Tag Archives: History

Feeling Thankful Amid the Chaos

Two days from now, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends.  At first glance there seems little to be thankful for given the chaos in our society.

The working poor in America face daily hunger because their wages are not sufficient to cover rent, utility bills and food but they make “too much” money to qualify for public assistance. Not surprisingly, a rising number of people believe capitalism is a failed economic system that benefits only insiders, according to a recent survey in The Economist magazine. The most anti-capitalist are young people just entering the workforce.

Our recent mid-term election has brought the threat of more chaos. The prospect of Democratic control of the House of Representatives has caused our president to unleash shrill tweets filled with paranoiac fear and conspiracy theories about how everyone is out to get him.

On November 13th, the FBI released their annual report on hate crimes showing a 17% increase from 2016 to 2017.  The most common hate crimes are based on race, ethnicity or ancestry. The second most common category is religion, closely followed by sexual orientation. These statistics are borne out by recent mass shootings against religious and ethnic minorities.

Last week the National Rifle Association sued Washington State to block a new law that bans the sale of fully automatic weapons to anyone under the age of 21.  The NRA apparently believes an 18-year-old kid should be allowed to buy a weapon that can kills dozens of people in minutes even if that same kid can’t buy his own beer for another three years.

All of these headlines left me feeling deeply depressed and wondering why I should feel thankful on Thursday.  But then I took a closer look.

Social engagement has increased with hundreds of groups trying to solve problems ranging from climate change to eradicating hunger to opposing intolerance.  Younger people are more relaxed by racial integration and sexual orientation.  White supremacists and other haters are a tiny percentage of the population who cannot win their battle against demographics and decency.

Political engagement has also increased as voters actually showed up to vote and mostly rejected the nuts of the left and the right.  Most importantly, young voters showed up at the polls in large numbers for the first time, having finally recognized that marches aren’t enough; voting is what counts in a democracy.

I see many dark days ahead as our society struggles to adapt to gut-wrenching economic, political and social changes. But amid the chaos, I am thankful this year because I also see signs of hope for our future.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my new history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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An Immigrant Story

 

Once upon a time, two men named Christian and Jacob lived in a country devastated by war. The war had been going on for decades and the economy was wrecked, destroying their livelihoods as farmers and tradesmen.  Military press gangs roamed the countryside and towns looking for young men who could be forcibly recruited into military service.

The government of the day legitimated its rule by collaborating with the majority religion to stamp out the “heretics” who were considered political and religious subversives.  Christian and Jacob belonged to a religious minority that practiced pacifism.  As a result, they faced a constant threat of imprisonment, torture, and death.

They moved from place to place with their families trying to survive.  Eventually word spread through their community of a country where they could practice their religious beliefs without fear of persecution and support their families without fear of war.

Christian and Jacob chose to make the dangerous journey to the new country.  Healthy, unmarried young men are usually the first family members to emigrate because they are considered better able to take care of themselves and find jobs quickly.  After the young men are established, they can pay to bring other family members to safety.  Then as now women risked sexual exploitation, including rape, during their immigrant journey.

Christian and Jacob made their immigrant journey in the early 1730’s, landing at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They came for religious freedom and economic security.  Under today’s rules, they could be classified as either refugees or economic migrants.

Refugees fleeing religious or political persecution are eligible for asylum and eventual citizenship. Economic migrants are considered a threat to the existing workforce and so are returned to their country of origin as quickly as possible.

Christian and Jacob never learned English but that didn’t stop them from becoming productive citizens. I am forever grateful for their courage and energy in making the dangerous immigrant journey.  I am one of many descendants of Christian Rutt (maternal ancestor) and Jacob Schurch (paternal ancestor) who are now citizens of the U.S.

