In ‘Saviors of God,’ Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis said he wanted to find a single justification to live amid the dreadful daily spectacle of disease, ugliness, injustice and death.
Coming out of the horror of a concentration camp twenty years after Kazantzakis’ woeful plea, Viktor Frankl provided such justification: “For people who think there’s nothing to live,” he said, “the question is getting [them] to realize that life is still expecting something from them.”
He who has a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how.’ — Friedrich Nietzsche
Cowering inside our homes as most of us are today amid a world in shambles, it is easy to want to cry out for one good reason to keep going. If my daughters were still young and in need of support, the reason would be clear. Now that they are self-reliant, I have found a new purpose — to serve the world.
My quest wasn’t hard to find. I simply searched for a need in the world I could become passionate about, then found a way to use my talents to serve that need. While the journey hasn’t been easy, I would not trade it for anything.
Happy the man who hears the Cry of his times and works in collaboration with it. He alone can be saved. What, then, is our duty? It is to carefully distinguish the historic moment in which we live and to consciously assign our energies to a specific battlefield. — Nikos Kazantzakis
In recent years, there have endless debates about men’s purpose. Some have even dared suggest we are on our way to the scrap heap of historical obsolescence, there to lie buried along the VCR, the pay phone, and the floppy disk. But that was 2020 B.C. — before Corona.
Covid-19 now presents us men with the opportunity to rise and prove our mettle and worth, just like the menace of fascism in the 1940s roused men to save the day making them win the accolade of ‘The Greatest Generation.’
Our chance for glory has arrived! This is no time for cowering.
In ‘Fire in the Belly,’ Sam Keen says “the dispassionate, post-modern man is the antithesis of the phallic male — no passion, no standing forth, no risk, no drive to enrich history. Nor is the new age man who is self-absorbed in his own feelings and committed only to personal growth a candidate for heroism. It is an illusion to believe that the virility men have lost can be recovered by anything except a new vocational passion.”
“Virility” is a word you don’t hear much anymore. “For most of history, though, it was normal to praise exemplary men as virile,” writes Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker. “In fact, only in the past century has the word virility been displaced by the more anodyne ‘masculinity’ and ‘manliness.’ In Ancient Rome, virilitas migrated to the center of male identity. The virile man wasn’t just sexually assertive, powerfully built, and procreative, but also intellectually and emotionally levelheaded, vigorous yet deliberate, courageous yet restrained. The virile is not simply what is manly. It’s an ideal of power and virtue, self-assurance and maturity, certitude and domination, courage and greatness accompanied by strength and vigor.”
Swirling around the modern-day debate about men’s purpose is a confusing cacophony of opinions as to what it means to be a man. I’ll now try to settle this matter, once and for all, by way of definitions.
To be ‘Male’ is a matter of biology.
Masculinity, or more accurately, ‘Mask-ulinity,’ is a mannerism. It’s an affect, the extremes of which are found in the macho swagger of a ‘John Wayne’ type and a Japanese ‘Herbivore Man.’
Manhood, however, is not a given, as playwright Norman Mailer said. “It is something men gain by winning battles with honor.”
Where are those battles?
As I recently wrote, the current pandemic has not only toppled humanity’s most cherished illusions — of certainty, security, invincibility and control — but like a receding tide from what seemed a flawless beach, it has also laid bare all the ugliness to which Kazantzakis referred: the fetid pools, turds and rotting carrion in society; it’s crappy values and misplaced priorities, its ruinous paradigms and widening fault lines of injustice.
It’s time to dare the impossible and bring about a new promise for the world!
“Centuries from now,” Kazantzakis prophetically wrote, “this epoch of ours will possibly be called a middle age, not a renaissance. As one civilization becomes exhausted, loses its creative strength and crumbles, a new Breath carried by a new class of men toils with love, rigor, and faith to create a new civilization.”
