In his recent book David and Goliath Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of André Trocmé a local pastor of a dissident Protestant sect called the Huguenots who were located in the remote mountainous region of France. It was a time around 1940 when France was occupied by the German Army but was allowed to set up a government in the city of Vichy. Trocmé was committed to resisting German demands that insisted on obedience that he believed was contrary to the Gospel. He refused to give the straight-armed fascist salute, take a loyalty oath to the Vichy regime and actually had the courage to write a letter to the youth representative of the Vichy government who had rounded up twelve thousand Jews in Paris at the request of the Nazis. The essence of the letter, “We have Jews. You’re not getting them.”
The Huguenots knew what it was like to be persecuted and they knew that if they kept “the faith” that wiping out a large aggregate or movement was not as simple as it might appear. They knew how to hide themselves as well as those they believed the Gospel commanded them to protect. So what was it about this man that led him to defy deadly force that he believed to be illegitimate? Perhaps it was his early compromises that hardened into a mental model that demanded great courage in the face of irretrievable loss. Paradoxically this early mental model influenced him to protect the innocent by standing up to Goliath but at the same time limited his ability to self-protect based on his interpretation of the Gospel. The consequence was that he could do what was needed to disguise his harboring of Jews but when asked directly he was compelled by the Gospel to answer truthfully even at the risk of his own life. So how did this paradox get created in this intense but devoted man?
As told by Gladwell, when André Trocmé was ten years he witnessed from the back seat of the family car his father raging at a slow driver in front of them. Against his mother’s pleas, his father attempted to pass the vehicle and their own car spun dangerously out of control. When André pushed himself away from the wreckage he saw the lifeless body of his mother thirty feet away. His depiction that the impact of his mother’s death had on his life is captured in a letter he wrote to her many years after her death. For our purpose here, it gives us a unique opportunity to gain profound understanding of how powerful unchallenged early mental models can be in determining the entire course of our lives:
“If I have sinned so much, if I have been, since then, so solitary, if my soul has taken such a swirling and solitary movement, if I have doubted everything, if I have been a fatalist, and have been a pessimistic child who awaits death every day, and who almost seeks it out, if I have opened myself slowly and late to happiness, and if I am still a somber man, incapable of laughing whole-heartedly, it is because you left me that June 24th upon that road.
But if I have believed in eternal realities…if I have thrust myself toward them, it is also because you were no longer there to be my God, to fill my heart with your abundant and dominating life.”