘repressed’ … so be it.