America is known for our individualism. In fact, our country was started by a group of rebels who didn’t want anyone telling them what to do. American men have proudly carried that tradition for hundreds of years now. If you’re gonna tell us what to do, you’d better tread lightly and perhaps be ready for a fight.
I’m no different. I’m stubborn and usually think I’m right. And even when I know I’m wrong, I’m often too proud to admit it, at least if I feel like my position was justified in some way. While American men might represent the modern extreme of individualism, we are by no means a historical anomaly. In fact, the desire to be self-sufficient and capable is wired into our DNA. While that wiring spurs us to great achievement, it also often leads to our downfall if not harnessed and restrained. There’s a reason that “pride goes before a fall” is a proverb that has withstood the test of time; it’s true.
In my last post, I laid out the general story of The Iliad and picked out a lesson that men can learn from one of the main characters, Paris. Be sure to check out that post if you missed it; you can find it here. Paris was a good-looking dude who got by in life by charming people, especially women. He had nice hair and some musical abilities. Things went bad when Paris charmed the beautiful Helen of Troy and took her from Greece back home with him to Troy. Unfortunately for Paris, Helen was married to a great warrior who also happened to be the brother of the king of the Greeks. Before long, Troy was locked in a battle with thousands of Greeks who had invaded.
As I noted last week, Paris brought shame on his family by running from a challenge to fight (that he had issued) and was rebuked by his brother, Hector. Hector was known as the greatest warrior of Troy. He resented having to fight a war because of Paris’ philandering, but he was a warrior and was not going to back down from a threat to his homeland. He was, in a real sense, Troy’s only hope to repel the Greeks.
In the early days of the battle laid out in The Iliad (as I noted last week, the story only covers about 60 days of a siege that lasted 10 years), the Greeks prevailed, despite the fact that their champion, Achilles, refused to enter the battle. Nevertheless, the Greeks had other strong warriors, Menelaos, Ajax, Odysseus, and Diomedes, who wreaked havoc on the men of Troy. An entire book of The Iliad is dedicated to the triumphs of Diomedes, who was said to have “rag[ed] across the plain and driv[en] the Trojan ranks before him”, slaughtering Trojans as he went. And he talked a good bit of trash while he was doing it.
Hector and Sarpedon
While this was happening, Hector stood near the city gate and watched, having not entered the battle. This fact did not escape the notice of Sarpedon, the king of Lycia (an area far south of Troy) who had come to help the Trojan cause. Sarpedon approached Hector and rebuked him sternly, saying
“Hector, where has that strength gone that you once had? You said that without armies and allies you would hold the city alone with your brothers-in-law and your brothers. But of these I am unable to see or note anyone! They cower like dogs around a lion. We do the fighting, who are but allies among you. I myself come as an ally from very far off. . . . Yet there you stand! You do not urge your people to hold their ground or defend their wives. Beware you do not become a prey and a spoil to your enemies as if caught in the meshes of a net that ensnares all! They soon will sack your well-populated city. These cares should weigh on you day and night. You should beseech the captains of your far-famed allies to hold their ground without flinching, and so put aside all strong criticism of your command”
Translation: Hector, you have neglected your duty to lead your people and they are going to die as a result.
Here’s the modern equivalent of what just happened to Hector:
- A pastor or priest comes to you and tells you that you’re failing your family because you’re not investing in your relationship with your wife. He tells you that you’re just doing your own thing and leaving her to deal with life.
- One of your child’s teachers tells you that your child is struggling because you don’t engage in his/her life.
- Your co-worker tells you that you’re not pulling your weight in the business, that others are having to pick up your slack.
- A friend tells you that you’re overweight and need to eat better and start exercising.
- Your accountant tells you that you’re simply spending too much money and it’s hurting your family.
Now, I’d argue that what happened to Hector is worse than all of these examples. Sarpedon was an outsider, not a citizen or leader of Troy. Hector was a hero, the mightiest warrior of Troy, the son of the king, and respected by all the people. Who was this outsider to come and tell Hector what to do in battle? Who was this outsider to come and embarrass Hector in front of his fellow soldiers? This man wasn’t nearly as accomplished in battle as Hector. He had no place and no right to issue such stern correction to a man of Hector’s stature.
Think about those five scenarios above. Think about Hector’s situation. How would you have responded? How should a man respond? Here’s how Hector responded:
“[Sarpedon’s] words stung Hector to the heart. At once Hector leaped from the chariot in full armor to the ground. Brandishing his two sharp spears, he went everywhere throughout the army, urging the Trojans to fight. He roused the dread din of battle. They rallied and took their stand opposite the [Greeks].”
The next pages detail fierce fighting between the Trojans and Greeks in which the Trojans gave as well as they got. Ultimately, Sarpedon was wounded, but was saved because Hector pushed the Greeks back while his friends moved Sarpedon to a safe location.
Most men would have recoiled at the words Sarpedon issued to Hector. Most of us would have been pissed. How dare he accuse me of failing to lead my family? How dare he accuse me of not engaging with my kids? He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know what I do. He has no right to say those things. But here’s the deal: Hector knew Sarpedon was right. He knew he had failed to lead his men. He knew that the people of Troy would be raped, killed, and enslaved if he didn’t lead the warriors to victory. He knew he was failing his people.
He didn’t get simply get mad at Sarpedon. He immediately made a correction. He took action (“At once Hector leaped . . .”). And it saved his city, at least for that day and many after it.
Here’s our lesson: Men receive truthful criticism and correction and they change. They don’t let their pride keep them from making necessary corrections. As I pointed out in The MANifesto, a man is willing to learn from everyone, even adversaries, and is willing to change his mind. When it is pointed out that they’ve failed, they admit it and begin to change. They don’t accuse the one who corrects them. They don’t bitch about the “tone” of the person correcting them. Those are all red herrings, ways of avoiding the substance of the correction. A man finds the substance of the correction and changes.
Now, that doesn’t mean that everyone who offers criticism, instruction, or correction to you will be right. As a result, we don’t need to make every change that is suggested to us. Instead, our job is to fairly consider the criticism. Don’t immediately write it off or reject it. Think about it, chew on it, and ask others about it. If it’s true, then change. If not, move on.
Hector had every right to be pissed at Sarpedon. But he knew Sarpedon was right, so he changed. So the next time someone corrects you, don’t blow them off and don’t cuss them out. Consider what they say. They may be offering you words that will make your life much, much better. If so, make the change. That’s the man’s life.
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