Saturday, August 04, 2007

Weekly Quote: Future Men

Above: a picture of our little future man's fracture. Look for a line near the top of the bone.

I’ve thought about writing a quote from a book that I like at least once a week to whet your appetite for what’s out there. It’s one thing to hear a book recommendation from a person, it’s another thing to get a taste for how much a book has to offer.

I think the reason I like reading Douglas Wilson’s books so much is because he is a pastor. As a pastor, he is writing to shepherd the souls of his readers, not just give suggestions. There is nothing sentimental, fluffy, or tangential in his writing. He has a keen ability to draw distinctions about subjects that our cultural has muddy thinking about. Here is an excerpt from Future Men about teaching boys manners. But what I really liked about it was not only what he says about boys and manners but what he says about boys and authority.

A very easy mistake for young boys to make is that of thinking that masculinity consists of being rudely tough, or gross, or both. A ten-year-old boy can readily think that masculinity is displayed whenever he can make all the girls in his class go eewwww. This is of course not the case, but we still have to qualify what we are saying.

There is a fine line here because there is a type of boy who is effeminate and displays that effeminacy through being a “well-mannered” and mousy little boy. This arouses the disgust of the surrounding boys who, in a perfect frenzy of metaphor-mixing, proceed to throw out the well-mannered baby with the mousy bathwater.

In addition, those adults who care the most about “manners” often do not understand masculinity either, and so they cannot help boys make the distinction which they themselves blur. This means that a boy will view all attempts to “teach him manners” as simply an effort by the adult world to make him craven, which he does not want to do. He knows intuitively that a well-mannered boy is not a boy who acts like his sister.

Put another way, manners for boys should be a means of disciplining and directing strength, and not a means of denying it. This means that boys need to be taught that manners are a means of showing and receiving honor. Honor is a concept which boys instinctively understand and love, but they still have to be taught to direct it with wisdom. Honor, in its turn, cannot be understood apart from authority and obedience.

As with so many of there things, there is an “intangible” element here. There is an authority which badgers a boy into resentment, and there is an authority which liberates him. A boy might seethe over a mildly cutting remark from his older sister about his dishwasher loading habits, and then the next moment be daydreaming about a drill instructor screaming in his face from a range of about two inches. When men get to telling stories to one another, boot camp stories are frequently in the mix. They rarely tell stories about the time their older sister bossed them around in the kitchen. Boys thrive under authority and are not threatened by it. At the same time, the authority must be of the kind which understands masculinity and nurtures it by hammering it. One of the “hammers” should be a short course in manners.

The heart of masculinity involves the willing assumption of an appropriately assigned responsibility. Manners for boys should be in line with this and not contradict it. Manners for men should therefore point to and illustrate their distinctive responsibilities...a priority placed upon those manners and customs which place a distinction between men and women. In this class we should put men seating women at the table opening and holding doors, standing when a woman enters the room, walking on the sidewalk between a woman and the traffic, and so forth.

Sorry, I really didn’t mean to quote that much. It’s just that I kept feeling like each subsequent paragraph was too important to leave out.

Since I am not of the male race, I am fascinated by his statements about boys. He says stuff that I’m sure is true but would never in a million years think about. The comment about a boy daydreaming about a drill sergeant screaming in his face. Okay?! Whatever that means I don’t know. But it is a good thing that I am reading this book because I sure have a lot to learn about boys. I'm interested to hear what others think about boys and manners so comments are welcome.

1 comment:

David Madeira said...

Wow, great excerpt. There are some real pearls of wisdom in there. I think the author is right on when he says that boys (and men) are not threatened by authority, and even thrive under it, IF they feel that authority is not emasculating them. That's why soldiers in training won't resent -- even if they fear and dread -- a drill sergeant who belittles them constantly. Even in the midst of an onslaught of verbal abuse, a man may not feel his masculinity threatened (just listen to Cory and me hurl merciless insults at each other and find it hilarious); and yet if the wrong person asks him to go "fetch" something, he'll seethe with rage.

And the idea of a boy daydreaming about boot camp is truly bizarre, but undeniably true. It's crazy, but boys playing war will even fantasize about being shot and killed on the battlefield, going down with guns blazing, a barbaric battle cry, and action-film-worthy death throes. Why on earth would a boy daydream about that? Because of that yearning for honor that is intrinisically male, and an instinctive (if often misdirected) notion of the virtue of self-sacrifice. That's why men show off their scars and share tell stories about how hard their dad used to spank them, or how badly he beat them at sports. Deep down, they're proud of it, they want to be the one among their friends whose dad was the toughest, and they're hoping that one day their sons say the same thing about them.