Prussian Virtues: An Insightful Contemplation

It started out innocent enough. We tripped over a Prussian military flag from the 19th Century at our local army surplus store and thought it would be rather snappy hanging on the row house. However, German flags scare people; or more specifically one neighbor who now thinks we’re Nazis. I’ll clarify right now, regardless of our flag choice, we’re not Nazis. No one in either of our families is a Nazi. And, most importantly, no one is anti-anyone.

Before we hung it, we did check out the interwebs to see what’s what. As far as we know the flag stopped being used, more or less around the time of World War 1. Being that my family is from Pomerania, which was located in Prussia, later Northern Germany once things became unified, a Prussian flag is pretty good. You see, after WWII, our ancestral city (Stetin) became part of Poland. My family is ethnically German. So, you have to go back a bit to find something that works, hence Prussia. Of course, this is what I get for being lazy. I should have just ordered a Pomeranian Flag. It’s pretty!

During my research, I came across a wikipedia page about Prussian Virtues, which has proven to be a somewhat enlightening find.

The 18th Century, which we all know I love, is also known as the “Age of Enlightenment.”  In brief, this was a time when scientific method, logical thinking, and intellectual discourse was in high fashion. Humans focused on the condition of humanity and helped lead to the creation of America, with it’s all men created equal idealism, and the eventual abolishment of surfdom and slavery. Freedom of religion – tolerance for those different is also an idea from the Enlightenment.

Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia (this is before Germany was Germany) took many of these concepts, along with several Protestant ideas, and created a code of living called the Prussian Virtues. In true German fashion, I’ve loosely organized them by subject:

  • Thrifty (manage your money wisely)
  • Handle life’s challenges without whining – be tough (In German, translated as “Learn to suffer without complaining about it.”)
  • Courage
  • Determination
  • Discipline
  • Honest, without corruption or cannot be corrupted
  • Live a Godly life while being tolerant of those with different religions than you
  • Modesty, humility – self-effacement (In German, translated as “Be better than you appear to be.”)
  • Work hard, be industrious
  • Loyal, a sense of duty or conscientiousness, also self-denial for a larger cause
  • Obedient, subordinate (As an aside, this virtue of obedience can have the effect of lemmings following a leader off a cliff into the sea – in the wrong hands, horrible.)
  • Punctual
  • Reliable (German appliances, anyone?)
  • Restraint
  • Sense of justice
  • Sense of order
  • Sincerity and straightforwardness

As I was reading through these, I noticed that just about all of these virtues are also very present in my own life. It should be no surprise then, if I share that I was pretty much raised in a Germanic household and these themes were the core structure in my upbringing.  Work hard, no whining, be obedient, honest, organized, stick to a budget, don’t brag, and show up on time, among other things.

Most of the time, I feel like a square peg in a world of round holes. But learning about this gives me some logical reason behind why I am who I am. It appears that the problem is not with me, but with where I’m located. At the very least, many of these are perfectly good characteristics to have, even if I can’t move across the pond to be with others who are like-minded.

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