Brent McKay kills it again. Enjoy and forward to whiners who bleat when challenged by other men.
Whenever there is a gap between who we’d like to be, and who we actually are, we experience cognitive dissonance – an uncomfortable feeling of mental anxiety. There are basically two ways of dealing with this discomfort: either we can close the gap by taking actions that move us towards that ideal self, or we can devalue and disparage the ideal. If we tell ourselves that X traits weren’t worth aiming for anyway, our angst in not attaining them vanishes.
For most of human history men accepted, and at times even relished, the first path. Shame is a highly unpleasant feeling, but it’s also an incredibly motivating one; the way it pricks your heart can move you to strive as hard as you possibly can to become your best self.
For the last half a century, however, men have come to embrace the second dynamic. We have removed honor as manhood’s highest virtue, and replaced it with acceptance. We don’t want anyone to feel left out or bad about themselves. But such a desire lies in direct conflict with the traditional, universal code of manhood, which for thousands of years clearly delineated what it took to earn the status of man; in establishing certain men as in, other men were invariably left out. Yet the men who could not live the code fully did not sulk away and disparage the standards of manliness as “not important anyway.” Instead, they did what they could do, reached as far as they could reach, and pulled their weight wherever and whenever they could. Every man, no matter how feeble in body or mind, sought to offer what they could to their male “gang” or honor group. In turn, the “alphas” of the pack respected their efforts and included them as part of the gang.
Today, the idea of admitting one’s incomplete and inadequate standing as a man has become intolerable. “Are you saying I’m not a man?!” Instead, we have sought to redefine manhood so that it is all-inclusive. “Well, that definition leaves out this group, so let’s broaden it.” “Okay, but even now it still leaves out that group, so let’s broaden it some more.” In The Way of Men, Jack Donovan refers to this process as moving the goalposts on masculinity. The end result is a standard of manhood that is so all-encompassing that it leaves no man out, but is also so diluted and wish-washy that it is essentially meaningless. It does not offend, but neither does it motivate.
In the traditional set-up, only a few men got to enjoy the pride of having climbed closest to the pinnacle of the ideal, while most men experienced the sting of shame for falling much shorter. Yet in striving to rise higher, even these “failures” did and became much more than they would have otherwise. Today, every man gets a trophy, but none enjoy the thrill of the fight, nor the taste of victory.
In modern society, nobody has to feel bad about themselves. But could it be that feeling bad isn’t such a bad thing after all?
Read more: Art of Manliness