The renowned author C.S. Lewis once said in his book The Abolition of Man, “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise.” What does this mean? Lewis was speaking to the belief that increasingly in modern society, men are becoming emasculated, softened and “wussified.”
How do we fix this? Let’s look why we’re not getting the virtuous and enterprising men we want.
First, the enterprising. Enterprising means “having or showing initiative and resourcefulness.” Our society is increasingly discouraging competition. Why? Because they want to make everyone feel equal. Many of you have probably seen the movie The Incredibles, but in case you haven’t, here’s a recap: In the opening, we see super heroes doing their jobs and helping people. It quickly goes downhill as we see superheroes being suppressed and told to leave. Mr. Incredible ends up sitting in a tiny cubicle and selling insurance because society won’t accept the fact that he is incredible. His son, Dash, is prevented from doing sports even though he has incredible potential. We see this in real society with things likes class ranks being removed along with the coveted rank of valedictorian. Where is the motivation to work hard now? Sure you can be magna cum laude or summa cum laude but as Syndrome (the villain of The Incredibles) said, “When everyone’s super, no one is.” With competition discouraged, men don’t know what to work for and lose their sense of pride. The “participation rate” for men in the work force ages 25 to 54 stood at 97.7 percent in early 1956, but sat at a record low of 88.4 percent at the end of 2012. Back in 1950, more than 80 percent of all men in the United States had jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than 65 percent of all men in the United States have jobs today. We’re losing the enterprising men we once had.
Second, the virtue. Virtue means, “behavior showing high moral standards.” I don’t need to show you how the boys in our school lack moral standards in the way they treat girls, talk to authority or conduct themselves around other people at all. In history, there are four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. For sake of article length, we’ll focus on one: fortitude. Fortitude is “courage in pain and adversity.” Earlier this month, one of my teachers commented on how when they were growing up it wasn’t bullying, “until there was blood.” Before I go any further, let me clearly state that I am against bullying 100 percent, but I’m also against teaching boys to be wimps. Boys are taught that if someone says anything mean to you, seek out authority and rat them out, instead of teaching them fortitude. If someone calls you a name, so what? I understand people can say hurtful things, and yes, there is bullying going on and it’s not ok. But that’s not the point. The point is that knowing how to react to being bullied is not taught. The philosopher Seneca once said, “No man is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity. For he is not permitted to prove himself.” Essentially, how you react to someone picking on you defines what type of man you are. Instead, we teach boys to always go to the higher authority. The problem is there won’t always be a higher authority. You can’t call the cops because someone calls you stupid. We totally skip over the action of confronting or ignoring them and they grow up as boys, not men. Now, obviously there is a time when going to the authority is the right thing to do, but even then, we are failing our boys. Whenever someone is being picked on, one of three things can happen: One, they bottle it up which is not ok, two, they threaten to physically confront the bully – also not ok or three, they threaten to tell the authority, which is also not ok. Why? Because those authority will simply punish the bully and move on – catch the fish and put it right back in the lake – when there needs to be development of the kid being picked on. Instead, we give the bully a slap on the wrist and move on.
So how can we making virtuous and enterprising men? First, we start encouraging competition and stop suppressing it. If someone’s better, man up and take it. Find a place to thrive and show your God-given gifts. The measure of a man is not in where his talents lie but how he acts when displaying his talents. Being able to dunk doesn’t make you a man; being able to be dunked on and shake your opponents hand does. Second, we need to start encouraging the virtues in men and not the non-virtues. For example, in the ways we tell them to react to certain things like bullying. The problem is that too many boys think virtue is weakness. Look at the lyrics of the hit single from this summer, “Blurred Lines.“ In it, Robin Thicke says, “But you’re an animal / Baby, it’s in your nature.” What is moral about those men? He is referring to a woman as an animal, insisting upon it because it’s “in her nature.” And it was a success for him. Society rewarded him for this. Another problem is that we equate too many physical attributes with being a man when in reality, its what’s inside you. Gandhi had a wiry frame and stood 5 feet 5 inches yet was big enough to stand up to his British oppressors and leave a permanent mark on the world. He was one of the biggest men to walk this earth. In essence, don’t try to be virtuous by being a man, be a man by being virtuous.