Every family living in the U.S. has a story like this whether they arrived centuries ago or just last week. To honor the memory of Christian and Jacob, I welcome all new immigrants.  They may seem different now but they’ll fit in quickly.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my new history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Dirtiest Political Campaign Ever

 

 

This year’s midterm elections are dominated by racist, misogynistic, and anti-immigrant mudslinging that may sink lower than the lows set in the 2016 presidential race. There is even speculation that we’re witnessing the dirtiest political cycle in the history of the country.

Are we really? Hurling half-truths, innuendo and manure at political opponents is an accepted tradition. Here are a few examples from past election cycles.

Thomas Jefferson’s 1803 presidential campaign was dominated by stories of his children fathered with his slave, Sally Hemmings.  Jefferson never responded and his silence allowed his supporters to deny the self-evident truth. (His meticulous records for Monticello plantation prove he was the father.)

Misogyny and east coast elitism played a part in the bigamy allegations against Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel.  Their first marriage ceremony predated her divorce from her first husband. The oversight was remedied long before Jackson ran for president but that didn’t stop his political opponents.

In the 1850’s, politicians occasionally took time out from arguing about slavery to argue that no more Irish should be allowed in the country.  In the 1890’s, every politician who pledged to strip Chinese immigrants of American citizenship and civil liberties got elected. In the 1930’s, Father Coughlin used his weekly radio show to support politicians who agreed with his virulent anti-Semitism.

Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had an early electoral success driving around in a car with a giant teapot strapped to the roof.  Their political opponent was distantly connected to the Teapot Dome Scandal (a bribery scandal during Warren G. Harding’s presidency) but never overcame the innuendo caused by a giant teapot on a car.

In 1960, many voters were swayed by the argument that the Pope would run the country if a Catholic, John F. Kennedy, was elected president. You’ll hear an echo in the current election cycle arguments that Muslim-Americans shouldn’t be elected because they aren’t “real” or “loyal” Americans.

Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign was famously sunk by one TV commercial which showed a little girl vaporized in a nuclear explosion. Everyone was afraid that his hardline conservatism made him so irrational that he would literally blow up our world.

All of these political dirty tricks were amplified by the partisan press. Until recently, every city and most towns had at least two local newspapers which represented the major political parties.  The conservatives read “their’ newspapers much as they now watch Fox News. The progressives and liberals subscribed to “their” newspapers and today they watch CNN or MSNBC.

Obviously we, the voters, like this trash because it sells lots of advertising and air time. If we really hated the negativity and falsehoods, we wouldn’t tune in to the pundits blathering on Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC and we wouldn’t vote for the politicians pedaling this manure.

But thinking about issues is not easy. The News Hour on PBS features politicians having a rational discussion about the effect a trade war will have on the economy or the trade-offs needed to support today’s retirees while also preserving resources for future retirees. Few people tune in on a regular basis. It’s so much easier to consume dirt in 30-second sound bites. That’s the worst dirt of the election cycle.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) and on history, see History According to Norma (www.normashirk.com) which publish on alternate Wednesday mornings. To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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We’re Better Together

On Saturday, July 14th, about one billion people watched France win the FIFA World Cup.  No other sport draws as big an audience and only the marriage of British royals can draw a similar global audience.  July 14th is also Bastille Day, a celebration of the French Revolution when France transformed from a monarchy to a democracy.

Both events demonstrate the benefits of globalization. Football (soccer to Americans) is the most popular sport in the world. Players leave their country of origin to compete in the top leagues in the world which makes them better players when they represent their country at the World Cup.

The winning French squad included individuals who play their club football in Spain, Germany, and England. Croatia, their opponent, has stars that play in Italy, Spain and England. The English Premier League is expected to suffer a loss of top talent after Brexit due to immigration barriers and the loss of passport-free movement around Europe.

The U.S. also benefits from this international trade. Several of our top players are honing their skills in European leagues against the top players in the world. Our domestic league, Major League Soccer, has many stars who are national team players in their countries of origin.  (The same is true for our national women’s team and league.)

