Saturday, October 10, 2015
Author's Note: The following little essay was recently published at The Good Men Project. As has become commonplace now it seems, the editor has deemed it necessary to meddle with my prose and dumb it down for the mass market reader. The original is printed below as it ideally should have appeared.
To always feel intensely is to always be in pain, a state of mind otherwise known as Hell. When misfortune occurs, and misfortune always occurs to everyone soon or late, they call it tragedy. But this is merely to express empathy through hyperbole. Nothing is less tragic than the common life and death of common men, those whose repetitive and un-contemplative days were spent merely with the aim of continued existence and never held a dream that did not die. Rather, to feel, and feel too much, is the tragic element in life, and only a life intense with feeling can even be called a life at all.
Edith Hamilton in her classic book The Greek Way gives us an insight into the nature of tragedy with an examination of Shakespeare's Hamlet:
“Hamlet's hesitation to kill his uncle is not tragic. The tragedy is his power to feel. Change all the circumstances of the drama and Hamlet in the grip of any calamity would be tragic, just as Polonius would never be, however awful the catastrophe. The suffering of a soul that can suffer greatly --- that and only that, is tragedy.”
As a direct corollary to this and what I said above, it would appear unnecessary to remark that, in order for someone to suffer greatly they must first be able to feel greatly. That the faculty of deep human sympathy and warmth must be present before anyone can be said to have suffered emotionally is accepted by the way our society attacks and denigrates it. We call those who suffer easily “sensitive” in a derogatory sense. They are perceived as weak and/or effeminate, not manly. It is no surprise therefore that that same society advocates a culture of “toughness.”
But what is it to be tough? Is it to be immune to pain? This is not much to be proud of. A rock feels no pain. Indeed a rock feels, probably, little at all but neither does it think and thought and feeling go so inseparably together that one can no more be, we may conclude, a thinking man who does not feel as an unthinking one who does.
It would appear that those who advocate for toughness in their sons have overlooked the act of thought. Would they have their boy's unthinking fools? Self-reflection brings much pain but much reward too. But, even more than this, is overlooked how the appeal to toughness is the easy way out and is it manly to teach our son's to cheat? To be an unfeeling brute is no great challenge, we see it in the unconcern of tyrants every day. What is more challenging, and thus more manly, is to feel greatly and yet endure the pain. Those who can take what life inflicts, not with cold indifference but thoughtful reflection, and not turn their heads away, to them go the laurels of manhood in the finest definition of the term. Indeed, as such a soul cannot but be the embodiment of that pearl of civilization: the gentle-man.