Norman Mailer once said: “Because there is very little honor left in American life, there is a certain built-in tendency to destroy masculinity in American men.”
I don’t know about that. I see an awful lot of honor in this country. And also a vivid and undeniable thread of dishonor. The word “honor” is the root of the word “honest”. It implies an undivided person: undivided between what one thinks, feels, says, and does. There’s a oneness that characterizes such people. You can count on them. They don’t speak with a forked tongue like snakes whose words are divided by conflicting agendas.
There’s a story going around about the first lie, uttered by a snake in a tree. If a tree is an apt metaphor for man, the snake represents reptilian brain, that part of our biology concerned with one thing: personal survival. Selfishness slithers on the ground. One doesn’t need honor to survive. Honesty, integrity, and empathy are indicators of a higher functioning being. To live with honor is to rise above the animal-soul. A person acting with honor does precisely what he says he’ll do, regardless of whether or not it’s convenient, or difficult. Sometimes honorable people lose in the interest of honoring higher principles. Such a person sacrifices oneself. It’s what separates the animal from the hu-man being. A truly honorable person is a rare and precious thing.
All over America people are demonstrating courageous and honorable lives. Every day, millions of people are going into recovery, facing their demons and breaking their addictions. Honor. Single mothers are raising children to be good citizens by the millions. Honor. Immigrants continue to come here and endure tremendous hardships to forge new lives for their families. Honor.
And then, there was the morning of 9/11, when thousands of men and women defied their natural instincts and dove headfirst into a burning building in order to save lives at the risk of their own. Honor.
Honor = selfless sacrifice. The honorable person rises above the snake. It doesn’t mean such people live every moment of their lives honorably. The reality is that America—like life—is a gray zone: we struggle to find a way to live honorably despite our many handicaps, which are born of trauma and conditioning.
Norman Mailer’s statement could imply that there was once some utopian American life where everybody was skipping through a Mary Poppins song sucking on lollipops. We’re hearing an awful lot of this drivel lately from old white guys talking about how great American was (before political correctness) and how now we’ve become “a generation of pussies”. Because apparently it was better when there was no social conscience, when being willing to offend people with ignorance and bigotry was some weird mark of strength & honor in our noble culture. Somehow, being mindful about not wanting to hurt people’s feelings brings all the bullies to the yard. The right to remain ignorant so you can say whatever you want, even if it offends someone’s sensibilities, sits right up there with the right to bear arms with these people, and they’ll fight you to the death for it. The right to be ignorant. There’s a common thread running through all of these tough guys: they all appear to be ‘fraidy cats more than anything else. And like a decaying hand popping up out of a grave, they’re making their last stand.
I say go ahead: Make my day.
Lets be frank: America is changing. The America that Dirty Harry Mailer Trump loves idealizing is one were a privileged few did pretty well by stomping on the necks of less armed, less prosperous, less fortunate people. Build your economy on the backs of enslaved people: Dishonor.
Inflict genocide on indigenous people to get your land: Dishonor.
Set up a bunch of laws that keep entire populations separate but equal: Dishonor.
Get up in front of the world and malign Mexicans, women, Gold Star families, Filipinos, war heroes, and ALL people of one religious faith: Dishonor.
America is still growing up. But to be known for honoring our core principles is an ideal worth fighting for. To surrender our depth just to scratch an itch with macho bullet points, is to give up our soul. Machismo isn’t masculinity. It’s a reality TV show.
There’s a radical difference between masculinity and machismo. Machismo is easy. Any peacock can do it, just open a Facebook account. Currently there is a man running to be the leader of the free world, proving its not required to be a fully developed adult to be the President of the United State. He’s running an entire campaign using a 6th grade competency called bullying. What we are looking at is not, in any shape, fashion, or form, an expression of mature masculinity. All we’re witnessing is bluster. Classic machismo. Donald Trump stands in front of the entire world talking like some cross between a New York thug and John Wayne (though, for all his talk about punching people, I’d wager he’s never actually been in a real brawl). That appears to be the extent of his personal depth. Listen to his words. Do they uplift you? Is there any evidence that this is a man who has ever before honored his words? Does he make you feel safe? DO YOU WANT YOUR SON TO BE LIKE HIM? There is no honor in that shell of a man, and without honor the masculine soul starves.
None of this is to suggest his opponent is perfect. But let’s not give up aspiring to reach our ideals. To prop up a macho man who’s so emotionally disabled that he cannot ask for help or admit he might be wrong, misguided, (and/or) psychologically crippled, is to roll over and play dead.
Newsflash: Machismo is a dying breed. It’s for little boys walking inside the skin of frightened men.
It’s not masculinity. That term has been bastardized to the point of being unrecognizable in recent years. Machismo is but the shadow of masculine. The Deep Masculine that lives in every man creates sanctuary for women, for children, for the elderly, for the weak, for the vulnerable, and for all the diverse expressions of masculinity. Masculinity is not one thing, and it is far from destroyed.
Machismo is about destruction for self-gain. It is about ego, personality, and persona building. It’s about personal acquisition and attainment.
Machismo is about creating safety for oneself.
Masculinity is about creating safety for others.
Machismo is about dominating.
Masculinity is about creating an egalitarian environment in which all can prosper and thrive.
Machismo avoids intellect and feelings. It operates by trying to force its way through everything, and dominates by bullying rather than compromising. (Sound familiar?)
Masculinity marries a deep heart with a broad mind.
Like soil, masculinity needs to be tilled, cultivated, and fed. It just won’t happen on its own, just because of gender. It needs to be impregnated with purpose, fed with self-awareness, enlivened with vulnerability. It grows wings when it sprouts fruit that nourish the world.
Right now, there are men and women all around us with this capacity. But masculinity shows a different face than it did 50 years ago. Like all living things, it’s perpetual unfolding, evolving, and finding new expressions. Today masculinity is a broader, deeper aspect than ever before. It’s essence is infused with the feminine. No wonder it scares these old guys. A man disconnected from his inner feminine speaks with a forked tongue precisely because he has a forked soul. Make no mistake: right now, we must fight for the Deep Masculine at the center of our culture if there’s any hope of surviving.
According to Robert Johnson, there’s a radical difference between boy psychology (macho) and man psychology (masculine), and they do not correlate with age. Boy psychology can be described as living from within the question: “What can I get for myself”? Man psychology lives from within the question: “What can I do to serve you?” Masculine initiation requires that he face his fears, doubts, and clinging. It takes courage. The man who is mature enough to embrace that level of consciousness is a man feeding his masculine soul. If he doesn’t, he cannot be considered a safe man for his community, much less his country.
This cultural willingness to shrink out of fear is not courageous. To live with honor is to rise above the animal soul. We need honorable men AND women to lead our nation and model mature masculinity for our children. We must embrace the courage to expand, morph, and evolve as we create new and improved expressions of masculinity. When we put the BEST of who we are forth in the world, only then will we be aligned with our highest cultural values.
Step into courage, America. Don’t be so quick to roll over and play dead.
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