I’ve already proposed what this “new class of men” should be like, so won’t repeat myself here. Instead, I’ll summarize the spiritual exercises Kazantzakis laid out for any man wanting to change the world.
Consider it your Warrior’s Training Manual.
Discipline is the highest of virtues so may strength and desire be counterbalanced and for the endeavors of man to bear fruit.
Let us give a human meaning to the superhuman struggle.
Conquer the last, greatest temptation of all: Hope.
Say farewell to all things at every moment. Surrender yourself to everything. Our body is a ship that sails on deep blue waters. What is our goal? To be shipwrecked!
This is the moment of greatest crisis. This is the signal for the March to begin. If you do not hear this Cry tearing at your entrails, do not set out.
Someone within me is struggling to lift a great weight, to cast off the mind and flesh by overcoming habit, laziness, necessity.
I put my body through its paces like a war horse. I keep it lean, sturdy, prepared.
I keep my brain wide awake, lucid, unmerciful. I unleash it to battle relentlessly so that — all light — it may devour darkness.
I keep my heart flaming, courageous, restless. I feel in my heart all commotions and all contradictions, the joys and sorrows of life. But I struggle to subdue them to a rhythm superior to that of the mind, harsher than that of my heart, to the ascending rhythm of the Universe.
You are my comrade in arms. Love danger. Which road should you take? The craggiest ascent. In that ascent, do not seek friends; seek comrades-in-arms.
Be always restless, unsatisfied, unconforming. Whenever a habit becomes convenient, smash it! The greatest sin of all is satisfaction.
You are not a slave. As soon as you were born, a new possibility was born with you. Whether you would or not, you brought a new rhythm, a new desire, a new idea.
Gamble the present and all things certain, gamble them for the future and things uncertain.
Free yourself from race; fight to live through the whole struggle of man. Gaze on the dark sea without staggering. Confront the abyss every moment without illusion, or impudence, or fear; battle to give meaning to the confused struggles of man.
It is this ascension — this battle with the descending countercurrent — which gives birth to pain. But pain is not the absolute monarch. Every victory, every momentary balance on the ascent, fills with joy every living thing that breathes, grows, loves, and gives birth.
The ultimate most holy form of theory is action. Action is the widest gate to deliverance. Not to look on passively while the spark leaps from generation to generation, but to leap and to burn with it!
My prayer is not the whimpering of a beggar nor a confession of love. Nor is it the trivial reckoning of a small tradesman: ‘give me and I shall give you.’ My prayer is a report of a soldier to a general: ‘This is what I did today, this is how I fought to save the battle in my own sector, these are the obstacles I found, this is how I plan to fight tomorrow.’
Whatever it might be, we fight on without certainty, and our virtue, uncertain of any rewards, acquires a profound nobility.
Die every day. Be born every day. Deny everything you have every day. Impose order, the order of your brain, on the flowing anarchy of the world.
The soul of man is a flame that shouts: ‘I cannot stand still, I cannot be consumed, no one can quench me!’
We can no longer fit into old virtues and hopes; into old theories and actions. Today, the only complete and virtuous man is the Warrior!
Adventure, with all its requisite danger, is a deeply spiritual longing written into the soul of man. — John Eldredge, ‘Wild at Heart’
If you were looking for a ‘why’ to live, the havoc Covid-19 has wrought on our world and the many fault lines it has exposed in its wake has just opened up many fronts which call for the fierce warrior energy in men.
The vocational passion called for by Sam Keen is the one Aristotle said is found at the intersection of one’s talents and the needs of the world. I discovered mine… now go find yours!
The world is starved for heroes. It needs virile and passionate men now more than ever. I say it’s time we draw our swords and give the world a solid reason to name us ‘The Bravest Generation!’
Jeffrey Erkelens is the creator of ‘The Hero in You,’ a book and warrior’s manual for boys meant to initiate them into an evolved expression of manhood and train them on the character strengths needed to live spirited lives of noble purpose. Follow the book’s heroic journey to publication.