Separating the (Young) Men from the Boys
adolescence generation Y manliness millenials responsibility role models tribalism warrior Warrior Philosophies young men
But I did learn something interesting. There aren't really any good male role models any more. My inability to make the responsible young man image work was probably due to the fact that I had no examples to go off of. It seems that most images of powerful men are associated with violence on the one hand or jerkiness on the other. Our celebrities are either swaggering party boys or emo geeks, some vapid eye candy, and very little else. I could never really come up with a real-life man I wanted to emulate when I grew up. I ended up picking a superhero, Batman, who is himself becoming outdated amidst the plethora of new 'anti-heroes' who cause as much destruction and violence as they prevent and certainaly don't live up to the standards of decency and responsibility Bruce Wayne can be said to embody.
It is very difficult to use a fictional character as a role model, however. They are subject to the whims of marketing needs, and one is liable to develop unrealistic expectations of behavior. As a result, I could never really live up to my expectations of myself as a boy. When I went to high school and then college, I still wanted to hold myself to higher standards, but I couldn't figure out what those standards were. I wanted to be caring without being sappy, assertive without being a jerk, self-assured without being arrogant. I wanted to be a great student without coming off as a complete nerd, to still be cool and rugged. In our culture, these things are mutually exclusive. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are certainly very powerful, successful men, but they are undoubtedly nerds. And Tom Cruise, while cool, is not noted for his scintillating analytic mind.
Creating a Warrior Code
So it occured to me somewhere near the end of the college that someone should reestablish as acceptable unrealistically high masculine standards. I was partly inspired by the blog The Art of Manliness. The point of this blog is to re-awaken the old masculine ideals of strength, honor, and shaving, among other things, but it does seem to cater to an older audience. I needed something that was more in line with the younger generation, of which I was a part; the rising Warriors, going on their first hunts and taking up leadership positions in the tribe.
The thing is, young men are depicted as party-animals or gamer-geeks, which is fine, but we don't see anywhere an explanation of getting from there to manhood. We are some of the most idealistic, goal-driven members of society, but so often end up expending our energy on frivolous pursuits. Am I being unreasonable to say that we should hold ourselves to high standards? Is it too much to ask that, as young men, we should begin seeing ourselves as the defenders and builders of society? Instead of shirking that responsibility to the very last moment, I say we take it on right now!
Anyway, that is one aspect of this Warrior Spirit. I want it to be something women can derive benefit from as well, but I think much of what I write and many of the thoughts I develop will inevitably apply to the masculine, as I am a man. I am trying to create myself, so I will end up describing an ideal that applies to men.
I want to create a value system for men that encourages the best in us, that looks to the great men and warriors of the past for inspiration, but takes into account the different needs and social setting of the present and future. Above all, I want it to apply to young men who are in the process of creating themselves. Because, throughout history, the place of the young Warrior has always been different from that of the mature Warriors, shamans, and chiefs. We are responsible for driving change, for doing the heavy lifting, for injecting youthful vigor and energy into our communities, even taking up leadership in some cases, but we are not yet the ones steering the course. We may have a lot to say that is useful regarding the direction of our communities, but it is not yet our place to actually do that. Many of us have yet to take our spirit quests, partly because modern society stopped arranging spirit quests for young people.
Real World Application
What does all this mean for me? Mainly it means expecting the best from myself. Just because an ideal is rare or implausible does not create an excuse to ignore it. The rate of incidence, convenience, or perception of having the characteristic in question is not a consideration for whether or not I should try to achieve it. Rather, its inherent quality should be the only determinant in whether or not I try to incorporate a particular value into my life. Nor does my current ability really come into play. I am tired of accepting less from myself and others simply because it is normal. I believe that all people, especially the self, should be held to the highest standards of achievement and behavior, not out of a sense of propriety, but because I have faith in human beings and I believe it is a sign of respect to expect the best of others.
Young people especially get off the hook in our society (adolescence is a relatively new concept. In the past, you were either a child or an adult, there was no middle ground, and you had to live up to being an adult at a pretty young age). Many of us glory in that nebulous, poorly defined time of life when we get free rein, even implicit encouragement, to act like irresponsible idiots. Indeed, we are stretching it to its limits, pulling adolescence into the early thirties in some cases. We spend decades 'finding ourselves,' an excuse to avoid really committing to anything, instead of buckling down and working hard at whatever it is we value. And the negative implications of that are vast and far-reaching, and include such insidiousness as a corporate-governmental system that treats its population like children unable and unwilling to take care of themselves and make responsible decisions.
Sure, it made life pretty hard, and I'm not going to go off on a self-righteous speech about my suffering. I have friends who admired my refusal to curse and drink, and I lost friends for the same reasons, good friends, not the kind of people 'you wouldn't want around anyway.' I handled myself poorly, and I'm still learning, and as much of my 'uptightness' was the result of fear as assured dedication to a higher cause. For all I know, all this is just backwards rationalization, but enough of my friends have expressed an interest in holding themselves to higher standards that I think it's a worthwhile topic to begin discussing again. There will always be a need for Warriors, and now it seems more and more of us are answering the call, setting aside our 'prerogative to party' willingly in order to fight the battles that need to be fought and prepare ourselves to be leaders.
Image source: Tobyotter on Flickr
I would love to get some feedback on this post, as it hits pretty close to home. Both male and female opinions are welcome. Post thoughts to the comments section.