I was standing alone, beholding the Malayan sun bears, when a father and son came up to the rail beside me. The boy was maybe seven; his father, in belted shorts, tucked-in printed T-shirt, and baseball cap, certainly dressed like he was. But whatever. I was there to stare at the animals in the pens.
The boy pointed at the lolling bears, and asked his dad what kind they were.
“That’s the Helarctos malayanus,” the man pronounced. He went on to give a considerable dissertation on what sun bears eat, where they live, how long they live, how much they typically weigh, and how you could tell the males from the females. What luck for me: that guy really knew his bears! Throughout his talk I kept my eyes on the bears, the better to absorb his information.
Toward the end of his Malayan Sun Bears 101, I looked over at the professor. That guy didn’t know anything more about bears than I do. He was reading from the informative placard the good people at the San Diego Zoo put before every animal display, in case the animal’s hiding and you feel like doing a little reading. And he was trying to hide that he was doing that; he was sneaking his looks at the placard. He had actually positioned his body to block the boy from knowing the placard was there at all.
This faux-yogi of bears was trying to trick his kid (and also me, I guess; he wasn’t exactly whispering) into thinking that he just happened to be the world’s leading expert on Malayan sun bears.
Oh, wretched charlatan!
Then again, what man hasn’t done that? That’s what all men do, all the time. It’s like one of the testicles of every man in the world is named Know, and the other Everything. Once those bad boys drop, every guy is instantly committed to the idea of being Fully Knowledgeable about everything.
Oh, wretched burden!
It really does bite Malayan sun bear booty. Men feel that they must be … well, perfect beings, basically—or they fail. Part of the emotional burden men carry is the pervasive, ever-present conviction that being a man means they’re supposed to:
- Know everything
- Be like a magnet to women
- Be in complete control of their emotions
- Make a ton of money
- Be exceptionally wise
- Be naturally athletic
- Have everything always go exactly as they planned
- Scoff at physical pain
- Know all about cars (and machines in general)
- Be able to talk with animals
Anyway, this drive to be impenetrably perfect is the reason that on average men die four years sooner than women. They die from the stress of having to be someone they can’t possibly be.
Enough, I say! It’s time that we men relieved ourselves in the bushes of having to be right all the time. That God made us in his image doesn’t mean we’re supposed to be just like God. We’re supposed to be like, well, us. Ignorance, incompetence, and all.
How much better would it have been if that father had said to his son, “I have no idea what kind of bears those are. Let’s see what this sign says.”? And then, side-by-side, his arm around his boy’s shoulders, the two of them, together, could have begun to learn.
(P.S. I’m under no illusions about the degree to which women are also compelled to always be right about everything. It’s a human thing, I know.)
Related post of mine: Top 10 Tips for Becoming a Better Husband.