Competition is a healthy motivator for high achievement, performance, and growth. We experience competition when being surrounded by peers and colleagues with similar tasks and goals that challenge us, whether athletically, artistically, academically, professionally, or otherwise. This process usually sharpens our drive and ability to succeed as individuals and as a community.
Rivalry is competition taken to an unhealthy extreme. It is "othering" the competition, diminishing the humanity of opponents instead of learning from them. We see this happen with violent sports fans, cutthroat artists, mudslinging politics, and consumerism. This process tears our broad and local communities apart, destroys empathy and communication, and puts all of us in a foul mood.
If we truly wanted to achieve equity, those of us with more power would actually have to be willing to give up some of our own power. The Law of Conservation of Mass teaches us that people can't create something out of nothing as God can; thus we can't just make those with less power suddenly powerful, but must give them some of our power till they are actually at an equal position. Sadly, most people seem to prefer the idea of equity over equity itself.
Violence ≠ Masculinity
Physical Strength < Strength of Character
I was physically assaulted on my way home from work last night. A crowd of rowdy teenagers were goofing off and as I took my usual route home, they started taunting me and throwing rocks at me (thankfully with poor aim). One boy started to follow me and kept shouting, harmless till he ran at me and knocked me to the ground. He immediately ran off, celebrated by his "friends," indicating that his goal was not to hurt me (which he could have done far worse), but rather to prove himself to the other teens.
What hurts the most about the incident is the reminder that boys from so many backgrounds (including my own) are taught from a young age - both verbally and visually - that they achieve manhood through violence, domination, and physical prowess. Our culture emphasizes strength of body when it should be emphasizing strength of character.
This emphasis must change.
We need to teach boys that wisdom, self-control, patience, emotional honesty, loyalty, gentleness, and perseverance are the true marks of a man. It is all of our responsibility to teach this, because our current culture of "masculinity" propagates not only violence, but rape.
Our bodies are crucial components of our identities. Think about all of the comments you've received about your physical appearance since you were young, and how those words and attitudes have shaped you - whether positive, negative, or neutral. Now imagine if everyone had told you instead that your worth doesn't depend on your beauty or strength or physical appearance of any kind, but rather that you have innate and unique worth because you are the person that you are, and every other person has worth because of who they are.
I apologize to everyone to whom I have said careless or hurtful things regarding your body or appearance. Furthermore, I know that women and non-binary people have had at least as many negative experiences with culture's treatment of bodies, and though I cannot speak to all of those as personally, I want to acknowledge and apologize for your mistreatment.
Above all, I want to encourage all of us to treat each other with love and respect. If/when you hear people harassing each other about appearances (or anything, really), remind them that there's more to each person than meets the eye. And when talking about someone's body or physicality, remember that words have power, and be sensitive. And when your body has been talked about, remember that words have the power that we give to them, and so you can strip negative words about you of their power and walk on in the full knowledge that you are beautifully and wonderfully made.
Tonight for a concert I dressed in drag for the first time ever. I'd be lying if I said the thought of wearing a dress and makeup didn't make me a little nervous at first. I grew up in a town that celebrated physical strength, sports, hunting, manual labor, aggression, emotional stoicism, and big trucks as "masculine." So naturally a scrawny, nerdy, artsy, emotionally-attuned countertenor was frequently labelled "feminine." I don't think anyone actually meant to hurt me with this label. Honestly, the label didn't hurt much at all. What hurt was when people suggested I should be more "masculine" or that they thought I wanted to be.
But today, like every other day, I claim that I am a man,
no matter what size my muscles are,
no matter how high I sing,
no matter how emotionally expressive I am,
no matter how I walk or talk or dress,
no matter who I am physically or romantically attracted to,
no matter how I fit or don't fit your idea of what a man "should" be.
I don't need to fit anyone's mold of what it means to be a man, because every man is different. What matters is that I am working to be the best I can be and encouraging others to be the best they can be, because we are beautifully and wonderfully made.
I like attention. I think we all do, some more than others. We want to be seen, heard, liked, loved. It is part of what makes dating so appealing - knowing that someone is interested in you, thinking about you, looking at you, touching you, perhaps trying to understand you or getting to know you. This is a validating experience. People are relational and, though some need more time with people than others, we all need people and thus attention.
Without attention, a baby cannot survive. And yet even as most of us grow to be more independent, at our core we are still dependent on others for physical and emotional survival. Nobody likes to be ignored and those who feel most consistently ignored seem the most depressed, in my experience.
That is why it is important to pay attention to others, not to be buried in our phones or schedules to avoid awkwardness or challenges. Working on social skills is healthy for all of us.
We live in a culture where instant gratification has become the new norm. Everyone walks around with devices in our pockets that can answer almost any question within seconds. These machines are full of apps that allow us to talk to anyone immediately (even face to face), find places instantly, check the weather and news worldwide at a whim, date or not date people with a mere glance at their picture and a swipe of the finger, respond to emails remotely, scan social media to see what everyone we know had for lunch today, and purchase all the things our hearts desire. The list goes on of all the things that we now expect to have and know instantly.
This is unhealthy for us, because instant gratification diminishes patience. When we spend so little time waiting for things, we do not build up the discipline of patience and we lose touch with the beauty of delayed gratification. Like all skills, patience requires practice - and how better to practice patience than by learning to appreciate waiting as opportunities to grow. Instead of complaining about slow internet, perhaps we can rejoice that we have such a valuable resource. Instead of searching desperately for love on a dating app to cure our loneliness, perhaps we should invest in our friends more and enjoy the wait of finding someone - or better yet, enjoy the possibilities that being single provides. Instead of breaking our bank accounts to buy all the things we think will make us happy, perhaps we should learn to enjoy what we have and what we can afford in the time of life and financial situation we find ourselves in.
When we are used to getting our way all the time, we do not tend to have much patience or grace when things do not go our way, making us generally grumpier and less-pleasant people. But when we learn to be comfortable with waiting for people, resources, and situations to happen in their own time and manner (if they happen at all), we will grow to be content and even joyful with what we have, and we will be all the more pleased when something or someone we have waited for comes to fruition. And when things do not happen as we want them to or in our preferred timing or manner, we will not be easily bent out of shape, instead able to respond with grace and understanding. Waiting gives us the opportunity to listen, to learn, to grow in empathy and understanding for others, and to build up patience and endurance.
"Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." - James 1:19
We do not tend to see growth while it is happening, but rather after it has been happening for some time. It is a slow process, taking its own time. Trees do not appear to be growing; they seem rather stuck, not budging in the least. That is, until we remember that a massive oak used to be a tiny seed, then a fragile sprout, a small tree, etc. until it became the giant we all recognize, able to provide for the needs of its community.
And how did the tree get to be so huge a blessing? By enduring harsh winds and rains, relishing times of sunshine, and patiently waiting in the soil for its roots to establish a firm foundation so that it will not be torn up when storms do arise.
So it is with people. If we do not have patience, joy, and endurance to grow, then we will be torn up when storms strike. But if we wait and work and trust, then when we compare where we once were to where we are now, we will see how tall, strong, and beautiful we have become, and we will see the many ways we have blessed others and can do so even more since we have taken the time to grow.