Occasionally, moments pass that renew my hope in the world of men, that there are signs of evolution a midst a myriad of stories that would suggest otherwise. It has been disturbing to watch the NFL implode with story after story of violence and disregard for behavior necessary for a civilized society to thrive. I pay special attention because my youngest son plays football, and wants to continue to play in college. Frankly, I’ve had mixed feelings about participation in a sport that allows, and to some extent has promoted the kind of thuggery that has recently been highlighted.
Then, something happened that calmed my fears and inspired hope that not all football players need go down the same road. This past week my son’s team mate lost his mother to a brave fight with cancer. It is horrible to lose a mother so young. But survival can be eased by a simple grand gesture. The night of the weekly team dinner that the parents provide for the team, they came dressed in their team jerseys and before the meal cheered for their team mate, and all went together along with coaches to support their friend at the wake in his time of great need.
A wake is uncomfortable for everyone, but even more so for tough football players. The fact that they all banded together…close to thirty guys, and entered the funeral home together, quietly and with grace to show their support was, as one physician who was present stated, “the most beautiful gesture”. Words are not always necessary, a quiet, loving presence speaks volumes. The NFL could learn a thing or two from these men.
I usually never weigh in on stuff like this, but since it appears to me that most everyone has missed one of the most obvious issues, (yeah more than the name “Incognito”) let me begin with this: the word incognito means to be in disguise or anonymous to avoid detection. What is the NFLer in question’s disguise? To use the vernacular of the sport that seems to be flying around…he has the smallest stones of all, he is a coward of the greatest degree, he is not a “real man”. Ultimately, there will continue to be a lot of discussion about what made Jonathan Martin leave the Miami Dolphins that day and while everyone gets to have an opinion, most, including me, won’t be privy to the real story. What I want to address here, then, is an issue that is far more subtle and I think plagues us far deeper as a society than in just the National Football League: what would a “real” man do? What sickens me most is all the comments I’ve read that disparage Jonathan Martin for not behaving like a real man, or the filth about the size of his testicles, or the fact that Incognito was bullied as a child, or just as offensive (to me anyway) for him to quit acting like a girl. So, is a real man one who takes the hazing, lets the mindless drive of testosterone rule? Is being a real man being the nastiest lineman on the field? Well, this five foot two red-head who has put the fear in many men by being a girl, calls BULLSHIT!
I say for the umpteenth time that I live in a household of men. My husband played D1 football. My youngest son wants to play college football too. And while I begrudgingly (at times) play the sports mom, I have never tolerated the bullying that goes on in the locker room or the field. My husband and I tell our son to show up, keep your head down and play hard. Do what the coaches tell you to do whether you like it or not. Reject the tendency to be that guy, that sycophant that kisses everyone’s butt to move ahead, or the one that tortures everyone else to hold power over them. I know it can be hard for him when he sees “that guy” get ahead, but in the long haul one’s integrity is what you carry with you, your whole life. The illusion of all that awesomeness fades over time, my husband has plenty of stories about what happened to the “assholes” on his University of Minnesota team. I certainly want my son to carry into his future the knowledge that he worked hard and didn’t get ahead by manipulation or force. I believe you can be a leader in sports without all that other bullshit. Yet, I know it is hard to be strong and successful and not be attacked for being weak if you won’t lower your standards and be just one of the guys.
There is a growing trend today to define men through the eyes of testosterone…a huge package, a visceral tongue, and a big ass gun. Yes, I know stereotypes aside that there are men out there with all those attributes who keep them in check, but I have so many anecdotes to the contrary that I wonder if what kind of men we’re creating would be better suited for the wild west. I think you can have a sport like football, where hazing the younger players doesn’t disfigure their manhood, and leadership knows when enough is enough. That the younger players pay a hefty amount for an expensive meal for their seniors is of no concern to me, because I think they make too much money anyway. But the disparagement over race and violence and just being dirty should never be tolerated…even if Jonathon Martin laughed about it at first because he felt the culture demanded that response. I can tell from experience that, that kind of continued bullying just beats you down over time, until it’s just not possible to take it any more. The fact that there are many great guys in the NFL doesn’t matter to me in the least in this situation, because the environment gets perpetuated some how…silence is complicity in my book.
