Combinations of Motifs

Among the complementary motifs, we have mentioned only three — dominance-submission, exhibitionism-spectatorship, and succorance-dependence—but these three will suffice to illustrate the sort of verifiable hypotheses at which we can arrive by describing national character in this hyphenated terminology. 19

Since, clearly, all three of these motifs occur in all Western cultures, the possibilities for international difference are limited to the proportions and ways in which the motifs are combined. The proportions are likely to be very difficult to detect, except where the differences are very large. We may be sure ourselves that Germans are more oriented toward dominance-submission than are Americans, but to demonstrate this certainty is likely to be difficult. To estimate differences in the degree of development of exhibitionismspectatorship or succorance-dependence in the various nations will, indeed, probably be quite impossible.

If, however, we consider the possible ways in which these motifs may be combined together, we find sharp qualitative differences which are susceptible of easy verification. Let us assume that all three of these motifs are developed in all relationships in all Western cultures, and from this assumption go on to consider which individual plays which role.

It is logically possible that in one cultural environment A will be dominant and exhibitionist, while B is submissive and spectator; while in another culture X may be dominant and spectator, while Y is submissive and exhibitionist.

Examples of this sort of contrast rather easily come to mind. Thus we may note that whereas the dominant Nazis preen themselves before the people, the czar of Russia kept his private ballet, and Stalin emerges from seclusion only to review his troops. We might perhaps present the relationship between the Nazi Party and the people thus:

Party People

Dominance Submission

Exhibitionism Spectatorship

While the czar and his ballet would be represented:


Dominance Spectatorship


Submission Exhibitionism

19 "For a fuller study, we ought to consider such other motifs as aggression-passivity, possessivepossessed, agent-tool, etc. And all of these motifs will require somewhat more critical definition than can be attempted in this paper.

Since these European examples are comparatively unproved, it is worthwhile at this point to demonstrate the occurrence of such differences by describing a rather striking ethnographic difference which has been documented more fully. In Europe, where we tend to associate succoring behavior with social superiority, we construct our parent symbols accordingly. Our God, or our king, is the "father" of his people. In Bali, on the other hand, the gods are the "children" of the people, and when a god speaks through the mouth of a person in trance, he addresses anyone who will listen as "father." Similarly, the rajah is sajanganga ("spoilt" like a child) by his people. The Balinese, further, are very fond of putting children in the combined roles of god and dancer; in mythology, the perfect prince is polished and narcissistic. Thus the Balinese pattern might be summarized thus: High Status Low Status

Dependence Succoring

Exhibitionism Spectatorship

And this diagram would imply, not only that the Balinese feel dependence and exhibitionism and superior status to go naturally together, but also that a Balinese will not readily combine succoring with exhibitionism (that is, Bali completely lacks the ostentatious gift-giving characteristic of many primitive peoples) or will be embarrassed if forced by the context to attempt such a combination.

Although the analogous diagrams for our Western cultures cannot be drawn with the same certainty, it is worthwhile to attempt them for the parent-child relationships in English, American, and German cultures. One extra complication must, however, be faced; when we look at parent-child relationships instead of at relationships between princes and people, we have to make specific allowance for the changes in the pattern which occur as the child grows older. Succorance-dependence is undoubtedly a dominant motif in early childhood, but various mechanisms later modify this extreme dependence, to bring about some degree of psychological independence.

The English upper- and middle-class system would be represented diagrammatically thus:

Parents Children

Dominance Submission

(modified by "ternary" nurse system) Succoring Dependence

(dependence habits broken by separation—children sent to school)

Exhibitionism Spectatorship

(children listen silently at meals)

In contrast with this, the analogous American pattern seems to be: Parents Children

Dominance (slight) Submission (slight)

Succoring Dependence

Spectatorship Exhibitionism

And this pattern differs from the English not only in the reversal of the spectatorship-exhibitionism roles, but also in the content of what is exhibited. The American child is encouraged by his parents to show off his independence. Usually the process of psychological weaning is not accomplished by sending the child away to a boarding school; instead, the child's exhibitionism is played off against his independence, until the latter is neutralized. Later, from this beginning in the exhibition of independence, the individual may sometimes go on in adult life to show off succorance, his wife and family becoming in some degree his "exhibits."

Though the analogous German pattern probably resembles the American in the arrangement of the paired complementary roles, certainly it differs from the American in that the father's dominance is much stronger and much more consistent, and especially in that the content of the boy's exhibitionism is quite different. He is, in fact, dominated into a sort of heel-clicking exhibitionism which takes the place of overt submissive behavior. Thus, while in the American character exhibitionism is encouraged by the parent as a method of psychological weaning, both its function and its content are for the German entirely different.

Differences of this order, which may be expected in all European nations, are probably the basis of many of our naive and often unkind international comments. They may, indeed, be of considerable importance in the mechanics of international relations, in as much as an understanding of them might dispel some of our misunderstandings. To an American eye, the English too often appear "arrogant," whereas to an English eye the American appears to be "boastful." If we could show precisely how much of truth and how much of distortion is present in these impressions, it might be a real contribution to interallied cooperation.

In terms of the diagrams above, the "arrogance" of the Englishman would be due to the combination of dominance and exhibitionism. The Englishman in a performing role (the parent at breakfast, the newspaper editor, the political spokesman, the lecturer, or what not) assumes that he is also in a dominant role—that he can decide in accordance with vague, abstract standards what sort of performance to give —and the audience can "take it or leave it." His own arrogance he sees either as "natural" or as mitigated by his humility in face of the abstract standards. Quite unaware that his behavior could conceivably be regarded as a comment upon his audience, he is, on the contrary, aware only of be-having in the performer's role, as he understands that role. But the American does not see it thus. To him, the "arrogant" behavior of the Englishman appears to be directed against the audience, in which case the implicit invocation of some abstract standard appears only to add insult to injury.

Similarly, the behavior which an Englishman interprets as "boastful" in an American is not aggressive, although the Englishman may feel that he is being subjected to some sort of invidious comparison. He does not know that, as a matter of fact, Americans will only behave like this to people whom they rather like and respect. According to the hypothesis above, the "boasting" pattern results from the curious linkage whereby exhibition of self-sufficiency and independence is played off against overdependence. The American, when he boasts, is looking for approval of his upstanding independence; but the naive Englishman interprets this behavior as a bid for some sort of dominance or superiority.

In this sort of way, we may suppose that the whole flavor of one national culture may differ from that of another, and that such differences may be considerable enough to lead to serious misunderstandings. It is probable, however, that these differences are not so complex in their nature as to be beyond the reach of investigation. Hypotheses of the type which we have advanced could be easily tested, and research on these lines is urgently needed.

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