The citation for heroism for Major Bruce Crandall’s Medal of Honor (see a couple of blogs ago) highlights a peculiarl dynamic that works within a man’s soul, both in crisis charged moments and also over long periods of a man’s life as well. Consider the following words from Major Crandall’s citation:
While medical evacuation was not his mission, [Major Crandall] immediately sought volunteers and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, led the two aircraft to Landing Zone X-Ray. Despite the fact that the landing zone was still under relentless enemy fire, Major Crandall landed and proceeded to supervise the loading of seriously wounded soldiers aboard his aircraft. Major Crandall’s voluntary decision to land under the most extreme fire instilled in the other pilots the will and spirit to continue to land their own aircraft, and in the ground forces the realization that they would be resupplied and that friendly wounded would be promptly evacuated. This greatly enhanced morale and the will to fight at a critical time.
What’s going on here is something I call “masculine resonance.” I liken it to a powerfully sounding tuning fork brought near to other tuning forks. The sonic power of the one tuning fork generates harmonic vibrations in the previously silent tuning forks. In the case of Major Crandall’s Medal of Honor citation, quoted above, Crandall’s heroism “instilled in the other pilots the will and spirit” to do as he was doing. Moreover, within the soldiers on the ground, Crandall’s efforts “greatly enhanced morale and the will to fight at a critical time.”
Such resonance among men is not a purely passive thing, as if one brave man automatically creates bravery in a bystander. That’s why tuning forks have limited ability to illustrate the resonance I’m talking about. Resonating tuning forks are, in fact, passive. But, masculine souls, resonating with the power of other masculine souls, are not. There is much to masculine resonance which comes from deliberate choice.
You can see this easily when you watch how very young boys relate to older, more overtly masculine males. Young boys will unabashedly mimic masculine characteristics in other males when they admire or otherwise esteem them. Their esteem gets expressed in two ways — by overt exclamations of praise (e.g. “Wowee! Look at that! Isn’t he the coolest?!”) and by attempts to mimic the male who is admired. So, the young boy seeks to dress like, act like, speak like the iconic male he admires. Entire segments of the toys-for-boys industry capitalize on this dynamic.
In boys, the “effect” runs in one direction only: from the iconic male to the boy, who endeavors to incorporate the masculine identity of the iconic male into his own masculinity via mimicry. The same is necessarily true when the iconic male is a figure from history, or a fictional character (e.g. Daniel Boone, Davie Crockett, Superman). The boy’s mimicry focuses on things easily reproduced (dress, habits of speech or behavior).
But, this mimicry also works in adult men, from silly costuming by young adult males at a sporting event, to the more sober and serious attachments men make with other men in their professions, avocations, and spiritual loyalties. The dynamic itself is completely natural. The mentor-disciple relationship is fundamental for men to grow into masculine maturity, and the most elementary way this relationship works is via mimicry, as the disciple endeavors to appropriate the mentor’s skills, insights, habits of life, and wisdom.
Proverbs 27:17 is often cited as yet another metaphor for the way men affect one another. Unfortunately, its point is often missed for the simple reason that few people today ever sharpen iron. But, the wise man of Solomon’s day knew – as we all know – that one never sharpens iron with another piece of iron. Instead, we apply something harder than iron to the iron blade we wish to sharpen. We sharpen iron with flint, or granite, or some other crystalline stone. When the stone and iron come into contact, the iron changes much while the stone changes little. This would be a fitting picture for the way a mentor “sharpens” his disciple.
When iron sharpens iron, both change. And, so, the picture presented in the proverb shows us how men in fellowship, men in sustained community, even men in conflict, change one another through the encounter. It may be for good, or for evil. Either way, men bonded with one another create corporate bodies of amazing power.
There are several directions one might explore from these observations, but I’ll mention only two here, and only in brief.
First, masculine maturity arises from a man’s interactions with other men, especially other men who are more mature than he is. Women cannot shepherd the boy across the threshold of manhood. Only men make other men. Only men can mature, develop, perfect, and hone other men. And this is true for adult men as much as for boys.
A man never loses his need for close, engaged, resonant relationships with other men. The “rugged individualist” notion of manhood we inherit from the last century is a myth that distorts, blunts, and diminishes a man’s manhood.
Second, a man seeking maturity does well to seek out his mentors, to present himself to those whose manner of life and wisdom he aspires to acquire. He also seeks out the company of other men and chooses well the masculine company he keeps, avoiding those who will misshape him, seeking those whose virtues he’d wish to rub off on himself, cultivating relationships with men whose character support, strengthen, and protect his own character.
The most effective way that men may advance in authentic masculine maturity is through worship of God the Father through His Son, the God-man Jesus Christ, and this worship will shape men most effectively when done in the company of other men. Our churches today never offer this to the men in their midst, which is probably a leading reason men are as scarce in the churches as they are.