There are far too many stories of increasing violence of players off the field. Shouldn’t we address them rather than just brush them off as incidents too few to pay attention to? Personally, when I was teaching at the Academy of Holy Angels, a football player threatened me by standing one inch from my face and asking me what I was going to do to him if he didn’t sit down and do his homework like I asked. I said: “I know you may be a physical threat to me”, and then I walked over to the phone and called an administrator who was also his football coach to come down to my room right away. Then, taking all the strength I could muster, I walked back and stood in the exact same spot and said back to him: “but if you touch me, you will have to answer to him”. And as if by divine intervention, Mr Randall Peterson came walking into my room. I will never forget that day. That moment is still a source of hope for me because I knew that Mr Peterson had my back, that he would never tolerate that kind of behavior from one of his players. And while I completely understand that my situation and Jonathon Martin’s are not the same, I do have to ask these questions: “Who was there to watch his back?”; What kind of leadership exists that could defend Incognito’s behavior over Martin’s?” Incognito may not be the anti-christ. He may actually have some good qualities. But it will never excuse that kind of bullying, or make him a real man.
For a moment, imagine the point in time when humankind’s consciousness became aware of itself. The phrase, “Let the games begin” comes to mind. From that point forward, complete with cutthroat competition for an elusive prize at the end, whether it be immortality or eternal life, humankind has been in a race against itself up the evolutionary ladder. Throughout history, humanity has also established cultural rules by which to play. The rules may not be listed as clearly as they are in a Milton-Bradley game, but they’re there. Face it; rules are important to any game especially when the stakes include life and death, and in many cases, heaven. I don’t have a problem with living by cultural rules, but I do take issue, however, with who made up the rules we are supposed to live by and what it takes to win. For the most part, history has been retold by a pretty select group of people, usually men of European background. Why is this fact important? Because there is a symbiotic relationship between whomever holds power, who records history and who has made up most of the rules. The result: defining the appropriate way to observe the world.
Because men have made up most of the rules simply means it has never been a level playing field for anyone that is not in this majority. Don’t get me wrong, I love men—a lot, so much so that I married one and gave birth to two. However, in order for me to embrace my full potential and become that unique ingredient in making a better world, it was and still is a necessity to challenge and question cultural rules, regardless of how far women have come in our historical journey, there is quite a distance left to travel. Dreams begin their genesis in a form that is as small as a mustard seed. And it is often the perimeters and basic assumptions created by cultural rules that are the biggest impediment to a dream’s development. As a woman, I am certainly aware of what impact they had on mine. It is sad to think of the dreams that may have died because they weren’t able to thrive a midst the rules imposed by one’s culture.
A favorite philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, said that in investigating any philosophy of an era, there will be fundamental assumptions that adherents to that philosophy will presuppose, even if unconsciously. These assumptions appear so obvious that the people adhering to them don’t even know they are assuming them because putting them another way has never even occurred to them. These assumptions also color the way in which we observe the world. Eternity with God in heaven for those who follow the right rules and eternal suffering with the Devil in hell for those who don’t are two simple examples.
Since all of us are a part of, potentially, many different philosophical groups (religious, political, economical, etc.) it is important to ask what the fundamental assumptions of these groups are, and how are said assumptions are translated into rules, and by following said rules, who exactly benefits? Perhaps the most important realization of our time is to consider the possibility that our assumptions about the world are deeply flawed or at least inaccurate, and by critiquing them, there may be a new way to see and appreciate our place in the world.
Essentially, the problem is not that there are conflicting perspectives but that there only seems to be one “right” one that should prevail at any given time. Whitehead also said that goodness and badness are relative to those fundamental assumptions endorsed by a ruling majority. Given that we all experience life differently, how logical is that? And although there are also perceptual inaccuracies based on race and sexual orientation, I am not the person to discuss them here. Since I am Caucasian, female, Irish, Christian and heterosexual, and this blog is about my observations, I can’t really speak to their perspectives. However, since male and female go beyond race and sexual orientation, and are universal to being human, hopefully anyone can resonate with some of the fundamental assumptions that exist, involving gender.
All of us are rooted in a gender that is male or female. While the argument regarding nature vs. nurture still exists, my own personal experience has shown me that biology does affect perspective. I tried to steer away from gender oriented toys when my sons were small, but no amount of influence on my part to raise them outside gender stereotypes could change the fact that they would rather sleep with a car than a teddy bear, they loved dirt more than anything, they figured out how to pee in the woods before the toilet, and no matter how hard I tried to keep guns out of the house, they made them out of anything else they could find. I don’t believe in the nature side of the argument in a definitive sense but let me remind you these are my observations.
