The founders of these huge companies each had an aggressive moral compass, in the sense that they saw the world needed their idea, and they were willing to risk everything to see that idea to fruition. They walk on the moon, even though it looks pretty damned impossible to everyone but them at the outset. They are “macho” in the sense I am talking about, for sure. But what if we broaden that out to men outside the rarified air of the ass-kickers of the technology revolution?
I have always loved Stephen King, not so much for his writing—like the rest of the world—but for his backstory. He grew up in rural Maine with his mom, who made a living cleaning a home for the mentally ill. He graduated from the University of Maine at Orono and married his classmate Tabitha Spruce. They lived on his earnings as a laborer at an industrial laundry, with her student loan and savings and his occasional short story providing some extra cash. But they literally lived in a trailer and didn’t have the money for the “pink medicine” when their kids got sick. King ultimately sold Carrie, his first novel, for hardcover publication for $2,500. Then on Mother’s Day, he learned that the paperback rights to the book had been sold and his portion would be $200,000. King went to the local drug store and bought his wife Tabitha a hair dryer. That is macho.
Father John Unni is the Pastor of St. Cecelia’s Catholic in Boston. He’s highly aware of both the church’s potential to heal and the recent history of suffering as a result of the pedophilia scandal. His parish has grown and thrives, including many from the gay and lesbian community. As a result, he scheduled a special mass during gay pride month. He received death threats. The Archdiocese cancelled that mass and gave him an explanation to read to his congregation. With the bishop sitting on the altar, Father John held the prepared text but refused to read it. Instead, he showed an aggressive moral compass, risking his job and his entire career as a priest. “My only agenda is Christ’s agenda,” he said. “And Christ loves us just the way we are—black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight.” He received a 10-minute standing ovation that included the most conservative, old-school Irish Catholic parishioners.
Julio Medina was the leader of the biggest drug gang in the South Bronx. He was sentenced to life in prison. After five years in Sing Sing, Julio decided to try to walk on his own moon, no matter how long the odds. There were frequent stabbings inside. As an inmate, you never want to get blood on your uniform because you will either refuse to talk and get sent to solitary, or talk and get stabbed yourself. So a man falls and inmates scatter. Finally, a friend was stabbed in front of Julio. Men jumped over him and ran. Something clicked. Julio bent down and picked up his friend, getting blood splattered all over his uniform. In that one act, he changed his life. He worked to calm violence inside, eventually received parole, and established an organization, Exodus, which has helped over 10,000 newly-released, high-security prisoners beat the odds and stay out for good.
Joao Silva by Michael Kamber
“Sometimes we fail our own moral compass, our own emotional compass,” says Greg Marinovich, a former combat photo-journalist, talking about his colleague Kevin Carter who won the Pulitzer Prize for a picture of an emaciated Sudanese toddler, doubled over, as a vulture lurked behind her. But Carter was never able to recall what happened to the child and within three months had committed suicide. That quote comes from a discussion at the Walter Reed bedside of Joao Silva, another photojournalist who had both legs blown off by a land mine in Afghanistan. Later, Joao is testing out his new robotic legs, hoping to go back to shooting the truth of combat, when fellow photojournalist Michael Kamber visits. Kamber gets the call, at Joao’s bedside, that their peer, Tim Hetherington, has perished in Libya. Joao, with no legs but a big heart, holds the weeping Kamber (See Kamber’s tribute to Hetherington here). Which of these guys is most macho and for what? It’s hard to know where to start and finish that discussion, other than to say they all are willing to take enormous risks because they simply think it’s the right thing to do.
It’s not that women can’t do any of these things—but for right now, they don’t tend to do them in the way men do.
The aggressive moral compass of guy land cuts both ways. Collectively, we are much more willing to ascribe evil intent to men who behave badly. When a woman kills her child, we all get upset, but we don’t say she’s bad or evil. We look for reasons she might have gone off the deep end. When a guy cheats on his wife, we say he deserved a golf club to the head and find discussion of his mental illness as a weak excuse.
Perhaps, the context of man-hating is what drives men to the extreme risk-taking and a worldview built around having something to prove. The new macho is a vanguard of men who don’t accept the Charlie Sheen characterization of all mankind. They prove that we can be manly men and be good, all the way to the core.
So if Webster’s definition of macho is an “assertively, self-consciously male,” I would translate that in today’s world to mean a man who is willing to figure out what is good—and then go off and do the impossible. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Like Steve Jobs, or Julio Medina, or Father John. That’s the new macho.
If women want to be macho too, I have no problem with that. The new macho is a big tent with plenty of room for those with an aggressive moral compass, ready and willing to take a stand.
But, how about a break from all this talk about the lack of good men? There are macho men everywhere. We just seem incapable of seeing them. Or we just have, until now, forgotten to look.
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Also: “Macho Women” by Tom Matlack
—Photo Bruce Berrien/Flickr