2011-12-05

Manliness: Courage

I have blogged about fear before. I have defined it on my Lexicon. I have gone out of my way to promote the idea that fear is perhaps the single most destructive force in human psychology. Of all the truly evil things in the universe, fear is the least dignified and most ubiquitous. Fear slinks into your life through the back door, incapable of attacking you head on; it weasels itself inside any situation it can, because your defenses are down, precisely because you have nothing to fear. Once it finds a way in, it quietly acts to destroy. Think of all the truly reprehensible things in society, and it is likely they can be traced back to fear.

Now, before you start to think that I'm about to have a Donnie Darko moment here, let me assure you that fear's cure is not love (although, heyyy, why not?). At the risk of sounding a little thick, eradicating fear requires simply being fearless.

What I mean is, there is no trick. There is nothing you can fall back on, no mantra you can recite to yourself, no deity to which you can appeal. It's not something you're born with or without. It's not a choice or a way of thinking.

No, eradicating fear means simply being aware of its destructive potential and "striking it from your heart."

Manliness and Fear
One of the worst things about fear is that it is a rational emotion. Typically, the things we fear are credible threats in our lives taken so seriously that we start to obsess over them. With things like drugs, it's easy to talk about how irrational bad behavior is; we can't do that with fear. Fear comes from a very logical place in your mind. This is why I say there is no trick to getting rid of it.

Traditionally, it has fallen on the man of the household to stand as a lone protector against the things the women and children fear. The man was responsible for providing safety and security to the others.

If you're a woman, you can certainly be fearless without the risk of being mannish. Similarly, men can demonstrate "traditionally womanly" character traits. No problem. Manliness isn't about gender, nor is it about fulfilling traditional gender roles. At the same time, gender roles are a time-tested aspect of human psychology. They're not going anywhere any time soon. They evolve with the age in which we live - but that is not an argument against gender roles. To a large extent these norms and mores define the boundaries of our behavior, or at least give us some useful guidelines.

I am certainly not a traditionalist, but the fact of the matter is that for us men, fearlessness is a bit of a job requirement. Courage is manly. As a man, you will encounter situations where you must act as the family's calming mechanism. Take this seriously. It is likely that in most families, no one but the man will rise to the occasion, and if someone else does, some will question why it wasn't you. This, too, will feed your fears and insecurities.

So, fear is something men have to face. Get used to it.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?
While fear is logical in most cases, the good news is that courage is, too. You never have to fight fear with irrational thoughts, behavior, or actions.

That is pretty important, so let me repeat myself a bit: No matter how bad life gets, we never have to seek solace in irrationality. That will only make our situation worse. Even though fear itself is logical, we still need not run to illogical thoughts or behaviors to get us out of a scary situation. Courage is logical.

Courage isn't about being stupid and putting yourself in danger just to prove that fear has no impact on your sense of self-preservation. Courage is simply knowing that every situation is best served when you think clearly and reasonably about how to solve your problems and then act toward resolution. Courage is action and dignity in the place of paralyzing doubt.

When you act on your courage, you reclaim your dignity. You will not always succeed in solving every problem you face, of course. Courage isn't about being perfect. But courage allows you to know that whatever situation you faced was met head-on with the nobility of a man who accepts his responsibilities to himself.

So what is the worst that could happen? You could fail. You could still be afraid. Everything you think might happen, may actually happen for real. Every threat that you face could come to pass.

But how is that different than if you are afraid of it? It isn't. Remember, there is no trick. Bad and scary things can and will happen in life, most of which we cannot control.

Courage as an aspect of manliness is a choice to claim your dignity and at least try.

You might succeed. That's the one difference.