For over 130 Sundays in a row, I’ve been discussing topics of manliness with the fellow members of the Next Gent men’s hiking group. From sex to depression and money to motivation, we’ve covered it.
The hike always starts with a buzz of energy as we decide the topic of the next 3 hours of conversation, activity, and (hopefully) wisdom. We tell stories from the week ranging from rousing rookie mistakes to wise revelations until something clicks with everyone. “Yeah! Let’s deal with that!” Then things get real.
This week, sparked by an off-hand comment about theoretically wishing someone were dead, we began diving into what it actually means to wish death upon someone. What degree of terrible does the person have to be in order to merit a death wish? Is Rush Limbaugh terrible enough to for people to wish upon him murder? And would that even solve the problems those people want solved?
This is where the obvious question came up: If you could go back to 1938 and kill Hitler, would you do it?
Easy, right? Yes. Save the world from global war, genocide, and maybe postpone nuclear weapons? Any good man would go for it. No hesitation. We all agreed. That was easy. Then…something happened. We started actually thinking about it. It turned out, for many of us, it isn’t actually that easy a decision.
For me, well, first, I’d have to pull the trigger. Then I’d have to consider what we know now, in that Hitler’s been dead for nearly 70 years and we still have consistent war, genocide, anti-semitism, and global nuclear crises.
In fact, in order for this to definitely work out for humanity, I’d end up running all over the next several decades constantly assassinating people like Stalin, and Mao, and Pol Pot… and maybe I’d feel good about it if I started to wear tights and a cape and got a great sidekick. Wait, we’ve seen enough sequels of this story to know it’s a never-ending escalation that’s sure to end in ashes.
In truth, I don’t know for sure how things would play out. And if anything life has shown us time and time again that the world will always include a balance of “good” and “bad.” So then the question becomes more personal. If I can’t be sure of the effects, the only thing to consider is the action itself.
I asked myself if I could actually kill someone—not in self-defense—but as an act of assassination (which is really just murdering someone important). I imagine myself standing in a bunker with a badass pistol, facing a mustachioed man tied to a lamp lit chair, and deciding whether or not to extinguish his life. What would it feel like to pull the trigger? Does this ultimately fit who I want to be?
It hits me (sorry to mislead you with that boom…no shots fired, nothing to see here). If I can’t be sure of the effects, and I suspect this is not a lasting solution to the problems at hand, then this decision is really about what kind of man I want to be.
I remembered that there are stages to self-awareness in manhood. The self-centered man seeks to live his life to make himself fulfilled, the other-centered man seeks to live his life to make the world around him fulfilled, and the wise man—who knows the world is finite and that his life is insignificant—lives his life to give his greatest gift for the sake of giving it and without needing to be received.
In other words, in that hypothetical bunker, the wise man asks himself if pulling the trigger is aligned with who he is.
Am I a killer?
I know for certain I’d give my life if I could be sure to save millions of people from genocide and war. But dying for something and killing for something are different. If the outcome isn’t foreseeable, I feel torn about killing. I want to be a man who exemplifies the deepest stuff of compassion, of creativity and of integrity. The nature of compassion is to forgive and love every life (even our “enemies”). The nature of creativity is to create, not to destroy. The nature of integrity is the high road. I think I finally understand Batman.
At my best, I guess I’m not the guy who pulls the trigger. At the same time I realize that many men will line up to pull the trigger; and I actually think that’s cool too.
Because who am I to say what’s best for anyone else’s integrity and masculinity?
Now if I could go back in time and bring Hitler into a good men’s group to ask himself this same question… I’d do that in a heartbeat.
“If you surround yourself with the good and righteous, they can only raise you up. If you surround yourself with the others, they will drag you down into the doldrums of mediocrity, and they will keep you there, but only as long as you permit it.” — Mark Glamack
Images: Hitler, wikipedia public domain, Target Grunge Symbol, Nicolas Raymond / flickr