The other big French event, Bastille Day, symbolizes the globalization of democracy.  The French revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity flowed across Europe with their armies and eventually around the world.  The concepts inspired popular uprisings in 1830 and 1848 as oppressed Europeans fought to overthrow oppressive governments.

The “losers” of these European revolutions fled to the U.S. where they became soldiers in the Civil War, homesteaders, business owners and politicians.  They helped build the U.S. into a world economic and political power.

After World War II, the U.S. used its economic and political power to create a global system anchored by democracy.   Political stability is maintained through the United Nations and similar international organizations. Economic stability is supported through the World Trade Organization and multilateral trade agreements.

Unfortunately, the benefits of globalization are being undermined by populists.  Like the royalist forces in 1789, 1830 and 1848, they believe in an illusory past glory when they were the “winners” and the condition of others was irrelevant.  If the populists succeed, I expect to pay more money to see a lousier game of football.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see my weekly blog HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which publishes every Wednesday morning. To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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Hanukah: Lights in the Darkness

Version 2

Hanukah begins in a week and this time of year I am always asked the same questions. “Do you also celebrate Christmas?” “Hanukah is the Jewish Christmas, right?” “So what is Hanukah about anyway?” “Do you also have a Christmas tree?” The list goes on. For the most part I’m always happy to share my traditions and practices and to educate folks about my tradition. So for the record, we do not celebrate Christmas, we don’t have a tree and Hanukah is not “Jewish” Christmas. In fact, Hanukah is a relatively minor festival that has little theological, religious significance. Hanukah celebrates both a military and a political victory.

The story takes place during the first century after the second Temple in Jerusalem was seized by the Greeks and desecrated, following which Judaism was outlawed. A small but mighty band of Jews, led by Judah HaMacabee (Judah the Hammer), liberated the Temple and cleansed it for rededication. In order to light the holy Menorah (candelabra) in the Temple, pure olive oil was required. The story goes that there was only enough oil found to last for one day, but it burned for eight while a new supply of fresh oil was prepared. And today, we commemorate what is considered a miracle by lighting our own menorahs one candle at a time for eight nights, each night adding a candle until the final, glorious night when the menorah is fully illuminated.

Because Hanukah is not a biblical holiday, the traditions and observances around it are varied. In Israel, the menorah is lit each night, foods fried in oil are eaten (think potato latkes and jelly donutes) and the traditional gift of money, or gelt in Yiddush, is exchanged. In America, families often add the giving of more secular gifts as the timing coincides of that higher profile, flashier holiday that happens to fall around the same time. You get what I’m talking about. And when my kids were young, we followed that practice. After all, we wanted them to enjoy being Jewish, to fit in with the greater culture and frankly, it was fun. As they grew older, we focused our Hanukah observance on socializing with friends, singing songs, and the gift giving has taken a back seat. To be honest, many American Jewish parents struggle with the annual “Hanukah dilemma.” How to help our kids appreciate and embrace their Jewish identity and not feel left out of the juggernaut that is Christmas. It isn’t easy.

For me the symbolism and imagery around Hanukah is rich and meaningful. I picture Judah and his warrior Macabees finding the Temple in ruins, remnants of their faith strewn about, in tatters. I can imagine the feeling of triumph and elation of victory as they reclaim what is theirs. I see them in the dimming light of the menorah frantically praying the oil lasts long enough for them to complete their work of cleansing and rededicating the Temple. And finally, the miracle occurs as the oil keeps on burning and the Macabees rejoice.

