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A Psycho-Analytic Study of Culture and Character

reviewed by Joost A. M. Meerloo - 1965

coverTitle: A Psycho-Analytic Study of Culture and Character
Author(s): H. Hendin
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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Rebellious man once discovered that he could undo God's creation of man in one "heroic" desperate act of either murder or suicide—and since then, various cultures have developed different attitudes towards this metaphysical undoing.

In one of his speeches, President Eisenhower once made the problem of increased suicide rate in Scandinavia a political issue by referring to it unfavorably. Dr. Hendin, in his study, gives an apt answer to this enigma. Such a problem has to be studied from various angles. Increased suicide rate does not reflect the inferiority or superiority of a country and its culture, but its study gives us a better insight into man's manifold motivations that may drive him to self-destruction. The author systematically explores the Scandinavian suicide phenomenon with its unusually low rate in Norway as compared to its high rate in Denmark and Sweden. We follow his clinical investigations and the sociocultural ramifications of these different attitudes toward the life-death problem. Only a scholar trained in the investigation of cultural and national differences can find a satisfying answer. The Columbia School of Psychological Research as founded by Dr. Sandor Rado and Dr. Abram Kardiner gave Dr. Hendin the methodological foundations. It discovered that various cultures unwittingly teach their members different ways of problem solving, thus leading to subtle differences in character.

All three Scandinavian countries are welfare states as well as affluent societies where the chance is greater that increasing luxury will create passivity and can influence the will to live. Greater security in life may lead to a diminishing inner need in man to accept such unpleasant challenges of life as, for instance, the diseases of old age. This form of so-called welfare-suicide is known in many cultures. Yet in the three Scandinavian countries, Hendin found remarkable differences in child rearing leading to very different forms of encounter with fate.

In Denmark, dependency and passivity are encouraged from infancy on. This educational emphasis started before the advent of the welfare state. Competitiveness and aggressiveness are discouraged, and a high skill is achieved at instilling guilt as a moderator for aggressive and destructive actions. As a result, there is a higher tendency to turn these destructive activities inward, especially when the greater need for dependency on each other is challenged by disease or death of relatives. Added to this is the prevailing and almost magic expectation of meeting each other in a happier hereafter, thus increasing the risk to justify the fatal act.

In Sweden, the community is not so closely knit. Instead of increased mutual dependency, another pattern of rearing comes to the fore. The early separation of mother and child encourages a precocious independence. A feeling of emotional detachment and the frustration of warm relations may lead to desperate actions. Juvenile delinquency, for instance is on the increase along with suicide. The Swedes have an intense concern with performance and achievement. Swedish literature often describes life as a living death. Failure at work and lack of success unwittingly promote suicidal tendencies in those who do not feel rooted in stable family relations. In the US, we can discover a comparable phenomenon in the increasing suicide rate among college students.

In Norway people are less driven by ambition and more capable of expressing anger and other emotions. There is less manipulation of guilt, while a form of emotional independence is encouraged that does not affect warm family ties.

A short review is not able to describe the richness of material used by the author. In the study of educational habits, in the analysis of literature, and in the description of the characters of famous leaders, he finds the best sources for his argument. His book touches everyone who is aware that his own actions and attitudes can contribute to the feelings of rejection and despair in his fellow men. Dr. Hendin's work will become a classic in psychosocial analysis, especially for those interested in the emergence of self-destructive tendencies in man.

Moreover, it leads to educational consequences because it tells us how early cultural imprints and conditionings influence man*s courage and his basic attitude towards life and death.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 66 Number 4, 1965, p. 373-373
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 2534, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 1:14:53 PM

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