I recently read an article about what it means to be a man. This article was written by an author, Christian Piatt, whose writing I tend to enjoy. I like him because he is funny so I was willing to let much slide for the sake of humor. Yet some of what he said mildly irritated me. I hesitated to comment since I am hardly an expert on the topic of men, not being one and all. Part of me wanted to comment anyway, just out of spite. After all entire panels full of men have had plenty to say lately about what it means to be a woman. I beat down that vengeful impulse. But then I realized what was frustrating me about the manliness discussion was really about a larger issue: our tendency to oversimplify things.
We have a tendency to look for the easy way out, to judge by superficial signs. So, when people hear "men should be more sensitive" they break it down to mean "men should cry." This is simplifying things. What good does it do me if a man cries over his own hurt feelings but doesn't give a rat's behind about mine? This is not the type of sensitivity being called for. The kind of sensitivity that is helpful has more to do with compassion and has little to do with weepiness. In the Piatt article, Clint Eastwood was mentioned as an example of "manliness." Some of the characters he plays are wounded characters who feel things deeply and who are moved to action by compassion. Somehow Clint Eastwood manages to portray such "sensitivity" without appearing unmanly. Not always by blowing things up either which admittedly is unacceptable behavior. But, not because it is too manly, rather it is illegal and immoral. The call for men to be sensitive, get in touch with their nurturing side, and so on is not about anything as superficial as tears or appearances. It is about compassion and consideration for others.
When we oversimplify and make rash judgments we often miss the point entirely. We do this in many areas of life. We pretend we can judge the integrity of a politician by how many times he or she utters, "God bless America." We think we can judge a person's faith by how many times he or she says, "Jesus." We think we can judge churches by the number of people in the pews and teachers by scores on state tests.
Throughout our lives we would do well to consider more deeply and not to take the shortcuts of snap judgments. We could all stand to be a bit more sensitive if that means something like compassion. But, tears are not a good judge of compassion. I am more likely to cry when I am angry than when I am feeling compassion.
It being an election year, I may need to stock up on tissues.