But there’s more. Hanukah usually occurs in December, the darkest of months. And yet, it is also called “The Festival of Lights.” We Jews have faced some very dark times in our history; destructions of our holy ancient Temples, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms in Eastern Europe, the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust. These days increasing anti-Semitism both here in the U.S. and around the world have a lot of us feeling uneasy, wondering if another Holocaust could, in fact, happen. And of course, our people aren’t the only ones targeted by hate and bigotry. But during this darkest, coldest time of year we have only to remember the victory of the Macabees, and their small band of freedom fighters who kept the oil burning, for examples of bravery, perseverance and the will to survive. And there is nothing like the anticipation of watching the lights of the menorah grow, one night at a time, until that eighth beautiful night when all are lit. I think the most moving of all Hanukah traditions is the one that encourages us to display our menorahs in our front windows. It is as if the lights themselves burn defiantly and victoriously against all the generations of oppression and destruction to show the world that, even after the darkest of times, we are still here.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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Thanksgiving in America

In two days, Americans will gather for the annual Thanksgiving feast.  Thanksgiving is a very American holiday because it is associated with the best and worst of our society.

The first Thanksgiving was held before the U.S. actually existed as a country.  In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated with the Wampanoag Indians. The Pilgrims were English settlers who fled Europe in search of religious freedom.  They were saved from starving by the local Wampanoag tribe who helped them adapt to their new neighborhood.

What happened next? The Pilgrims discriminated against anyone who was not a Protestant in the Puritan image. That meant English Quakers had a rough time in New England. The Pilgrims also rid their new neighborhood of the “heathen” Indians using methods that today would be designated as ethnic cleansing.

Thanksgiving was designated a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. Why did he decide to create a national holiday? By 1863, the American Civil War had dragged on for three years. The south was losing the war but the north wasn’t clearly winning.

Lincoln needed a win and Thanksgiving was a symbolic victory. It also allowed him to reiterate his message of binding the country together by using the day to “heal the wounds of a nation.”  His aspiration was never fully realized as we see with today’s political divisions on issues of race, gender equality, religion and immigration.

In 1939, Thanksgiving was moved to the fourth Thursday in November by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Why the fourth Thursday of the month?  The Great Depression was grinding on and FDR hoped to increase retail sales by creating more shopping days before Christmas. Today, early sales begin on Thursday and end with the Internet-crashing sales on cyber-Monday. American capitalism is obscuring the purpose of the holiday.

But in spite of the rampant commercialism and the ugly elements engaged in race-baiting, gender bashing, and anti-immigrant claptrap, Thanksgiving shines through.  In two days, people will gather to eat turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, fish tacos, burritos, turnip greens, cornbread, fry bread, sushi, ramen noodles, curries, or hotdogs and hamburgers. Whether kosher or halal or nothing in particular, we’ll all enjoy the feast.

Our annual feast has evolved as our society has evolved. That’s the best tradition for an American holiday.   Happy Thanksgiving!

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

 

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Ever Felt Like a Misfit?

It’s Halloween, the only celebration when misfits are the “in” crowd.  After all, Halloween is about misfits like witches and warlocks.  But you don’t have to be a witch or warlock to feel like a misfit.

I’ve often felt like a misfit.  My family moved often which meant my siblings and I were the new kids on the block at a lot of schools.  New kids at school are automatically misfits because they don’t have common experiences with the other kids in the class. In college being a misfit didn’t matter quite as much because I wasn’t the only misfit wandering around campus.

In my last year of law school, I went to see the career placement ladies about helping me to find a job after I graduated. The ladies in the career placement office told me that my GPA was so lousy that I would probably never be able to get a job as a lawyer.  What did I say in response?

I reminded the ladies that George B. McClellan graduated at the top of his West Point class and he couldn’t win a battle. On the other hand, Ulysses S. Grant almost flunked out of West Point and he won the war. Who would you rather have working for you, I asked? Clearly the ladies were not history majors or Civil War buffs because they weren’t persuaded by my argument. I found a lawyer job without their help.

In my career, I’ve also gone to work for a few companies that left me feeling like a misfit.  I remember one company where I spent the first year hoping I’d fit in with my colleagues. I spent my second year wondering why I wasn’t fitting in. By my third year, I just wanted to get the heck out of there.  I found another job after a short search.

What have I learned from my experiences as a misfit?

