A Movie called Swing Kids, set in Hamburg, Germany, in 1939, tells the story of a group of teenagers who asserted their individuality during a time of Nazi-enforced conformity. These "swing kids," as they styled themselves, had long hair and were fascinated with American movies, British fashion, and swing music—none of which had the approval of the Nazis. Despite the danger involved, the swing kids refused to join the Nazi youth organization known as the Hitler Jugend, or HJ.
Things go along OK for a while; the swing kids are grudgingly tolerated by the authorities. But because of a childish prank, one of the members of the group, Peter, finds himself forced into the HJ. His best friend, Thomas, then joins out of camaraderie. They still despise everything the HJ represents, but they go through the motions of being good Nazi youth by day while remaining swing kids by night.
But, little by little, Thomas begins to change. Through subtle persuasion, other HJ members win him over until he comes to believe in Nazism and wears his swastika with pride. Eventually, he betrays his father to the secret police and, in a raid on the local swing club, almost strangles Peter to death. Step by step, he begins to feel embraced into a brotherhood that offers him status and power.
Isn't humility, rather than pride or self-condemnation, the better way to go?
The way that Thomas was subtly won over struck me as one more example of how immorality can attempt to lure us into a trap, holding out promises it can never fulfill. This kind of subtle persuasion is nothing new. And it's often insecurity that makes individuals most susceptible to its pressure—a pressure that would wring all the goodness and safety out of life.
There are harmful mental influences that would prey on our lives as well, not the least of which is pressure from friends to do whatever is popular. Naturally, if we recognized these influences as harmful, most of us wouldn't be swayed by them. In Swing Kids, Thomas never intended to become a Nazi; the praise he received and the sense of belonging are what lured him. He didn't recognize the blatantly immoral influences that were tempting everyone.
Without even noticing, good people can gradually be pulled from their natural convictions. Because of peer pressure. Because of community pressure. Because it feels cool. At that point, it's tempting to grab hold of any attitude just to gain a feeling of conviction and belonging.
The best approach I've found on how to resist the pressure of immorality is from the Apostle Paul's letter to the early Christian Church in Rome: "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed. Thus you will prove in practice that the will of God is good, acceptable to him and perfect" (Rom. 12:2; J. B. Phillips translation).
By keeping one's thought filled with God's goodness, and by expressing goodness, we can face any situation without losing our moral footing. And we can find God-given courage to stand by our convictions.
Still, what if we find ourselves saying or doing things that aren't in keeping with our true character? The temptation is often to try to justify the bad behavior or else indulge in self-condemnation.
But isn't humility, rather than pride or self-condemnation, the better way to go? We can pray to realize our inherent freedom from these influences, and then recommit ourselves to expressing compassion and integrity.
In Swing Kids Peter didn't become a Nazi like Thomas. In fact, at the end of the movie he took a courageous stand against the HJ. He was saved through his compassion and humility, admitting the mistakes he had made. These traits gave him strength to refuse to participate in evil activities, no matter what the consequences might have been.
While everyone may be tempted by hidden influences, the firmer our spiritual grounding, the less likely we'll succumb to temptation. Centering our thought on God opens the way to freely and confidently expressing our own individuality—our true selfhood, derived from God. This includes those qualities Paul espoused. It lifts our thoughts and actions out of willfulness and vulnerability. We have mental and moral firmness that can't be shaken loose from its moorings. We have the courage to stand apart from the crowd when integrity demands. Then, instead of being harmfully influenced, we'll find ourselves being powerful influences for good.
Access more great content like this
Welcome to JSH-Online, the home of the digital editions of The Christian Science Journal, Sentinel, and Herald. We hope you enjoy the content that has been shared with you. To learn more about JSH-Online visit our Learn More page or Subscribe to receive full access to the entire archive of these periodicals, and to new text and audio content added daily.