A Tale of Two Men—And What It Means for You

A Tale of Two Men—And What It Means for You August 23, 2022

This weekend, I saw a great example of a dynamic that I believe impacts a lot of men—and by extension, everyone else. Something that requires our attention as those who care about men and culture. Something that may even require our attention in our own marriages, and with our sons.

I flew to a speaking engagement and back this weekend—out Saturday morning, back Sunday night. I boarded the flight out with my usual executive-size roller suitcase. (Every public speaker has learned the hard way that you don’t check a bag with your “nice clothes” if you have to speak within 24 hours!) My suitcase this time was unusually full and heavy and as I tried to lift it into an overhead bin, three different men in nearby rows noticed me struggle. All three of them asked, “Can I help you?” at the same time and started to get to their feet.

The closest one stepped forward, and I said, “That would be great, thank you so much.” He easily levered the bag into place, nodded, and returned to his seat. I thought grateful thoughts on the flight.

Boarding the airplane back was very different. I rolled my heavy suitcase on and struggled to lift it up high enough to get it into the bin. I could see four men in nearby rows watching my efforts—yet none of them said anything. But here’s the thing: I could tell each of them wanted to.

Out of the corner of my eyes, I could see their reactions. Each individual guy was struggling to not jump up. To not say, “Can I help you?” I could feel their conflict. One in particular—a thirty-something guy dressed in business casual—looked very torn. He literally had his hands on his arm rests, as if he wanted to push himself to his feet. But he didn’t.

I gave up momentarily, put the suitcase down heavily, and rubbed my shoulder. I was saved by a young college guy coming down the aisle after me. He was wearing a Wake Forest University sweatshirt and was probably 18 years old—too young to have the concerns the other men did. (More on that in a moment.)

He rushed up to me and said, “Do you need help?” I gratefully said, “Yes, thank you!” He put my suitcase in the bin, smiled at my thanks, and went on his way.

I’m actually writing these words on the flight back, thinking about the four men sitting in nearby seats around me—especially the one guy who was forcing himself to not help. It makes me so sad. Not because he didn’t help me—not at all!—but because he clearly felt like he couldn’t help me. That it would be wrong, in some way, to offer.


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