I was raised to talk first, think second. I was raised to speak from a place of authority, whether or not I know what I’m talking about.
My father was a minister. He was the voice of his community, a booming presence, a font of knowledge. He was my primary model for manhood, and he stood before his congregation and made sweeping pronouncements. This carried over into our household: He claimed expertise on a variety of subjects. My natural intelligence threatened him. More than once, he encouraged me to stay silent so that he could claim the higher ground.
When I was in high school, my teachers suggested I join the debate team. This was the ultimate grooming for the know-it-all. In debate club, the entire point is the strength of the argument; you don’t need to believe what you’re saying. You might even have to defend the exact opposite of what you believe.
I didn’t join the debate club. Part of it was my introversion and fear of public speaking, but part of it was my refusal to yield from my steadfast realities. I knew what I knew, I believed what I believed, and I would not compromise that for the sake of argument.
As a high school senior, I took a college-level English class. The first major assignment the class had was to write timed argumentative essays. I excelled at that. I was the first one in the class to be finished with the assignment. I had learned the art and the science of writing quickly, eloquently, and with authority. My words dripped truthiness because I held the conviction of my thoughts, even if I had no idea what I was talking about.
I had learned the art of nonsense. And by “nonsense,” I mean another word that I’m not using because I’m trying not to cuss. I’m trying to be a role model. My students might read this.
I’m good at pontificating. My Good Men Project articles contain plenty of examples of my truthiness-filled spiels. These are a continuation of years of social media posts, blog entries, and unpublished essays. I can build objective reality like a champ.
I came to see this as what men do. A few months ago, I would have said that this is what men are taught to do as a culture, but I don’t know what other men are taught. It seems to be a common stance among men. In my experience. Which is all I can really speak from.
A few months ago, indeed, my entry for The Good Men Project was a commentary about racism and the movie “Bird Box.” I admitted from the outset that I had neither seen the movie nor read the book (I’ve since done both), and made a winky meta-reference to how that made me perfect for the task.
Then I took a planned break. I wanted to reassess where I was going with my writing. I felt like my articles were strong and consistent, but that most of them were written from the emotional distance of the know-it-all that I had honed over my lifetime.
The essays I enjoyed myself the most, meanwhile, were about me. They were personal, revealing my vulnerabilities. I wasn’t speaking for all men, I wasn’t handing knowledge down from on high. I was speaking for myself.
Even so, I felt, I feel, like each time I was ready to really pull myself apart and completely bear my soul, I would retreat. It became a regular enough pattern that I was ready to acknowledge it.
I have long struggled with seeing myself as a normal man. I have been raised to believe there was a way that men should be, and that I wasn’t being that way. I came to believe that, if I spoke about this publicly, I would be cast out of some sort of Men’s Club that I was already on the edge of.
I don’t know if any of that is true. If I weren’t right now actively fighting the urge to do it, I’d insist that this struggle is at the heart of the anguish of the American man. But I really don’t know.
What I do know is that there seem to be enough male voices talking in broad-sweeping cultural tones, and too few men speaking for themselves, and only for themselves.
I’m not going to abandon my pontification entirely. I’m working to make it clearer when it’s something that’s just a personal opinion, and when it’s something I do truly know more about. And I don’t want to let my Imposter Syndrome drown out my own voice. There really are some things I know a lot about.
At the same time, I want to express more introspection. If my personal reflections on how I was raised to hold the world at an emotional distance can help others, that’s more meaningful to me than a hundred pontifications.
Ultimately, there is safety in the objectivity: If I am merely the product of the same toxic masculine programming as every other man of my generation, I don’t need to expose anything of myself.