  1. Never keep a job just for the paycheck. If you’re miserable because you don’t fit into the corporate culture or your co-workers are obnoxious to you, go find another place to be successful.
  2. I learned new skills at each job that helped me get the next job. So learn what you can and then move on if the environment makes you feel like a misfit.
  3. No one is really a misfit. We simply haven’t found the place where we fit in.

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers with up to 50 employees to create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the company’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without the annoying bureaucracy.

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I Wanna Live Forever!

Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu had many adventures together. Then Enkidu died. Gilgamesh was inconsolable with grief and loneliness. But he was also afraid of his own death. So he wandered endlessly in search of the secret to never dying.

Gilgamesh’s story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written between 2150 – 1400 BCE.  It was the first major piece of literature in the western world, predating even Homer’s stories about the destruction of Troy.  Gilgamesh was a mythical king of Uruk, a Sumerian city-state in what is now Iraq.

His story may have been written over 4000 years ago but Gilgamesh was not so different from us today.  We are still looking for the magical elixir of life.  Gilgamesh hoped the gods would tell him the secret to immortality but they never did.

Today, our “gods” are the allegedly scientific studies on the benefits of exercise and food.  I say alleged because the studies usually provide conflicting advice and are often sponsored by industries that have a stake in the outcome.  Consider how the definition of “healthy” food changes constantly.

Years ago a study told us not to eat eggs because they have cholesterol which is bad for us. Then a study told us that eggs are loaded with protein; so they are good for us. The poultry industry celebrated.  Another study told us sugar is bad for us. Then a study arrived claiming that lab rats died from consuming saccharine and other sugar substitutes.  Suddenly sugar is good for us again. Sugar beet farmers and sugarcane refineries rejoice.

Along with diet, we’re told to exercise regularly. What does “regularly” mean? One study tells us to exercise until our hearts are thumping and we’re soaked in sweat. The next study tells us that we can achieve excellent health and long life from as little as fifteen minutes of daily exercise.   Recently, a BBC news story cited a new study which claims that prolonged sitting will kill us no matter how much we exercise.

What no one ever admits is that if we live forever, we’ll outlive all our friends. Then we’ll be as lonely as Gilgamesh was after Enkidu died.  Instead of agonizing over living forever, I’ll support a scientific study that says we should enjoy life with our friends, our favorite foods and exercise when we feel like it.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

Like what you see? Feel free to share, but please……give Her Savvy credit. Thanks!

 

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What Makes a Hero?

What makes a hero? I cogitate on this question every year as July 20th approaches.  On July 20, 1944, a group of German Army officers came darned close to killing Adolf Hitler with a bomb.  Today those officers are considered heroes of the anti-Nazi resistance. It wasn’t always that way, though.

 

In 1944, the officers were considered traitors by their fellow Germans and by the people on the Allied side of the war.  In 1944, only anarchists, traitors and Communists were so morally challenged as to commit political murder.  No one wanted to believe that respectable, educated, upper-class men would commit pre-meditated murder.

 

So who were the German officers who tried to kill Hitler? They were primarily Junkers or German aristocrats and most of them were related to each other. They tended to be devout Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant. They thought, incorrectly, that if they killed Hitler, the western Allies (U.S., Britain, and France) would sign a ceasefire and agree to join them in fighting the Russian Communists.

 

Alas, their bomb failed to kill Hitler and the Nazis took revenge.  Henning von Tresckow, the mastermind, died on the eastern front hours before Gestapo agents stepped off a plane to arrest him. Graf von Stauffenberg, who planted the bomb, was shot by firing squad on the evening of July 20th. They were the lucky ones.  Most of the other plotters, and quite a few innocents, were taken to Gestapo headquarters in Berlin where they were tortured before being tried in kangaroo courts and hanged.

 

Their wives and children ended the war in prison or in concentration camps. The youngest children were sent to orphanages. Stauffenberg’s widow gave birth to her daughter in prison and spent about 10 years searching orphanages trying to find her sons.  The widows were ostracized after the war until the 1960’s when their dead husbands were proclaimed as heroes.

