My blog post last week was a discussion of how hardship and crisis bring often bring about a better life experience for men. It’s not because men enjoy damage and loss, but because crises force them out of isolation and into relationships out of sheer necessity. They can no longer survive on their own, so they’re forced to connect with others. And they’re almost always happier as a result, despite the hardship.
A few days later, as if on cue, we saw Hurricane Harvey drop over 50 inches of rain, more than 24.5 trillion gallons of water, on Texas and Louisiana. Houston was the most hard-hit area, with over 30 people dead, over 30,000 homes destroyed, and tens of thousands more without power. The images are almost unbelievable. Interstates were covered with water to the point that they had whitecaps. Entire neighborhoods were underwater. A chemical plant exploded. Shelters were packed. Both the breadth and depth of the losses were catastrophic. Still, I expect that many men will experience levels of satisfaction and contentment that they’ve never seen before, for three reasons.
1. Men Will Thrive Because They’ll Be Connected to Other Men
Despite the enormous damage and loss, an unmistakable ray of hope has emerged from the crisis. We’ve seen lines and lines of people waiting – not for aid – but to volunteer to help with the rescue and relief efforts. We’ve seen normal people using their boats to navigate submerged areas to rescue people trapped on their roofs or in upper stories of their homes (long live the Cajun Navy). We’ve seen people forming humans chains to rescue others stuck in vehicles in deeply flooded areas. We’ve seen people of every kind and classification come together to share whatever resources they had – strength, food, boats, clothes, living space – to help their fellow man.
If history holds, the people (and especially the men) of Houston and other hard hit areas will experience an overall increase in their level of contentment with life, despite suffering significant losses. As war journalist Sebastian Junger notes in Tribe, communities that are devastated by disasters “almost never lapse into chaos and disorder”. Instead, community-oriented behaviors emerge like those we saw in Houston. In short, when disaster strikes, people come together and help each other. Historically, because of this coming together, this deepening of connections, happiness levels increase and depression and suicide rates decrease.
I fully expect that to happen in Texas. We are social creatures, either created or evolved to live in connection to others. Isolated, individualistic men rarely thrive. They may make a lot of money. They may have a hot wife. But the quality of their life experience will not reach that of a man who is connected to other men. Many in Texas are experiencing a deep connection to others in a way that they’ve never had before. That connection will spur them to be better men. Stronger, more courageous, and more skillful and productive than they’ve ever been before. And the by-product of that life is more happiness.
2. Men Will Thrive Because They Have an Opportunity to Unleash Their Masculinity
That leads to the second reason men thrive during disasters and catastrophes. For once in their lives, their masculinity is explicitly needed, rather than being a luxury. Strong men who are courageous and skillful are in high demand in the midst of a crisis. And deep within, men cherish to opportunity to express their masculinity. Everyone thrives on being needed, and men thrive on the opportunity to use their masculinity to protect and provide for others. In crisis situations, men feel free to unleash their masculinity. In fact, their lives and those of their families often require that their masculinity be unleashed to its fullest extent. While stressful, this is when a man is in his element.
In some ways, the hurricane made everyone equal in Texas. Both rich and poor, black and white, conservative and liberal, gay and straight, suffered losses, sought to escape the flooding, and helped each other in the process. However, there is no such thing as a lasting equality. A hierarchy always emerges. And in disasters, men who have developed their masculinity rise to the top. The strong. The courageous. The skillful. The resilient. Thomas Jefferson noted that there is a natural aristocracy among men and that the grounds of it are virtue and talent. In this case, the talent involved is developed masculinity. Those who are more masculine will rise to the top and be leaders in times of crisis. Those who are weak, cowardly, or otherwise useless will be led and cared for by those who are masculine. That’s why you see so many pictures of men carrying women, children, and elderly through the floodwaters to safety.
3. Men Will Thrive Because They Have a Sense of Purpose
A final and related reason men thrive during disasters and crises is because those events give men have a sense of purpose. They have a clear mission. There is no malaise. There is no ambiguity. Unless they act, people will die or suffer loss. There’s no time to contemplate whether they’ve found their passion, whether they’ve found the one right woman, whether their boss is treating them fairly, or whether they’re self-actualized. They have a defined enemy (the hurricane, the flood, the damage) and defined mission (survival, rescue, protect, provide) that they can pour themselves into. The fact that their mission gives them the opportunity to express and unleash their masculinity in conjunction with other men makes them thrive all the more.
None of this is to say that the hurricane was a good thing, nor do I wish to minimize the losses sustained by the people in the path of the storm. Quite the contrary, my heart goes out to those people. Instead, my point is the profound impact that brotherhood, purpose, and embracing masculinity have on men’s happiness and quality of life
As Sebastian Junger insightfully points out,
“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”
Hurricane Harvey has reminded men that they’re necessary. It’s reminded them that they still live in a world that needs strength, courage, and skillfulness. It’s also reminded them that they need each other. So here’s the lesson for the rest of us: we must also embrace our masculinity. We must develop our strength, our courage, our skillfulness, our toughness. And we must live in connection with each other. The hurricane illustrated for us the point I’ve been trying to make the last few weeks: men need a tribe. I hope we won’t wait until disaster strikes to build ours. The purpose of a tribe is not merely to avoid or survive disaster, but rather to give and receive the support necessary to thrive regardless of what we encounter in life. That’s why men need each other. Build your tribe.
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