Give Life

Give Life

Dear Kai,

It seems that there are two different stories presented about being a man in our day and age. The first one we see in the media, on t.v. mostly and if you’re unfamiliar with it, the story is quite simple. The husband is at home a bumbling foo; and the other has to nag him every step of the way. That’s it really. There might be some variation about the foolishness. He is either a fool indeed, or he is slightly devious and used his idiocy to get away with things; waiting for those moments when the wife say, alright, I’ll do it. In t.v. comedy that looks like a victory to the man.

And why any woman would play the part of the nagging wife is completely beyond me. But then again, on t.v. as in films there too fee good roles for women and the actress must eat.

Why is this storyline so successful? It’s baffling really. All I can think of is that this story works because too few other stories exist. Now, in t.v. shows and movies, that are not set at home, there are other stories about men. Freed from the responsibility to be a present father and husband/partner, men do all kinds of stuff; sometimes fantastic, sometimes idiotic. But once you take the story home, it’s quite a sad state.

The reason for this sorry state is that the story writers don’t have sufficient material to work with. They are operating in a vacuum. Men simply have not created sufficient alternatives. And that is why I am writing you these letters. I am terrified by the idea that the lack of alternative stories suggests to you a lack of alternative possibilities.

What I am holding out to you is that you have already inside of you a wealth of spirit that can generate your alternatives. It’s just that the media are such a loud presence in our lives, and that are capable of overshooting our inner voice, which tends to speak more softly.

And recently an older story about masculinity has resurfaced with renewed interest. Again, I think because we have so few alternative stories.

I am of course referring to the militaristic story. Its virtues are honor, defense, family, courage, discipline. All good virtues. But I don’t know how to address these virtues while ignoring its vices: murder, random violence, blind obedience, destruction, extreme nationalism. I consider the militaristic vision of masculinity the ultimate of “Be a man” box thinking—I wrote you about this box before.

That is to say, it has no room for a diversity in ways of being a man.

Ever since Osama bin Laden was killed we have broad interest in the Navy Seals. They are extra-ordinary men, no doubt about it. But let us agree that sometimes what is extra-ordinary should not become ordinary. There is a place and need for a special breed of men in our current military. But they are a special breed. They are high powered type A personalities who are capable of incredible things, including extreme violence and destruction.

Now, one might say that we should not reduce the Seals or other military units to the use of violence. But I will argue that violence is its ultimate purpose. It is good if the army can build a road. The Roman army did that. But it doesn’t have to. The army is still the army. Without the ability to kill the army stops being the army.

I feel almost preposterous explaining this. It’s so self-evident. My point is that I don’t want you to model your ethos, your way of being from a model purposefully designed to kill. Even as a metaphor, like killing your competition in business, the ethos is one I hope you will be spared.

Because we can live a life that is life giving. And it makes most sense to me to seek out all the difference ways open to you to be a giver of life, rather than a taker of life. In particular because it will allow you to see life not as a zero-sum game where somebody’s gain automatically must mean your loss. When your life is fashioned on an ethos of violence, I can see that you’d feel that way. You kill or you be killed. In life or death situations, that’s how it goes.

And you can refuse that view. The business world sometimes does but mostly it doesn’t. Competition drives business, they say. Well, that’s only true because those who have determined what a business ethos should be like are steeped in the masculine ethos of death.

You can see changes. We hear a great deal about innovation these days. And it’s interesting that modern day business can’t thrive without innovation. But innovation requires playfulness, creativity, passion, a sense of purpose. They require life giving qualities, not those of a killing apparatus.

And there is one secret about soldiers I need to tell you. There is a critical difference between soldiers and warriors. They are not cut from the same cloth at all. I have visited a warrior culture, briefly, but still. You can find the same thing when you read about ancient Sparta.

And the difference is this. Warriors need to have access to the full range of their emotions and experts at expressing them. Soldiers on the other hand are trained to suppress their feelings, because they are trained to be part of a machine and they are trained to obey that machine. No expression of true feelings allowed. A warrior cannot go out without deep expression of feelings.

And so, again, I urge you not to take any lessons from the military. I want you to know who you are, and find ways to give life to all that is inside you. The military way will not allow for that. But I deeply desire that you give life, first of all to yourself and then to all that you will create out of your being.

With all my love

Niels