 

The plotters became heroes because West Germany needed heroes. In 1945, Germany was split in two. East Germany was occupied by the Russians. West Germany was created from the American, French and British occupation zones. By the 1960’s, West Germany needed heroes to give the country a sense of continuity with the past but without the taint of the Nazis.  The German officers who plotted to kill Hitler fit the requirements and became heroes.

 

So what makes a person a hero?  In the case of the July 20th conspirators, it was political necessity. But I like to think that the July 20th conspirators would have been recognized as heroes even without political necessity. They were truly brave men who knew they were risking the lives of their families in their quest to build a better future for all.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Contact me at norma.shirk@complianceriskadvisor.com.

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Living with Fear

Fear is a universal emotion.  Every person alive is afraid of something. It’s what we do next that matters most.

Fear can be a motivator. It drives us to meet our goals. But too much fear can overwhelm us, paralyzing our emotional and physical responses.  As a person who has experienced both these effects of fear, I wanted to know how other people managed their responses to fear.

I’m a history buff so I looked for historical examples. An excellent study in fear is provided by the men and women who were in the French Resistance in World War II.  Every Nazi-occupied country had resistance movements, of course. But the French are notable for their tradition of writing books about their political activities. As a result, the survivors of the French Resistance were more likely to write about their experiences than resisters in other European countries.

What a life they lived! Living in occupied France meant living with fear. The Gestapo could stop any person at any time and demand to see their identity papers. Resistance workers knew if they were detained in one of these street sweeps, their forged identity papers would probably not withstand scrutiny. Or their forged identity might already have been revealed by a tortured colleague or a collaborator. In either case, it meant their worst fear would come true; they would be arrested.

Another quick path to arrest was violating the nightly curfew.  Resistance workers constantly broke curfew to travel to rendezvous sites to retrieve supplies flown in on moonless nights. They also conducted most radio communications with their leaders in London at night. Resistance workers caught at rendezvous sites or with a radio could be shot “resisting arrest” or arrested and taken in for interrogation.

Interrogation meant torture and probable death. Resistance workers were tortured in an effort to make them name names since the Gestapo was attempting to wipe out all resistance efforts.  The standard rule for Resistance workers was that they should hold out for at least 48 hours under torture to allow other Resistance workers to move to new, unknown locations.

Many Resistance members died due to the torture. If they didn’t die while being tortured, they were sent to prison in France to await deportation to a concentration camp.  Resistance workers were not covered by The Hague or Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of prisoners of war. They were not legally soldiers. They were legally defined as spies, criminals, or “enemy combatants”.  That meant they could be tortured, starved, murdered, or used as slave laborers.

Resistance activities could be deadly for a worker’s family. If the Gestapo knew or suspected the true identity of a Resistance worker, they would arrest family members of the Resistance worker.  Family members could be tortured, imprisoned, murdered, or deported to a death camp in retaliation for the Resistance worker’s activities.  Resistance workers knew they were jeopardizing the lives of their loved ones and this knowledge caused their greatest fear.

French Resistance workers lived with overwhelming fear that left psychological scars for the rest of their lives.  So why would anyone choose to join the Resistance when they could have kept their heads down and sat out the war?  Sitting out the war could have meant staying neutral, not collaborating, and waiting for it all to end.

French Resistance workers spanned the political spectrum from communist to fascist; but they had one thing in common. They were all French patriots. They wanted to end the occupation and free France.  That goal kept them going through deprivation, torture and fear.

Fear is often synonymous with weakness which is synonymous with cowardice in books and movies. That is wrong. Only an idiot or a liar claims to be constantly brave, never knowing fear. The bravest people are those who acknowledge their fear and still do their job.

That is the lesson about living with fear that I learned from the French Resistance. We are all afraid of something. But if we don’t allow fear to stop us, we can do anything that we want and reach any goal.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com.

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