Small Groupologist Rick Howerton is fond of putting a note of authenticity to what is typically a mundane question when he asks, “How are you doing REALLY?” Recently I had an opportunity to have lunch with a friend I spent some of my high school and all of my college years with. Right away I asked him how he was doing, he said “fine.” There was a pause. The word “really” hung in the air for a moment before he added, “I don’t know. Sometimes I think bad thoughts.”
“Like, ‘I wonder what would happen if I just left.'”
“What do you mean, ‘left’?”
“‘Left’ as in ‘left and never came back.'”
Of course we talked our way through it for a few minutes. He wasn’t serious. At least, wasn’t serious in considering walking out on his life. But what he was saying was how tired of the routines and the mundane of life he has become. This can’t be uncommon in men getting close to 40 or thereabouts. The word my friend used was “trapped.” In an email exchange I had with yet another friend in this demographic I got the following:
“I wake up a lot of days and have the same what I’ll call malaise. It’s like the new day I’m facing is the exact same day I had yesterday and tomorrow doesn’t promise to be much different or better.”
Now that’s just being honest. Who can’t relate to something on the level of Groundhog Day at least for stretches (for me it tends to be January-March). Neither of these men would describe the lives as bad or their families as anything other than a blessing. I’ve known them both for most of my life and can honestly say that I love them. They’re both very successful at what they do. But I do wonder what the sum of these conversations is and what implication it has for the larger culture of today. In what ways have we both robbed ourselves and, perhaps, been robbed of adventure—which would seem to be part of the issue at hand.
If you take a moment to consider the various radio commercials you hear as well as the corporate advertisements seen on television, but particularly television sitcoms, the sum of it is that it appears that masculinity has been lost. There was time when every young boy dreamed of being Superman. It was reinforced in our heroes, our culture—the fact is that something was expected; that life demanded something of you. A boy was expected to look the inevitable storms in the eye, forge a path through the night and face the darkness, and grow into significance. This is not commentary on leadership, but on masculinity. This is how a man bears God’s image. Alas Superman! But our culture it seems would like nothing more than to tear this image down. Of course during peace times—times with little to no adversity, strife, and war—this attribute of masculinity isn’t as vital. The mistake that’s made, however, is that these times of perceived peace are just that: perceived. The reality is that we are always at war and masculinity should always be summoned into the breach of the battles set before us. These battles tend to call out the best in us.
We need Superman, or what Friedrich Nietzsche referred to as the ubermensch that overcomes traditional boundaries to rise above the herd. Symptoms like the conversations I describe above are indicative of a dying Superman, a Superman robbed of battle and adventure, conditioned to be content to sit in front of the television on Saturdays and Sundays. But instead we are moving more and more into a liberal era that continues to look to external agencies like government for solutions and rescue instead of the latent heroes within us. There is a Superman within us … all of us. This, I can’t help but believe, is the essence of the human condition.