Thursday, November 21, 2013
In the Good Men Project, Kendall Ruth writes:
Men are taught directly or subtly that we have to prove ourselves. We breathe it in like a fish breathes water. There is a time when proving your mettle has context. Why else would the military be filled with men in their 20′s? Where else would adrenaline sports find their junkies? But the lesson that comes with time is that indeed…there is nothing to prove. There is living each day with the choices we make.
There's more, all of which, like the passage above, is entirely banal and brimming with numb platitudes.
Whether for good or ill, men (or lots of men, at any rate) crave and are also vexed by the challenge; society and the law often exploit this circumstance. Manliness is perhaps less a coming to terms with one's self than living with an enduring paradox of desire and torment about the burdens of proving one's self.
Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, like many thoughtful memoirs by combat soldiers, dwells on one part of this state of being--the burden of manliness. Even though he survived a tour of Vietnam, he still feels unredeemed as a man for having been too afraid in elementary school to have told off a menacing bully who was viciously tormenting a girl who had cancer and whose hair was falling out.
O'Brien's point was that men don't accumulate a reserve of manliness over time such that any future withdrawals are covered. They just live with the regret, which never disappears.