Rational Mastery

Fred Strodtbeck, “Family Interaction, Values, and Achievement,” in Talent and Society: New Perspectives in the Identification of Talent, Princeton, Van Notrand Company, 1958, 155

For the present-day achiever in the United States, rational mastery of the situation has taken the place of the “hard work” of the Calvinists, and the threat of almost continuous review of his record has been equated with anxiety over eventual salvation. There is no necessary personal deprivation which must be endured; indeed, one’s accomplishment can be facilitate by “breaks.” But the breaks are now of the individual’s own making; it is a matter of being available with what is needed at the right place and at the right time. Just as the breaks are not doled out by a beneficent power, neither are failures. Whatever failure an individual has suffered could always have been foreseen and circumvented if the individual had been sufficiently alert. For the modern achiever there is no legitimate excuse for failure. His sense of personal responsibility for controlling his destiny is enormous.

Old-culture Jewish beliefs appear to be congruent in man, if not all, respects with such a belief in a rational mastery of the world. For the Jew, there was always the expectation that everything could be understood, if not controlled. Emphasis on learning as a means of control was strong. Neither religious nor secular learning, once attained (unlike the Protestant’s salvation and the achiever’s status), was in continual jeopardy. For men who were learned in trades but religious scholars, the expectations of charity to others of the community who were less fortunate was a continuing goad to keep working; but if misfortune befell a former benefactor, the community understood. The sense of personal responsibility existed along with a responsibility of the community for the individual which eased somewhat the precariousness associated with “al or none” expectations of the individual.


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