I’ll be honest, a lot of times, it feels like the press is against us as men. Everything about men sucks and everything that might possibly lead to more men is awful. That’s how it feels.
So imagine my surprise when this particular article showed up in my Facebook feed yesterday. It’s all about how boys should be permitted to play with weapons like sticks and swords and stuff.
Here’s one of the best parts of the whole thing:
Boys playing with sticks is not a meaningless game. It’s something that little boys absolutely must be allowed to do, if that’s how they want to play. A boy who wants to pick up a stick needs to know that he can, and he may, and that his affinity for sticks is not a bad thing. He needs to know that a stick is a powerful thing, and that the world needs men who know how to use their sticks.
Boys who are never allowed to be wild are boys who never learn how to control that wildness. Boys who are not allowed to whack and be whacked with sticks never learn what fighting is like. What’s so bad about that? Well, they may end up hitting someone weak, with no idea how much it hurts to be hit. Or they may end up standing by while the strong go after the weak – and have no idea that it’s their job to put a stop to it.
Either way, the weak suffer. The whole world suffers.
You have no idea how refreshing it is to see someone else say just that. Of course boys should be allowed to play with weapons. They should be allowed to get into fights. They should allow “boys to be boys”.
Somewhere along the way, people forgot that fighting doesn’t mean senseless violence against the weak. It also means defending the weak and helpless. It means protecting the downtrodden.
It wasn’t politicians or activists that ran the Nazis away from their death camps, it was allied soldiers. Warriors. Men who, as boys, played with sticks and fought one another in what were ultimately harmless fights.
Violence, in and of itself, is simply a tool. It’s a terrible and dangerous tool, but still just a tool.
What matters is the purpose such a tool is put to.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait, that was not a noble purpose by any stretch of the imagination. When the allies invaded Normandy, however, it was.
See the difference?
In the above-linked article, there was an interesting quote from another post.
I have heard many open-minded parents declare: “If my son wants to play with dolls or dress up in girls’ clothes, I’m totally fine with that.” But what if your son wants to play with sticks and do battle? Are we so afraid of the power of violence to overtake us that we are uncomfortable with its harmless expression in children’s play?
The idea that playing with toys and engaging activities traditionally associated with girls is acceptable is one thing, but these same parents really do often refuse to let their sons engage in the most traditional of adolescent male pastimes–engaging in mock warfare.
These parents believe that they’ll curb violent tendencies in children and turn them into sweet, docile creatures more akin to women than men as they mature.
The problem isn’t violence, however. Violence is neither good nor bad on its own. It’s as neutral as anything can be.
What matters is the goal to which violence is applied.
A criminal organization maintaining control of a community through threats and violence is an evil we should all be able to agree on. However, the police who respond to that with violence of their own aren’t, right?
A foreign nation that invades their neighbor, slaughtering innocents is evil. The allied nation that response to the call for help and does righteous battle with the aggressor is still using violence, but towards a noble intent.
Violence is never going away. It will always be with us, and it will always be neutral. It will simply be used by those willing to use it.
In boys, that violence is experimented with in a somewhat controlled manner. They don’t seek permanent ends to their opponents, and in the case of pure play don’t seek to end anything.
The reality is that violence isn’t the problem in the first place. The problem is cruelty.
Cruel people are the issue, not those prepared to do violence. Cruel people walk into bars and hold up the place. Cruel people order invasions of other country and tell their troops to slaughter the innocent. Cruel people follow those orders, even. Cruel people round up people who have done nothing wrong and herd them into camps for the express purpose of murdering them.
The truth is, cruel people are evil. Violent people, who use violence toward a noble cause, aren’t.
Yet those violent people with good hearts usually got started by playing with sticks, playing with toy swords, and playing with toy guns.
No society can survive for long without a steady stream of warriors prepared to die for that society. They need a warrior elite to stand between that culture and the barbarians at the gates.
However, that warrior elite will invariably be men. Not males, but men. Frankly, that’s what really scares some people.
Remember that men–and the warrior elite they’re often part of–generally don’t share the same values as those who seek to undermine masculinity. Those same forces that will find a company with no interest in changing what anyone else is doing, yet still pen an article attacking their masculine corporate identity because it is masculine.
What these forces think, however, is that if you prevent boys from experimenting with warrior culture early in life, they may not find the have a taste for it and follow it later.
Unfortunately, they may be right, which is why they need to be opposed. So, give your boy a stick. Give him a toy gun, if you can find one for sale. Find anything you possibly can to let him experiment with violence so that he’ll know it later.
Additionally, give him the moral guidance so he knows when it’s right to use violence and when it isn’t. That’s what separates the cruel from the righteous.