I hate the song ‘My Way!’

There, I said it!  In fact, I’ve always detested it.  The fact that Trump had it play – the narcissism on full volume – at the exact moment Air Force One departed Washington at the end of his truly appalling and fascistic time as President merely confirmed my gut instinct. 

I mean, I understand its appeal.  In 2019, it was once again the most popular song played at UK funerals – I’d imagine almost entirely for men.  It may be seen as a celebration of one’s life and achievements, triumphs over adversity and the qualities of steadfastness, resilience, strength of character and individuality.  It’s triumphant; it’s defiant and it has no regrets.

The runner-up team performs in the 25th castells competition at Tarraco Arena ring in Tarragona, Catalonia, northeastern Spain, on Oct.

It may also be seen as deeply narcissistic, arrogant and, above all, denying the role that others play in our lives.  They say ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and perhaps it takes a fair-sized town to nurture and support a human being through the ups and downs of life.

From cradle to grave, our lives are intertwined with others; inextricably linked to a host of people without whom we cannot survive or thrive.  To varying degrees, we are each blessed by the nurturing influence of family, friends and teachers, the support of colleagues, the care of doctors, nurses and carers.  Many will have benefited from the inspiration of role models and mentors and the support of social workers, youth workers, community workers, faith leaders and counsellors.  The more fortunate amongst us will have shared our lives with a partner whose encouragement may have spurred us on in our achievements and whose support through life’s challenges has been both precious and invaluable.

But you know: “screw them: I did it my way!”

In many ways, the song – as with my rationale for detesting it – goes to the heart of how we view life, society and politics.  Margaret Thatcher famously declared: “There is no such thing as society.”  Perhaps those who so embrace the song ‘My Way’ approve of this message.  There are numerous mantras echoing the same notion: ‘Life is what you make of it’, ‘no-one’s going to give you a helping hand’, ‘you’ve got to get out there and make your mark’, ‘if you want to succeed in life, it’s up to you.’

For those of us who vehemently disagree with Thatcher’s proclamation, it is not only because it negates the interconnected nature of human experience and the nurturing and support given by so many others.  The cult of the individual asserts that your successes are your own as are your failures: if you succeed, it’s down to innate ability and hard work; if you fail, it’s your own fault, you useless slacker.  Of course, this ignores the uneven playing field with varying degrees of privilege or disadvantage afforded us from birth, just as it ignores the systemic factors which serve to help or hinder us in our lives and careers – predominantly based upon race, class and gender.

This model of blame, of individual deficit, serves not only to individualise people’s disadvantage and struggles, but to negate any involvement of government and policy.  If you’re poor, homeless or in poor quality housing, unemployed or earning below the living wage or struggling with mental health issues then it’s your own fault – the government and its policies have nothing to do with it.  Not only that, but the government should not be viewed as the answer to such problems.  Forget that a decent society should provide jobs that pay liveable wages, provide housing fit for human habitation, provide a system of healthcare for all and a social safety net for those who are vulnerable and in need.  It’s dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest; losers lose all.

But then, it’s not easy to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you can only afford sandals. 

The political emphasis on individualism has also intentionally moved us away from union membership and the ideals of collective action and struggle to improve our lot in life.  For the political left, siding with the workers and lower classes, it has always been ‘united we stand; divided we fall.’  For the right, taking an altogether different allegiance, ‘divide and conquer’ is the motto.

The kind of government and society we want likely mirrors the way we view our own lives and actions.  The great American socialist and trade unionist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Eugene V Debs, said: “We were taught under the old ethic that man’s business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast.  Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man.  Thousands of years ago the question was asked: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’  That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.  Yes, I am my brother’s keeper.  I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself.  What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death?”

Growing up, our family garden had low hedges, as did several gardens on either side.  We’d see, know and communicate with our neighbours across those gardens and, when it snowed, we’d check if our elderly neighbour wanted any shopping.  If her milk wasn’t taken in, we’d check on her.  Nowadays, estate agents advertise the benefits of gardens with high fences that are not overlooked, we’re encouraged to ‘shop’ our neighbours rather than shop for them and we read reports of people who died in their homes six weeks before anyone noticed.

My distinct unease with the lyrics of ‘My Way’ serves to remind me that I’m standing on the shoulders of others and that I long for a society that is communal, caring and sharing, not one based upon individualism, greed and blame. 

In many ways, the self-aggrandising nature of the song made it the perfect send-off for the Narcissist-in-Chief.  Whilst it is indelibly associated with Frank Sinatra, his daughter Tina stated: “He didn’t like it. That song stuck and he couldn’t get it off his shoe. He always thought that song was self-serving and self-indulgent.”  Not only that, Sinatra was not a fan of Trump who had tried to get him to lower his fees for performing at the opening of his Taj Mahal Casino in 1990.  Last year, when Sinatra’s third wife Mia Farrow tweeted: “Frank Sinatra would have loathed Donald Trump,” his daughter Nancy responded: “He actually did loathe him.”

And when my time is up?  I’d be honoured for Maya Angelou’s words to be spoken: “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.”  If it were taken as a comment on one’s kindness rather than being self-congratulatory, I’d hope Mark Twain’s words might ring true: “Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”  

And whatever I may have achieved, may I say, not in a shy way: “Oh, no, oh, no not me: I did it with the help of others.”

Tom Lane


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