Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Scout is Cheerful

I recently listened to a course from The Teaching Company titled "Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions." The course was taught by Dr. Robert Solomon, who was a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. (He died in 2007.)

Emotion and reason are like yin and yang. They are an excellent example of complementarity. This course was an interesting discussion about the emotional half of that duo.

Overall it was a good course, but one small section seemed odd. In the last lecture, titled "Happiness and Spirituality," Dr. Solomon discusses cheerfulness, as opposed to happiness:
Now I'm suspicious of cheerfulness, partly because, as you can probably tell, I'm not a particularly cheerful person. But also it seems to me that, it's been pointed out by many people in the world, Europeans, Asians, Africans, and so on, that there's an American facade, and the facade is one of being happy all the time (a very good novel, by the way, by Laurie Colwin some years ago).

But the idea of cheerfulness, again, is perfectly superficial. And it has an interesting history. Two centuries ago, we were very much like our European heritage and the proper temperment for a good American was one of seriousness and piety and a certain amount of concern because everyone knew that life was tough, that it ended badly, that there were serious issues in the world, and so it was considered simply inappropriate to be too cheerful.

That changed, interestingly enough, in the 19th century when, for example, employers found that they were having trouble with their workers because they didn't really like their jobs. And so job satisfaction and cheerfulness were encouraged as necessary parts of employment. And in the home, women were getting a bit unruly and were often embittered by their situation. And so cheerfulness became a kind of facade which they were expected to put on as a way of confronting what was otherwise perhaps an intolerable situation, but in any case it caused their husbands much less trouble.

Now these are not very pretty pictures. But the idea is that cheerfulness is something that Americans have learned fairly recently as a facade to the world which, needless to say, most of the world does not find very amusing. Most Europeans look at Americans with their constant cheerfulness as kind of, well, sort of idiots, because life isn't to be that cheerful about.

Curses on those wicked American husbands and employers! Oh wait, that's me. Well, since the secret is out, I thought I would come clean and disclose the secret training I have received in this area since I was a young lad.

It began in Boy Scouts at age 11. Lord Baden-Powell started Boy Scouts in 1907. In the U.S. version of Boy Scouts, there is a 12 point Scout Law, one of which is "A Scout is cheerful." Bingo! If this isn't the source of the problem (after all, 1907 isn't quite in the 19th century), it must be at least a major milestone on the American path to subjugate the world with cheerfulness.

Never mind that the Scout Law is about improving oneself, not telling others what to do. Never mind that Lord Baden-Powell had nothing to say about workers (he was a military man, not an industrial magnate). Never mind that nothing in Boy Scout teachings has anything to do with women. Never mind that Lord Baden-Powell was British, not American. Never mind that Scouting has become a world-wide movement in over 200 countries, headquartered in the very American city of Geneva, Switzerland. And while the international version of the Scout Law is slightly different from the U.S. version, never mind that it says: "A Scout smiles and whistles under all difficulties," which sounds like cheerfulness to me. Clearly, what's wrong with the world is that Americans are too darn cheerful. After having figured out how to use cheerfulness to subjugate their women and workers, Americans have infused their whole culture with cheerfulness, even brainwashing young boys, to the point where the rest of the world thinks we are idiots for it.

Oh, by the way, Lord Baden-Powell also started Girl Guides in 1910, due to popular demand. At first he was helped by his sister, and later by his wife. (He married in 1912.) The original version of the Guide Law included this: "A Guide smiles and sings under all difficulties." (source, pp. 6-7) In some countries, including the U.S., Girl Guides are called Girl Scouts. It is interesting to note that the U.S. version of the Girl Scout Law contains no mention of cheerfulness, no mention of smiling and singing in the face of difficulties. Obviously, they were onto the Boy Scout plot.

As further evidence that cheerfulness is indeed valued outside of America, even if the U.S. Girl Scouts and American university professors are having none of it, I recommend this video from Thailand. It will put a cheerful smile on your face!