I just watched a vital, yet disturbing documentary film called Bully. If you have never seen it, it is available on Netflix. The movie looks at the bullying phenomenon through the eyes of several teenage “victims” who attend schools scattered across the midwest. I use the word “disturbing” in reference to this film not just because it’s difficult to watch defenseless kids being terrorized by bullies, but because it touches on a subject that hits very close to home for most guys.
One particular moment in the film made my hair stand on end. After repeatedly enduring everything from threats of death, physical abuse, and name-calling that would make Mike Tyson cringe, a junior high student named Alex finally blows the whistle on his tormentors and tells his parents about his situation. In the midst of his harrowing confessional, Alex’s mom asks him how the other kids make him feel. With tears in his eyes, this gentle, broken kid simply says, “It makes me want to become the bully.”
You would be hard-pressed to find a man who doesn’t relate to this sentiment, because nearly all of us have walked in Alex’s shoes.
When I was in junior high there were two (and only two) categories of dudes in my school. There were the bullies, and there were those who got bullied. Not everyone was the target of daily afterschool beatings of course, but nearly all of us were traumatized in some way by a bigger, stronger, or more popular classmate. And those of us who didn’t have the stature, athletic prowess, popularity, or straight-up gaul to push others around were quietly envious of those who did–if for no other reason than because the bullies were able to avoid having shards of their manhood stripped away in front of their peers.
Those difficult, teenage years of torment taught us something crucial about life as guys in this world…
You either punch or you get punched. You either go on the offensive in life, or you get beaten down.
These are the unspoken rules of our gender: We must, above all else, looking more impressive than the next guy. Weakness is disgusting. These rules also dictate that in order to get ahead we have to step on anyone in our path. To be a man, you have to become Machiavellian in how you approach career, social standing, the opposite sex, and success in life itself. And if you don’t, and you will become the weak, the “loser.” Oh, and along the way you have to look “cool” even if it means making someone else feel less cool in the process.
Many of us have carried these unspoken rules into adulthood.
And in the process we have become impenetrable fortresses, never showing weakness, never hinting at so much as a hairline fracture in our armor, lest we become the objects of ridicule, just like we did when we were teens.
Not all of us bear the obvious stamp of these mantras. But all of us have been subtly affected by them, at the very least. And this type of thinking has played a role in leaving us lost, empty, and purposeless. We lead double lives because we cannot possibly hope to mesh our real weaknesses and fears with our alleged, flawless exteriors. We are isolated, troubled, and our souls are crying out for a different philosophy of living.
But, if we have truly been placed on this earth to step on others in an attempt to wring out as much material gain, popularity, and ego-stroking as possible in life, then why do we feel incomplete? If we are supposed to hide our true selves, our issues, and especially our flaws, why do we feel isolated?
Because “winning” in life involves something else entirely than these unspoken rules tell us.
It’s time we unlearn the lessons that were branded on our hearts by the traumatic experiences of our youth. It’s time we dig our fingernails into the reality that we were not created to be mini-Machiavellis, social capitalists, or cutthroat businessmen. We were not created to step on others to find our self-actualization on this planet. Jesus showed us that it is possible to be a true man without living for any of these things.
We were made to be vindicators of the oppressed, rather than vessels of oppression. We were made to be worshippers of a power greater than our own egos. To find our purpose here is to admit that winning is losing, and losing is playing the game to win. To find our purpose here is to redefine the very rules that make us men.
Our place is found here, together, in seeking truth that defies the spirit of this age. Our place is found here, becoming men who are united in vulnerability, character, and candid fellowship which offers a voice to the voiceless.
Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. – Psalm 82:3
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