an introspective about introspection

Thanks for the prayers.  The entire conference went well, as did the talk I had to give, and I could tell there were lots of prayers coming my way!

I had to take one of the conference speakers back to the airport this morning and didn’t want to drive all the way home and back after Mass, so I headed over to Starbucks to read and kill time.  I don’t particularly like Starbucks — in fact, I think I could go the rest of my life without stepping foot into one, and I’d much rather go to a locally-owned shop. But Starbucks was right there and convenient, so I went.  (And therein lies both the success and annoyance of Starbucks.)

Before leaving for Mass, I had grabbed a book one of my friends had given me to read: We Band of Angels, the story of American nurses who suffered under the Japanese in the Bataan internment camps.

In the introduction, as Elizabeth Norman tells the story of finding the women to interview them, she notes:

The more I studied the women, the more I realized I was dealing not with individuals but with a collective persona.  The women often answered my questions using the pronoun “we” rather than “I.”   They were some of the least egocentric people I’ve met and as such were difficult interviews.  Many simply did not want to talk about themselves.  They did not have the habit of self-reflection that seems to drive the conversation of our era, the need to dwell on identity, to indulge the ego and see all stories as memoir.

And this was written in 1999… if that last sentence was true eleven years ago, how much more is it true today?!  1999 saw the release of Pyra Labs’ service “Blogger” to the public.   The same founder of Pyra Labs, the man who invented the terb “blog,” would found the corporation behind Twitter eight years later.

There are advantages self-reflection and to recording the events of our lives for posterity.  I say that as I sit here and tell the world that I drank a pumpkin latte at Starbucks this morning.  And I used Twitter all weekend, following the Pope’s visit to England while I was working and unable to watch online.

But what would my generation do when faced with adversity like those women?  In this world that tells us to “broadcast yourself” or “Blog This!”, would we be able to sacrifice our personal identity to seek survival for the group?

As it turned out, the “group” saved their lives.  Their collective sense of mission, both as nurses and as army and naval officers, allowed them to survive when stronger people faltered.  In prison not one of the nurses died of disease or malnutrition, while more than four hundred other internees perished.  In that context their survival as a group was extraordinary.


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