Friday, April 18, 2014

When will men be "good enough"? an extrinsic world, never!!

I just read a piece by Gint Aras, in The Good Men Project, April 16, 2014, entitled, "When's a guy good enough?" An English professor in a community college that serves a relatively poor neighbourhood in Chicago, Aras recounts in eloquent detail the narrative he heard from a Latino cab driver punctuated with the rhetorical question, "When's a guy good enough?"
The cab driver had enrolled in college, received an initial liberal arts associate degree and then, after enrolling in a four-year college, encountered many hurdles that blocked the completion of his program. Returning to Mexico to an ailing mother, where he was ostracized as the "rich" American, the subject of too many requests to proceed with his education, only to learn that his wife back in Chicago had left him for a tire salesman, the cabbie had also, after his mother's death made another attempt to finish a teaching degree only to be blocked by an arrogant "gate-keeper" of a professor whose course he seemed unable to pass. Here is how Aras describes the instructor:
the instructor with a strong sense of (completely arbitrary) ethics, values that must be present in the student before he is “released into the world”. -
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 It was, as the story was told, almost inevitable that, on one level the cabbie would consider his "incompleteness" a disadvantage compared with the tire salesman's "career" and the capture of his estranged wife. Here is another quote from the Aras retelling of Juan's (the Cabbie's) story:
He wished someone would respect him, but he knew no one would until he was truly wealthy and stable. “That’s what a guy’s good for. A man is a source, but he’s never good enough, and he’s never got enough, or whatever he has is the wrong thing.” A guy who sells tires today, Juan said, is more stable and wealthier than a guy who might be a teacher in the future. “That’s the danger of education for a guy,” said Juan. “People need you to give them something right now. They don’t care if you say, ‘I’ll get it to you when I’m done with my degree.’ That degree might never come. You’re stupid if you think it takes four years. They plug the thing up with hoops, or they steal classes from you, make you take the same thing twice.”
And then the blockbuster:
“How about this one?”
We were now approaching the college.
“If you get married they think you’re finished and if you are without a woman they think you’re incomplete. You know who that is, right?” “I don’t.” “Ha! It’s Charles Bukowski.* You don’t know Charles Bukowski?”
“Not by heart, no.”
“Well, he writes a lot of truth.”
Juan pulled up to the front of the college, right before the entrance to the theater. He said, “You can’t wish for it to go both ways. If you want everything your way, you end up lonely. And if you don’t want to be lonely, you must give up your way. No matter what, something’s got to suck. That’s just the way it is, I guess.”
Juan's attitude might sound like a "pity-party" to some, and perhaps it is. However, the question has hung over the foreheads of millions of men for centuries, without being addressed in nearly as articulate and compelling a manner as Juan, through Gint Aras, puts it.
Every time I left my home, as a young boy, I heard the words, "Be a good boy!" as if somehow my plan was to be something else. Most times when my mother talked about her husband, my father, the words "your father's no good" were included in the diatribe, although they stayed together in an uncomfortable truce for sixty-two years.
I have a theory, based on some seven decades of watching men "attempt to prove themselves" as if their identity had been replaced by their capacity to earn, or to provide, or to perform a skill, or to win friends, or to essentially turn themselves into a function, as if bring a human doing had replaced a human being, in their consciousness.
And despite his perception of himself as an incomplete man, "never good enough," Juan hits the nail on the head about my theory.
Most of the activities in which men are engaged start out as attempts to prove that these men are "acceptable" to someone...first their parents, then their teachers, then their employers, and then and most importantly their female partners, and then their children and grandchildren. Men (perhaps women too, but here we are talking about men) are "other-directed" to the point that the notion of "self-direction" seems almost meaningless. I once asked a high school principal what he would do if he could do whatever he wanted. He shrugged and replied, "I have no idea!" He was engaged, by his own words, in managing widgets on a board, providing coverage for absent teachers, scheduling meetings and the agendas for those meetings, writing reports for head office, listening to complaints from parents and teachers, and attempting to keep the lid on the school, so his reputation would pave the path toward a superintendent's job, with more of the same, including both more salary and more pension.
And the culture supports this concept of "proving oneself"...and if and when one decides, really decides, that one is more than or different from "a function for others" then one is, from my experience, completely ostracised as evil, dangerous, irresponsible, uncontrollable, deviant, and the target of slurs that say more about the person firing the verbal assault's own poverty of self than they do about the target of the slur. For men, existence is highly competitive, with siblings, with classmates, with co-workers, with supervisors, and with 'friends' or perhaps 'associates' who rarely get behind the mask of "good guy" or "funny guy" or "combative guy" or "wise guy" or "serious guy"....rarely is a man, (and this includes how other men see him as well as how he sees himself) a human being, somewhat full of gaps, and somewhat competent and seriously complex yet also extremely simple, and most important "comfortable in his own skin" the cliché has it.
We fight to win and depending on the prize of that winning, we will do almost anything to achieve it, including sacrificing our too often unknown identity in the process. And in the process of reducing both ourselves and the prize to some form of objectification, we inflict violence on ourselves, and on many others, including our partners, our children our co-workers, our bosses and our futures.
Wars have been and will continue to be fought because "some man or men were not good enough."
Divorces have been filed because someone, either the woman or the man believed, "the man was not good enough."
Heart attacks have occurred because someone pursued a goal at the expense of balancing health and wellness, a word that really did not exist even a couple of decades ago. Firings and dismissals have occurred too often because someone was found "not good enough" for the post.
And, to turn this around, first we have to tell our stories about how this "meme" has impacted our lives, who those people were who projected their own inadequacy onto us unconsciously and then remind both ourselves and others when appropriate, that projections are just that, projections and not reality. Just because my mother was neurotic and projected her need for perfection onto both my father and me (as well as onto my sister) does not, and need not define my identity. And just because the Christian church takes the position that we have all sinned and are all sinners falling short of the glory of God (I think the quote is from Paul's letter to the Philippians) does not mean that we are "no good" as creatures, although the imago dei portion of that Christian faith seems to have got lost in too many pulpits and pews on Sundays, and then carried home for the "leavening" of the home culture for the rest of the week.
Whenever and wherever one finds abuse, one can immediately look for the abuser who is invariably acting out of "scarcity" of some essential ingredient in his life. "Being no good" is at the heart of the worst crimes in human history, including the brutal murder of 6 million Jews in the Second World War. The pursuit of superiority, as a substitute for  inadequacy, inflicts so much brokenness, pain,  misery and death, not to mention the angst infesting the spirit of our cabbie Juan. And, of course, on the other side of this canvas are the "winners" who callously and contemptuously patronize  those of us who are "not good enough" in their eyes, and we let that perception dominate our culture.
And feminism, at least in its most virulent form, simply adopts the 'meme' of masculine competitiveness, proving, once again, that women are as competent, if not more so, than men, (as if there were any question about that in the first place!). And the cycle grows even more insidious, and encircling of both genders.
On Good Friday, 2014, one of the questions poking its head above the frozen ground remains, as always, "Will Death imprison us all, in one of its many forms, or will we be able to find our own path to a new and fully alive and fully authentic existence?
So long as the "extrinsic" dominates and obliterates the "intrinsic" in our culture, and in our faith, then we will all forever be "never good enough"....and there is no deity supporting that reduction.
*A quote from the writer Charles Bukowski:
“For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can't readily accept the God formula, the big answers don't remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”
Charles Bukowski

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