As is the case with all human beings, I am not always good at taking care of the things I know I ought to do. I would argue that we men are particularly bad at this, in part because we are often lazy creatures, but also because of our masculine sense of pride. Over this past week I have had some time to think about this, and to interact with others about it, and I think there are three things which we lads ought to be doing in these situations – advice which hopefully I will take myself.
If you heard me on the Catholic Weekend show this past Saturday over on SQPN.com [N.B. you can also catch the episode on their website or download in iTunes] I talked a little bit about a plan for stepping back last week, due to a number of problems that were attacking me at once. The plan for doing so had several components, based in part on some suggestions from a few friends in the new media universe. I took a “blog vacation” from Tuesday through Friday, for one thing, and I reduced my evening television to just the nightly news reports I usually watch, rather than having the TV on all night watching nothing in particular; instead I listened to classical music or jazz on the radio. And I made more of an effort at prayer, which we all ought to do.
Like all best-laid plans, not everything worked out perfectly, but nevertheless good can come even out of a setback or disappointment. One of the things that has become very clear to me over the past several weeks is that some priorities and habits need to be shifted. And while ultimately I am the one who is responsible for myself, stupidity lies in thinking that I am capable of doing everything that needs to be done by myself, alone. This tendency stems in part from the sin of pride, which we all share.
However with all due respect to the ladies, I believe a larger part of this is our hardwiring: men are more likely to suffer from this particular version of pride than they. Men do not like to admit that we have made a mistake, are not sure what to do, or that we are imperfect, because men are supposed to be strong and self-sufficient. Whereas women often turn to each other for solace and support, oftentimes a man will run himself into the ground before admitting that he needs help. Thus, the particular bugbear that is masculine pride.
A wise young lady observed to me once that women sometimes complain about their problems not because they are seeking solutions to those problems, but rather because they simply need to talk about them. Men oftentimes tend not to talk about their problems at all, or only when they see no other option left to them but to communicate. Despite the best efforts of the “Oprah” subculture, your average American male does not want to sit around in a group and talk about his feelings any more than he has to. It makes most of us feel uncomfortable when it happens.
That being said, gentlemen, it is important to recognize that sometimes you do need encouragement amongst the many trials we all have to deal with, and it is important that you engage actively, rather than passively, in seeking the encouragement you need to tackle these things. It is helpful to read books or articles, listen to motivational speakers, or seek guidance in sermons, but these are not the same as interacting directly with someone who can help you to do something about what you need to take care of. This involves overcoming certain harmful aspects of masculine pride, and I would suggest there are three ways to do this.
First and foremost I find the efficacy of prayer to be astounding. Nothing is impossible with God, as the Archangel Gabriel points out, but nothing is possible without Him, either. Having the humility to approach Him and say that you are a mess is a very important first step toward getting over yourself. Moreover, take advantage of not only asking friends on earth to pray on your behalf, but also to seek out the friends you have above, in the Communion of Saints. Over the past week a number of my friends both here and upstairs have definitely been looking out for me.
Second, we men need to swallow our pride and learn how to reach out to people who are better at something than we are. For example, let’s say you are floundering in the ocean with leg cramps, because you swam out too far and you overdid it. If you would rather drown than have the lifeguard come out to rescue you, because you will feel humiliated by the fact that you could not take care of yourself and he swims much better than you do, then you are suffering from a very bad case of masculine pride, indeed. It is not an admission of failure to recognize that we can learn from another person’s success. Oftentimes their repeated trials and errors taught them what they needed to know to get to where they are now, which they can then share with us.
Third and finally, one example which we men can safely take from the ladies is the selection of a friend or two to take the same journey with us. If a friend has a similar problem to solve or goal in mind, then by working together or by sharing information and resources, as well as giving each other a boost when needed, we are more likely to achieve a better result. We need to avoid creating a private, members-only pity party, of course, where we do nothing but loaf around playing armchair quarterback, whining without acting. Yet having another self to turn to when needed, who like you admits to their own imperfections, and can keep you from falling back into prideful habits, may keep you grounded and on the right path.
All three of these ideas are grounded in the idea of rooting out that particular aspect of masculine pride which often prevents us from acting: a fear of personal humility. We need to get over this fear, gentlemen, for no matter how powerful we might imagine ourselves to be, we are nothing before God. We must be aware of our place in the universe, and our utter dependence on His assistance. At the same time, we should also not be afraid of seeking out both direct, expert advice from those who clearly could be of help if we but ask them. And finally we ought also to seek the participation of others like ourselves, who like a good and honest brother similarly recognizes areas which need change in their own lives, and can pull and push us along just as we can do for them.
Whatever you need to work on, and I for one need to work on a number of things, I hope that your journey toward achieving your goals be a successful one in all of these respects.
“Sunset (Brothers)” by Caspar David Friedrich (c. 1835)
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg