So, I don’t know who initially wrote this posting, but I’d like to thank them. This is a great contrast in culture, a good read, and the sort of sentiment I feel every day. Friends are people you stand up for, not people to be used for your gain.
Through being cool
Date: 2007-07-06, 9:16AM
I grew up in Australia. Australian men generally accept masculinity far better than American men, and I understand why this is. In every country on earth where boys play, there is a ritual of selecting members of each team, whether the game is soccer, cricket, football, baseball, kickball, mammoth-hunting, what have you. Most boys, at some time, have experienced the humiliation of being picked last, and it hurts. Even being picked second-last is much more tolerable than being picked last. It hurts— what is important, and culturally distinct, is how the boy deals with that pain and humiliation, when he’s the one picked last.
In Australia, boys strive to be an asset to the team that picks them. They actually care more about how their team does than how they feel. This isn’t ego annihilation, and it’s not fascism. While playing the game, the game is what’s important, not one’s own petty issues. If a boy can table his own issues sufficiently to make a good catch, or kick a goal, he’ll get picked sooner next time. He knows this. It’s a question of priorities: the team wants to win, and they will pick those kids who will make it more likely that their team will win. How each individual feels during this process is irrelevant to the overall goal. Be dependable, be an asset to the team, and the rest of the team will take care of you.
In Australia, there is the concept of mates. The word loosely translates as “friend”, but the truth is that Americans lack the concept completely. Your mate has your back, and you have his. Your mates help define you, and accept you unconditionally. Once you’re in, you’re in for life. It’s not easy to get in. When I was nine, I had a kid who used to annoy me mercilessly on the playground. One day, I had had enough of his picking on me, and I knocked him over with a punch. He got up, shook himself off, and shook my hand. “We’re having a party this weekend. Here’s where it is.”
I was still really angry, and I didn’t immediately understand what he was doing. He wanted to know that I would stick up for myself when provoked. He needed to know if, after he was my mate, I’d stand up for him. Once he found out that I’d stand up for myself, I was in. At that party, everyone there treated me like a mate, and I felt more included than I ever did before, and I never got selected last for any game again at that school.
American boys don’t have this. The best have a much weaker version of this, but the commitment is conditional and halting, the bonds constantly tested by vicious games of conformity and obedience. Maybe men at war have the real thing, but I have no experience of this. Coming back to the USA, I had to teach my male friends to be mates, and it never came naturally to any of my new friends. I have American mates now, some of whom I’ve been friends with for twenty years, but it took an enormous amount of work, and included really rocky periods, and a lot of struggle. New people I meet, especially younger people, have no understanding of what it means to be a mate. Friendships, especially among young people, are temporary, fleeting, strategic. They exist in order to jockey for social position. American men seem treacherous, insecure, and ungrounded in comparison to Aussie men. It’s killing us as a society. It’s one of the great tragedies of our time.
When an American boy gets picked last at a game on the playground, he gives up on ever being selected by the other boys, except last. He retreats into self-pity and misanthropy. This is encouraged by the adults, especially his parents, doubly especially when his dad made the same choices about being picked last himself. This boy tries to create a new playing field where he is the top of the selection. Because he knows he cannot compete on the playing field, he tries to compete in intellectual pursuits, or in a fantasy world, or in fandom. He collects comic books, or plays Dungeons & Dragons, or plays video games. Maybe he learns science, or literature, or art, or music. It never occurs to him to strive to improve himself, to make himself an asset to the team that might choose him. It never occurs to him that a drama is unfolding on a level bigger than that of his individual ego. (more…)