Scaling it down to the simplest form, look at how gender rules surface every day. One need only look at the amount of literature that has been put out trying to help men and women understand one another. Since spending the last several years in a household of men, my husband, two sons, it has become even clearer to me that the world they observe isn’t at all like the one in my head, and is most often the source of conflict in our household. None of the men in my life think like me. (I’m not sure anybody does, but for the sake of conjecture let’s just say one of the reasons is because I’m a girl) They march to a completely different rhythm. The world for them appears to be just one big continuous playing field, one competition after another. The rules they live by are not the same as my rules. More than anything, a woman’s perspective regarding the rules of our household is not wanted or necessary for their happiness. They do, however, know what happens when I am unhappy…life can become pretty miserable. As a result, they choose to include my rules sometimes, not necessarily because their lives will be enhanced but just so that they get to live-period. And if on my small level, I have to fight to include my rules in our household, it isn’t surprising at all that our cultural rule makers still disregard women in general.
So, let me just describe my personal jumping off point in shaking the foundations of this historical king of the hill that society has been playing, so to speak (notice the game isn’t called queen of the hill). For a certain amount of time I held all rules suspended; not so much as an excuse to wreak havoc, but to use a girly metaphor, more to clean out my own cosmic closet and get rid of all the stuff that no longer fit or was, to put it bluntly, just tacky and outdated. Arguing in favor of any particular new paradigm that only benefits me and trying to shove it down anyone else’s throat will never work. The reason for starting here, challenging the established rules and assumptions of our present time, had a lot to do with my own personal development. It never made good sense to follow a lot of rules blindly, especially those that were oppressive, simply because I was born female.
Here again was my first step, and probably the most difficult: accepting the challenge to break away from my own belief systems and rules, and entertain the possibility that they may not have served me all too well, not just from a place of indulgence but of personal fulfillment. From this standpoint, there was absolutely nothing to lose except, perhaps, the realization that I might be wasting precious time. If your own life is hunky dory then stop reading right now, no harm, no foul. But if deep down in your spiritual self you also find there is a sense of discord created by the rules you’ve followed up to this point, then read on and try what I did. Personal beliefs should at least be scrutinized every once in a while, even if it only acts as a reminder of why we started following them in the first place. A function of free will is not to embrace matters of belief blindly; Jesus told us that “if you seek, you will find.”
It doesn’t seem logical that questioning the rules that control our lives would have any effect on real truth, especially if the questions stem from a desire to further understanding. It’s worked for me because I question everything (which contrary to my catechism teachers turned out to be a very good thing) and my faith in God, myself and humanity is even stronger as a result. Culturally, asking “why” after about the age of three usually labels you a trouble maker, and I’ve had to deal with that unfair moniker most of my life. Remember the phrase “misery loves company?” well, perhaps enlightenment loves it just as much; the kind of enlightenment that is predicated by artfully and continually asking questions. There is nothing greater than being in the company of people who want to know and understand as much as they can.
It never occurred to me to get hung up on the notion that even if an individual did disagree with some of the rules imposed by modern culture,that said individual lacked the power to do anything about it. No personal evolution can take place without individual choice regarding the rules that one follows. Changing cultural rules may not be easy, slavery and women’s suffrage being only two examples, but the alternative is to choose a life burdened by cultural rules that not only dash ones personal dreams but all the dreams out there that were dependent on your unique perspective. Has anyone ever told you that the world will be a better place for everyone if you were able to live your dreams? That my happiness may hinge on yours? I didn’t think so. Hopefully, by the end of this little essay you will entertain the possibility that there is everything you can do about changing cultural rules. So for now, don’t worry about changing anything, just take a deep look at what makes you tick, and let go of the rest.
So what does one do in the absence of any system of belief, live by the seat of one’s pants? Well, yes, I guess. What it boils down to is that people are inherently really quite sensible about which rules are good for them and which rules are not: whether we have the strength to listen to that sensibility and follow it is another matter entirely. In order to begin perceiving the world from a higher, spiritual place, it was necessary for me to master the inherent gifts God had given me. And let me tell you there have been plenty of times when I wondered if I had any at all—and that concern turned out to be a gift in itself because it forced to me to keep my eyes open and pay attention and embrace some good common sense…but I’ll leave that for next time