By Warren Farrell, Ph.D. (www.warrenfarrell.com)
For more depth, see The Myth of Male Power
September 11 presents a dilemma for every family who loves their country and loves their children. We are grateful beyond words for the firefighters and policemen who sacrificed their lives for the possibility that others might live. When someone does this for a stranger, and in defense of his or her country, that is the quintessential example of heroism.
What, then, is the dilemma? As we sing these men’s praises, we send the message to our sons (and some of our daughters) that they will be held in the highest esteem if they too are willing to sacrifice their lives for a stranger, especially on behalf of country.
The first dilemma, then, is that our praise may tempt a son or daughter in great need of attention to risk death to gain appreciation. As a firefighter, he is likely to die earlier of lung cancer or other toxins; as a soldier he or she is more likely to die on a Mideast battlefield than in a midtown office.
The second dilemma involves taking care of country vs. taking care of family. If our son or daughter has children at home, is it right to have him or her put the children’s life in jeopardy? His willingness to die contributes to protection of our country and homes, but jeopardizes the well-being of his own family. A father who is a hero at war may never come home.
The third dilemma becomes apparent with an understanding of the personality that often develops as a man becomes a hero. To be successful as a hero, it helps to repress feelings, not express feelings. (“When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” not “when the going gets tough the tough see a psychologist.”) To be successful in love, it helps to express feelings, not repress them.
The more a man values himself the less he wants to die. To teach a man to value himself by dying– to give him promotions to risk death, to tell him he’s powerful, he’s a hero, he’s loved, he’s a “real man”– is to “bribe” a man to value himself more by valuing himself less. Thus volunteer firefighters are virtually 100% males; all the Drug Enforcement Agency officials who have died in “The War on Drugs” are male; men died in the Gulf War at a ratio of 27 to 1, and, overall, 93% of people killed in the workplace are males.
The psychology that perpetuates this paradox includes calling our firefighters and police officers “heroes.” “Heroes” comes from the Greek word “serow,” from which we get our words “servant” and “slave.”
We think of a hero as someone who has power. In fact, a servant and slave possess the psychology of disposability, not the psychology of power. Many men have learned to define power as “feeling obligated to earn money that someone else spends while he dies sooner.” Real power is best defined as “control over our one’s life.”
Why do we praise men as heroes when they compete to be disposable? Virtually all societies that have survived have done so by socializing men to be disposable.
After our acknowledgement of our heroes, then, we are faced with a dilemma of morality and survival: whether the incentives and laws that produce our heroes also produce the men most capable of loving.
It was part of our genetic heritage to socialize both sexes for disposability. Women have questioned their genetic heritage; men have not questioned theirs. The result is that women are still falling in love with a sex that is less well socialized to love. Is that good for our children’s genetic future?
On the other hand, if we don’t socialize men to die, will women take on 50% of the responsibility to fight in our wars, save our homes from fires, build bridges and be the truckers, miners, lumberjacks, welders and sheet metal workers who build the next World Trade Center? And if so, will they become the women we want our daughters to be?
There are no perfect answers. But our heroes have left those of us who live the challenge of deciding how much to encourage future generations to die so that others may live to praise those who have died.
Warren Farrell, Ph.D. is the author of the international bestsellers, The Myth of Male Power and Why Men Are The Way They Are, as well as Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say and Father and Child Reunion. He is the only man in the US ever elected three times to the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in New York City. He has taught at the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, and currently resides in Mill Valley, CA. He can be visited virtually at http://www.warrenfarrell.com .