As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
Today I met a man for coffee, a man I had never met, to talk about writing, and you know, make friends or something. As I drove to the meet I wondered about the butterflies I had. What should be hard about this? I want to write, and I respect this writer a lot and he seems like a nice enough fellow in the exchanges on email, etc. But the butterflies are flitting, and I think it goes back a long way, beyond me and him by far.
Men are trained to be wary of another man. Maybe it is in the genes too. The long bathing of our code in testosterone has trained us to sleep with an eye open, to hone our skills, be ready to fight – and be ready to kill. This is a unique part of the grain of being a man. There is PTSD, (post traumatic stress disorder), but this is more like Pre-TSD – it is already there, the vigilance, the hair trigger. Women are not indoctrinated this way. You may say that women can be extremely dangerous to one another, way beyond catty. True, but my experience of being a man is that men are born with a bent toward and then prepared for a life of battle with each other. It is in us to kill one another, and the closer we are to one another, the greater the risk. Genetic closeness makes for the greatest risk. Men make a big deal about the vital importance of the team, the platoon, etc. It is a way to counter our tendency to make war with whoever is nearby. It compensates if I can clearly remind myself that we are on the same side and so I should keep my sword in its scabbard.
The first murder we read about in the Bible is a brother killing a brother. Jealousy is the usual reason given, but I think it was shame. Cain could not tolerate his belief that Abel had shamed him, made him look bad. God apparently did not like the fruit that Cain brought for a sacrifice and let him know it and although god makes no mistakes, maybe he also told Cain in front of Abel. The last straw? The book doesn’t say, but I think it could have been the only straw and it would have been enough. This story is not an accident. From as far back as we go, the threat is there. Read East of Eden for the modern look at this dark side of manhood.
So I meet my new friend, we share a table, we get through the initial blows of hellos and no one is dead yet. We find a common ground in the words, the writing. Maybe I find the courage someday to tell him about the harder parts of my personality or the struggles I have with impending fatherhood, or the fight Rose and I had, or my fear of the past…and the future. For now, I am, in a deep and archetypal way, thankful that we remained civil in spite of our genetic and cultural heritage. Maybe too, I am proud of myself (and him, although he needs none of my pride) for reaching across the usual silence we men maintain in each other’s presence, holding out our hands, and saying, ”Hello.”