Men were at the center of the events of 9/11. Two types of men.
Twenty-two years ago, almost three thousand people were killed by men bent on creating fear and fomenting war. From the planning stages to ruthless actions, these men only understood power over weakness, lies over truth, and a form of masculinity built on intimidation.
But there was another type of man at work on 9/11. These were the young men and fathers of the New York Fire Department who slapped on twenty-pound rubber coats, picked up that thirty-pound hose, carried an ax, and ran up forty flights of stairs to save lives. Peggy Noonan, wrote of these men in her tribute after 9/11, defined a masculine man not as “a big guy with muscles” but rather as “a guy who sees trouble and takes responsibility and saves people who are smaller and more frightened in the world.”
Two kinds of men. One using his masculine strength to take lives through fear. The other using his masculine strength to save lives through courage.
Good Men versus Real Men
Societies hold two competing scripts for what it means to be a man. Sociologist Michael Kimmel highlights the contrasts with an insightful experiment. Documented in her new book, The Toxic War on Masculinity, Nancy R. Pearcey writes, “He started by asking cadets at West Point what it means to be a good man. [and the response was] honor, duty, integrity, sacrifice, do the right thing, stand up for the little guy, be a provider, be a protector.” When asked where these men learned that the cadets answered, “It’s everywhere. It’s our culture…it’s the Judeo-Christian heritage. It’s the air we breathe.” Men seem to be innately aware that God has coded the software of being a man with such good traits.
Kimmel then asked the same cadets “What does it mean to be a real man?” The cadets answered with “tough, strong, never show weakness, win at all costs, suck it up, play through pain, be competitive, get rich, get laid.” Kimmel has asked these two questions to boys and young men all over the globe and received virtually the same answer.
It’s not that the real man description is all bad. Some of those traits are necessary and are God-given. Those men who ran into the flames of the World Trade Center were tough and strong. In a crisis we need men that exhibit these traits.
But what we need more of today, modelled so beautifully and tragically on 9/11, is the biblical moral vision of the good man. For the good man to flourish in our society, we must esteem, empower, and encourage our boys and young men to do what is innately in their hearts, planted there by God, to become men of sacrifice, integrity, and duty. As fathers, mothers, and leaders, it is our responsibility to facilitate our boys and young men to follow their God imaged masculine heart, to be uncompromising in doing what they instinctively know is right, to be courageous in defending the weak, and to defend the powerless.
In The War Against Boys, feminist philosopher, Christian Hoff Sommers writes, “History teaches us that masculinity without morality is lethal. But masculinity constrained by morality is powerful and constructive and a gift to women.”
On 9/11 we saw two kinds of men emerge. One toxic, the other tonic. One abusive, the other benevolent. One full of fear, the other full of courage. May the good man, created in the image of God, prevail.