Apologies for the lack of an essay yesterday. I got caught up in a short story I conceived, early in the day, and I wanted to get it as close to completion as possible before my energies flagged. Anyway, here we are again.
This emission on Gab got me thinking:
Part of the problem with society today is that some women forget real men deserve to be spoiled too.
Tell him he's handsome.
Thank him for the things he does.
Let him know he's appreciated.
If he treats you like a queen, treat him like a king.
Now, I have no problem with appreciating your spouse. (I certainly like it. Not that I get it from...oh, never mind.) But there’s more complexity to the malaise that men – especially married men – suffer than that.
I replied to the above:
I must quibble a little. Part of our current problem is that too many people (both sexes) feel "unappreciated" because no one is thanking them for doing what they're supposed to do: i.e., their duties and responsibilities. It's a big part of “special snowflake” syndrome.
For saying that, a lot of people would flag me as “hard” or “harsh.” But seriously now: If you have a responsibility to discharge – one you freely accepted, perhaps by marrying in the first place – how can you deserve thanks for doing so?
Give that a moment on your cranial carousel while I fetch more coffee.
I want to think of myself as a good person. Don’t you? But we’re all fallible. We all fall short sometimes. Unless you’re the Blessed Virgin Mary, you have something – perhaps a lot of somethings – to regret.
But what is a good person, anyway? One approach would be to say that he’s one who:
- Does everything he must or should;
- Does nothing he mustn’t or shouldn’t.
Those are individualized lists. Most of us couldn’t compose perfectly exhaustive, perfectly accurate ones of either sort; life in contemporary society is too complex. An honest person would have to doubt the completeness and accuracy of his recollection of all the various times he’s faced a duty or a temptation and done exactly what he should, when he should. We’ve been told far too often, by far too many “self help” gurus, to think well of ourselves. We’re much too prone to do so in excess.
Now, as with all things, there’s a limit proper to self-criticism. One must not go beyond the recognition of one’s objective defaults. Perhaps we should call that the limit of self-condemnation. G. K. Chesterton criticized it harshly in The Defendant:
There runs a strange law through the length of human history — that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. The great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility.
Grotesquely undervaluing oneself, failing to see one’s life not merely as a gift from God to oneself but to others as well, is something to avoid. You were important enough that your mother spent nine uncomfortable months producing you and eighteen years cooking for you, cleaning up after you, and wiping your nose; therefore you must count for something, at least to her. However, our primary failing – to slough consideration of the times we have not done what we should and have done what we shouldn’t – remains important enough to deserve frequent attention.
I can’t help but think of this subject through the lens of approved roles.
(About 15% of the audience read the above and said to themselves “Oh boy, here he goes again.” Those persons should contemplate whether that might just be an indication that the subject makes them uncomfortable because it should. You know who you are.)
Despite all the condemnations heaped upon the standard roles men and women have played in Western society – most commonly, husband, father, and provider; wife, mother, and homemaker – they remain important to many persons: persons who embrace them sincerely and strive to live them faithfully. Moreover, many of those who speak scornfully of those roles do so insincerely: i.e., because they secretly know that they lack the fiber required to fulfill the responsibilities attached to them.
Specialty roles – e.g., priest or minister; employer; statesman – are more demanding. Most of us don’t have the fiber to fulfill their responsibilities. He who knows that about himself cannot accept such a role in full sincerity, though there will always be some who’ll do so anyway.
(Are there “general” responsibilities that lie outside such roles? Yes, but they’re not imposed on each of us every day. We have a duty to be courteous in ordinary social and commercial intercourse; a duty to refrain from inflicting ourselves on others unwanted; a duty to contribute, albeit minimally, to the maintenance of public cleanliness and order. Occasions that invoke those duties are irregular, though when they arrive, they’re as imperative as the duties of one’s chosen role, if any.)
In short, a role consciously embraced defines the responsibilities of him who accepts it, just as the script and stage directions define the responsibilities of an actor in a play. Here are your responsibilities, the role says: to do thus and thus, but to avoid doing thus and thus. They make plain the specific conditions under which one can consider oneself a good person.
The reverse of the coin is just as important: he who sloughs his responsibilities is not a good person, for he has not kept his end of the bargain. He might not hear about it from those around him; these days it’s rather risky ever to criticize anyone for anything. But if he owns a conscience, he’ll hear it from a Critic Wo stands above all reprisals.
Recent trends in the promotion and pursuit of that most horrible (“O horrible, O horrible, most horrible!” Hamlet, Act I, scene 5) of all social shibboleths, “self-esteem,” have completely confused many younger Americans. They seem to have been convinced that they deserve not merely to feel good about themselves just for being alive, but to deserve approbation and praise from others. But if that were so, what reason would they have to do anything, or to deny themselves any indulgence? Why not lounge about lifelong, leaving others to see to the grubby work of existence while slave girls ply fans and feed us peeled grapes? (Seedless grapes, of course.)
Put that way, it should be plain:
Everyone has a row to hoe.
Neither is it obligatory for others to thank us for doing what we should, any more than they owe us their thanks for not doing what we shouldn’t. They need not offer it and we should not expect it. Whether we receive such appreciation and approbation or go completely unremarked, even scorned, makes no difference to the imperativeness of our personal dos and don’ts.
Yes, there’s a religious aspect to this. I’ve just taken a while to come to it.
“A man pays his bills, keeps himself clean, respects other people, and keeps his word. He gets no credit for this; he has to do this much just to stay even with himself.” – Robert A. Heinlein, Time For The Stars
- I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me.
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
- Remember thou the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
- Honor thy father and thy mother.
- Thou shalt not murder.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery.
- Thou shalt not steal.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
...constitutes the set of “general responsibilities” to which we are all bound, regardless of anything else about us. The roles we choose for ourselves go atop those responsibilities. No one is exempt from them because of “other duties.”
Why are there no escape hatches that would permit us to kill indiscriminately, or to cuckold one another, or pilfer from one another, or so on? Because the Decalogue is The Law of Stable Society. No society that flouts the Decalogue, in whole or in part, can flourish. Even chiseling along the edges – e.g., abandoning the support of our aged parents to the State rather than seeing to it ourselves – does great harm to the social order, as should be plain to anyone with eyes to see.
God did not prescribe or proscribe for us on a whim. His laws are the laws of human nature, the rules for getting along and staying even with ourselves. Had He never delivered the Decalogue to Moses, those laws would be just as imperative as they were when Moses descended from Mount Sinai with the tablets.
Good thing they’re simple and easy to remember, eh?
I could go on, of course. I could tie the above to the terrible deterioration of both the masculine and feminine virtues. I could delineate how the enervation of the concept of responsibility has parted generation from generation and sibling from sibling. I could demonstrate how the notion that “I should be thanked for what I do” leads directly to the sort of spousal friction that’s rendered contemporary marriages as fragile as spun glass. But my Gentle Readers don’t come here to read drivel that obvious.
Do what you should and must.
Refrain from doing what you shouldn’t or mustn’t.
Having discharged your responsibilities, expect nothing and say nothing.
May God bless and keep you all.