ROTTERDAM – Today, we will venture into the very heart of the Modern Man: sacrifice. However dominating, strong, self-determined and independent our Man is, he will walk through fire for those close to him:
When we think about moments that epitomize manliness, we often think of the captain going down with the ship, the men who allow the women and children to go first, the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to shield his brothers from the blow, the old man who attempts to save a drowning child and perishes himself in the waves. The common denominator in such scenarios is this: sacrifice. Sacrifice is arguably the manliest of virtues. It is the ability to give up our desires, sometimes even our lives, to aid and benefit someone else.
While most of us will never be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, there is one sacrifice every man is both capable of making and should be making: the sacrifice of his time and resources in service to others.
With an almost definite Christian ring to it, servitude and the humility that comes with it have long been considered to be virtues, albeit ones that usually remain in the abstract realm, unless some heroism is involved. In those cases, some might jump at the change of endangering their own life, heroically but unfortunately not altruistically, to save another’s.
I might be a cynic here, but I do not believe in true altruism. I do not think it ever existed; there is always something in it for you, even if it is the satisfaction you get from being as principled and true to your hospitable, charitable self.
A recurrent theme in this series is a romanticisation of a non-existent, glorious past, wherein men walked hand in hand like a Brotherhood. Where life had purpose and friendships were somehow more genuine than they are now. Sacrifice, defined as a masculine virtue, is pre-usual not as present in our society as it should be.
One of the first words a child learns is “mine.” And we often navigate life with this simple philosophy: “What in it for me?” But as mentioned above, such selfishness does not bring us contentment or peace. It’s giving, not getting, they brings us real happiness.
In the modern, materialist times, men have become greedy, to no avail to our fulfilment and our quest to become a Better Man.
The more tightly we hold to things, the less we enjoy them. Selfishness makes us needlessly bitter and contemptible, never feeling like we have enough, always worried that someone is going to take away our stuff. In not sharing of our time, talents, and resources, we end up feeling empty, not full.
Service should thus be a part of every man’s life, lest he along with Ebenezer Scrooge should despair, “Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! Such was I!”
Every man therefore has an “obligation to serve” the Brotherhood of Men, for those who have fallen due to ill fate have to be helped up.
Part of the warrior’s code that every soldier lives by is the maxim, “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” Thus, in the heat of battle, when someone cries out, “Man down!” the troops mobilize to get their fallen comrade to safety. A medic or another soldier will brave the hail of bullets to save their comrade.
There are a lot of men down these days. They’re wounded on the battlefield of life, not with bullets but with poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness. As part of the brotherhood of man, we have an obligation not to leave our comrades behind. As the saying goes, “The public service we render is the rent we pay for our place on earth.”
I have been (ironically) playing along with the idea that Manhood was lost and is retrievable, however, I must, in all seriousness, protest here. We have an obligation as humans not to leave “our comrades” behind. This empathy we are supposed to feel with people should make us realise we are on this world as one species, blessed (or cursed) with enough intelligence and introspection, with a sense of morality, to move beyond our limited evolutionary purpose.
And this has absolutely nothing to do with manliness. Even though I appreciate the sentiment and the good intentions, there is no such thing as the Brotherhood of Men and neither should there be.
As I claimed, pure altruism may be an ideal to strive towards, but I do not think it is attainable. That naturally does not mean that we should not try, or use this as an argument to do nothing. Servitude (which sounds rather submissive, I prefer to think of it as pro-social or active citizenship) has particular advantages to it:
Makes you happy.
Puts your problems in perspective. We often think that our problems our huge. And they feel huge because we have nothing to compare them to except our own life experiences. But when we serve those less fortunate then us, we come to see how good we have it. Our problems start to seem relatively small. And our gratitude for all the good things we have in life increases exponentially.
I can actually attest to this. Having spent some time in Africa, seeing actual poverty puts one’s misery in perspective. Not to say I have minimized my own demons by comparing my life to that of a starving child in Africa, but my time there did confront me with the privilige and the materialism in my own life that I never so consciously experienced before.
Breaks down prejudice. It’s easy to paint people we’ve never had any contact with broad strokes, to think we have them all figured out. Immigrants, poor people, criminals and so on-we think we know their story. We often formulate our opinions on such people without ever having talked to a single one of them. But when we work one on one with people different than us, we come to really love them and know them, and our compassion and empathy grows. We don’t see them as stereotypes, but as flesh and blood people, people whose problems are often far more complicated than we could have previously imagined.
Absolutely a fair argument.
Helps you find yourself. A lot of people talk, and agonize over, “finding themselves.” They want to find their authentic selves, who they really are. To this end, many traipse through Europe or go to grad school. There’s nothing wrong with such pursuits, but there’s no better way to get to the core of who you are than serving others. It will peel back the layers of your artifice and reveal what you’re really made of and what you really value.
I can’t explain in words why it has this effect, but it does. I think it’s like the saying, “The watched pot never boils.” The more time you spend thinking about who you are, the more elusive the answer gets. As soon as you turn your focus to others, your true self is revealed.
A core lesson in many meditation techniques is that searching for truth or the divine or a closer relationship to God ends up with acknowledging you had it in yourself all along. I imagine that it’s a lesson that needs to be experience and cannot be taught. The learning process is explained with a metaphor of a journey up a mountain. There are many paths, but you always end up on the same plateau.
Serving others is admirable, but no, it is not the “best way” to get to the “core of who you are”. That does not mean that we can just skip this one and pretend it’s not a good idea, however tempting that may be in the face of the above argumentation.
At some point, I’d like to return (in multiplied form) the many priviliges that were bestowed upon me. I have been fortunate enough to be born in a wealthy country as the child of well-to-do people. I have had the luxury to study, travel, read, and spend enormous amounts of time investing in my own mind, body, and spirit, in ways that many other people cannot afford. I know that my gender and my race will enable me wherever I please to go.
I have also come to the realisation that knowing about the world’s problems presents one with a moral responsibility to at least try to contribute to a possible solution, even if it is purely based on self-preservation or utilitarianism. Very few of the people on this planet have the opportunity to change the world, because they lack the opportunities, the knowledge, and the power. For those that do have these priviliges, it becomes of pivotal importance we act for the good of humankind.
Today’s task: Commit to do some service.
So, how’s that for a service?
Man-meter: I feel pretty good about the gesture I just made.