“Life is pain, anyone who says differently is selling something.”
– William Goldman, The Princess Bride
Over the past several weeks we’ve been elaborating on the emotional and psychological needs articulated by Robert Ardrey in his book The Territorial Imperative. Those needs are Identity, Stimulation, and Security. In the various posts on these subjects we’ve done a lot of thinking about Identity and its counterfeits, as well as about stimulation and worthless distractions. In this post, I want to explore the topic of Security, and its legitimate role in a man’s life.
For purposes of our discussion, let’s define security as a condition and a sense of well-being, of being protected from danger or harm, and of resiliency. If one is secure, he has confidence that he has what it takes to meet the circumstances of his life, and to recover from unfavorable circumstances. Security derives from a healthy sense of identity and gets stronger as a result of wholesome stimulation. That is, Security is both something you can receive as well as something you can cultivate.
Why Security matters
Consider: the insecure man will venture nothing and accomplish less. Knowing yourself, your mission, and your resources can help you maintain a foundation of security that you can reinforce through achievement and experience. The late Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus fitness equipment, was fond of saying, “Success in life comes from good judgment. Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” To begin this process, a man must overcome inertia caused by fear.
The role of fear
I like to say that fear is like the check engine light on your car’s dashboard. Its purpose is to provide information. It comes on and may signify a real problem, but more often than not, you can clear it cheaply and easily and keep driving. In the larger picture, it’s one input and not necessarily the most important one. Context matters, and one has to go beyond the sensation of fear to understand whether or not the fear is significant enough to obey.
You might be afraid of being eaten by a bear, for example. You could choose never to go into the wild, or you could read up on bears and their habits and venture out taking reasonable steps to minimize the likelihood and potential risk of a bear encounter. If you did prepare yourself and happened to see a bear, you would probably feel some fear, but because you had taken the time to learn about bears, you’d be wise enough to make noise and to choose not to approach a she-bear or her cubs. In this case, fear didn’t prevent the adventure or paralyze the adventurer. If you needed to trek through deep woods, say, to get help for your loved ones, you’ll relegate that fear to an even lower status.
And the next time in bear country, you’d be more confident based on your experience.
Unfortunately, some men find themselves ruled by fear — and it comes to define them. I am not talking about anxiety disorder. I am talking about something more mundane. The fear of rejection, of failure, of pain. I submit to you that many of us let that check engine light cause us to give up driving altogether. This is giving too much authority to fear.
I have written before about my own battle to conquer the fear of failure. I procrastinated and created much more pressure on myself just to force myself to complete the work. I’m no longer ruled by that fear, but I do work better with a deadline, since it forces me to be decisive. And I no longer let success or failure inform my identity. I am who I am and I do what I do. I am not what I do, and what I do is not I. A poor outcome in whatever form it arrives is only a lesson — not an attack on my identity.
If you’re scared, stay home
While that sounds like a taunt, I simply mean that to make the most of your life, you’re going to have to venture into the world and face danger in several forms. If you learned to ride a bicycle or swim, you had to confront and overcome the respective fears of falling and drowning. If you’re reading this I’m confident you fell at least once, and you didn’t drown (though if you did, please leave a comment and tell us about it.) And my point is that you faced down the fear and likely do not have the slightest unease around bicycles or swimming pools.
When you were a child, perhaps you did these things because your mom or dad made you do it. Even so, you had to put in the effort to master the skill. Now it’s up to you to provide the motivation to begin and the perseverance to complete the task. Growth is painful. Change is painful. Just seek worthy objectives and accept the pain as part of the tuition.
It’s for you
Security delivers its benefits in many forms. Certainly excelling academically can create opportunities to get a better-paying job. But so can hard work. Talent can make a way for you. A career doing something you love can give you peace of mind as well as money in the bank to get through lean times. But understand that economic security is a by-product of the soul-level security that comes from having your Question answered. When you know that you are a man and that you can come through when it counts, when you know you are a beloved son of God because of the only-begotten Son of God, then jobs, money, houses, cars, and women — all of those external things — can’t touch your Security.
But it’s not just for you
I believe that when God gives a man a blessing, He does so for the good of those around him. Security, like masculine strength, is intended to bless others. Providing for your family’s material needs through your work is one example. But so is providing for their spiritual well-being by living your faith and setting a godly example. You can see how your own Security can add to that of your wife and your children and grandchildren. And as a bonus tip, let me tell you that your children’s sense of security derives from the knowledge that their parents love each other.
Active and Passive
As I bring this particular post in for a landing, I think I should reiterate that Security is something a man can receive — from his upbringing, but also from his Heavenly Father. This is the passive part of Security, since you’re simply accepting this gift. But you can cultivate habits and seek experiences and education that can increase Security in you and for those you love. Pain and fear will remain part of the human condition as long as this world endures, but neither gets the final say.
Oh, and by the way: fear isn’t the opposite of bravery. Some of the bravest men I’ve met were afraid, but stuck to their mission anyway.