We like, sometimes, to imagine we are suited to life alone. We like to think we can press on and get things done with no help, and certainly no interference, from anyone else. Our culture encourages this. Modern people tend to regard themselves as individuals who happen to live in proximity to other individuals. Ours is an atomized society where connection is rare, temporary and, more often than not, shallow.
This arrangement hurts us all, but affects men perhaps especially strongly. Men have a hard time creating friendships in our culture. Normally, this is chalked up to men’s lack of emotion and a tendency to isolate ourselves. Those factors may have something to do with it, but there are deeper reasons. One is that our culture has made many men unsuitable for real friendship.
Most men, devoid of any real life role models, have, it appears, taken to trying to live out the stereotypes of men they see in media. Most actively seem to desire to make themselves into caricatures of men, obsessed with sports, sex and stupidity, dedicated to perpetual adolescence and full of ego.
When the majority of men have succumbed to such brainwashing, it’s no wonder that deep, mutually beneficial friendships between us don’t flourish. What can friendship mean to such men, except that he has a series of interchangeable others with whom he can discuss his all-consuming obsessions?
If you are a man who dissents from the mainstream approach to life, who is interested in improving his lot, in leading his wife and children, and in being more than a mindless worker and consumer, good luck finding like-minded men. For guys like us, most social circles are barren fields producing little fruit.
None of this is good. Men are meant to have friends, brothers. Men improve one another when we band together. We cause one another to grow stronger. When you realize this, you begin to wonder if those in charge, those who have propagated the man-boy stereotypes that now dominate, have a reason to want to make it hard for men to strengthen one another.
I have found a dearth of men who are capable of this kind of symbiotic friendship wherever I have lived. For this reason, I am grateful to have stumbled into such a band of men digitally, mostly via Twitter.
It is fashionable now to mock the tendency for people to be always on their phones, constantly engaged with digital rather than physical realities. While I certainly agree with some of those criticisms, they tend to dismiss very important facts. For example, they overlook the fact that the people I know only virtually are among the most interesting people I know at all. In the past year and a half or so, Twitter has been my source for inspiring and transforming conversations.
I am a better man today than I was a year and a half ago, in large part, due to my interactions online. Criticize all you want people who spend all their time on their phones, but for some of us, our devotion to online relationships is itself a criticism of the larger culture which has made real, transformative relationships, especially among men, almost impossible to find elswhere.
Overfocusing on the digital aspect of these relationships is a mistake. People are spiritual beings. Our spirits are not hampered by physical limitations. Read enough of somebody’s tweets, and you can get a sense of their mind, their spirit. A kind of union quickly becomes possible.
This is an uncontroversial thing to say about the authors of books. Everyone knows that even old books remain relevant and engaging if they present access to the mind and spirit of their authors. Even time is not an obstacle to such union and conversation. As with books, so with tweets.
A lot of the guys I’ve met on Twitter have take up residence in my mind. I think about their words. I speak back. More than once, I have felt my discipline slacking, found myself on the precipice of some counterproductive decision and thought, “What would the guys on Twitter say?”, and thus saved myself, at least for that moment, from a misstep.
Men, when we have the chance to form real relationships with other men of quality, sharpen each other. We live in a time where men of quality are not easily found. Yet, our inward need for a clan of others pursuing the same ends has drawn us together online. The beginnings of these friendships may have been digital, but the results are flesh and blood.
Real life relationships improve, character gets burnished, stuff get done when men find a way to encourage each other even across vast distances. When that happens, things get better, and that, my friends, is the ultimate proof of the power of a really good tweet.
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