Saturday, June 18, 2022

The Real Warriors

Like most boys of my generation— and perhaps any generation— I was fascinated with guns and bombs, got little thrills from the explosions in the war movies and felt something stir in my spirit when the bad guys were killed and the good guys like John Wayne emerged as the brave heroes. I remember after one such war movie riding my bike around the block several times singing The Marines Hymn at the top of my lungs. A bit older, I decided I would enroll in West Point after reading a book about it and began a routine of early rising, push-ups and other attempts at rigorous soldier-like discipline. 


I think that lasted for two days. Later, as a teenager, I began reading the poetry of Whitman and the prose of Thoreau, grew my hair long and listened to the gentle music of The Incredible String Band. By the time I was draftable for Vietnam, war and warriors had long lost their luster. Books like Catch 22 and All Quiet on the Western Front fed my intuition that war was both absurd and horrific and I wanted no part of it. The good timing of the end of the draft spared me both Vietnam and two years of service being barked at by dubious commanders. I went on to work at a school with mostly women teachers and we all agreed that weapons were not allowed as part of Halloween costumes. We all wanted desperately to believe that the differences between boys and girls were wholly socialized and we simply needed to change the socialization process to weed out those nasty aggressive tendencies of boys and make all girls math experts.


I had two daughters, but all my friends who had sons shook their heads with astonishment that it wasn’t that simple, that these differences in bodies translated into differences in spirit and that certain things are hardwired into our systems and not changeable. No matter that men didn’t have to hunt to bring food to the table and women could go into the competitive workplace— we were still at the mercy of those ancient divisions of labor that required a certain level of aggression in men to ensure success in the hunt and a certain level of nurturing and homemaking in the women that got the meal on the table and raised the children.


When the dust settled, a few insights that leaned towards truths eventually became clear.


1) That there is a spectrum both along masculine/feminine spirit and bodies and that sensitive men and aggressive women equally deserve opportunities and admiration in the range of available qualities. Including acknowledgement of binary and transgender identities.


2) That the feminine spirit, while to be celebrated in the context of millennia of patriarchal oppression, is not by definition superior. Think of “mean girls” and Marjorie Taylor Greene.


3) That masculinity need not be toxic by definition and that men could turn their energies towards defending, sustaining and nurturing life. 


After the Golden State Warriors thrilling victory in the NBA championships, I started thinking both about their name and their admirable qualities, individually and as a team. It sent me to my bookshelves and I pulled out a book titled King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. It was published in 1990, the year I joined the Men’s Group I’m still in, a time when men were struggling to support the feminist movement without having to deny some essential qualities of themselves. The book suggested that these four archetypal qualities have a destructive shadow side when not consciously developed or considered, but also can be a healing tonic in their mature, conscious and developed form. 


And so Warrior. Some descriptions from the above book:


•  The characteristics of the Warrior in his fullness amount to a total way of life, what the samurai called a “do.” The Warrior’s aggressiveness is a stance toward life that rouses, energizes and motivates. It pushes us to take the offensive and to move out of a defensive or ‘holding’ position about life’s tasks and problems.


• The Warrior is always alert. He is always awake, never sleeping through life. He knows how to focus his mind and his body, knows what he wants and know how to get it. He is a strategist and a tactician, can evaluate the circumstances accurately and adapt himself to the ‘situation on the ground.’


• The Warrior energy is concerned with skill, power and accuracy and with control, both inner and outer, psychological and physical, with absolute mastery over the technology of his trade. 

He has an unconquerable spirit, great courage, is fearless and takes responsibility for his actions. He has self-discipline, the rigor to develop control over and his mind and body and capacity to withstand pain, both psychological and physical. 


• The Warrior has a transpersonal commitment, a loyalty to something larger than his individual self, an ability to work with and for a team towards a common goal.


• The Warrior is often a destroyer. But the positive Warrior energy destroys only what needs to be destroyed in order for something new and fresh, more alive and virtuous to appear. Many things in our world need destroying—corruption, tyranny, oppression, injustice, obsolete and despotic systems of government, unfulfilling life-styles and job situations, bad marriages. In the very act of destroying, often the Warrior energy is building new civilizations, new commercial, artistic, and spiritual ventures for humankind. 


Read these again and think about the Golden State Warriors. The way they “adapt themselves to the situation on the ground,” take the offensive, equally defend territory with ferocity, their extraordinary individual talents cultivated to a full-blown mastery by relentless discipline working with the “technology of their trade.” (In the old days of warfare, skill in swordplay, archery, hand-to-hand combat was a necessity and in disciplines like the samurai tradition, jousting, fencing, taekwondo, capoeira and such, there is a long training to cultivate both body and mind. Fingers pulling triggers and bombers pushing buttons changed all that and ramped up the shadow destructive sides of the warrior energy.) Note how an incredible athlete like Steph Curry is not only a high scorer, but alert to the open man and equally adept in his assists. When he does score, he often points upward indicating help from a higher power beyond himself and sometimes beats his chest in affirmation of how hard he had to —and has to— work to make that three-pointer. 


Might I add that real Warriors are willing to cry? As Steph Curry did at the end of the championship game. Publicly. Millions watching. No apologies. And also the way they all hugged the Celtics to appreciate their fine work as well. 


And finally that sense of turning that energy towards building something new. Amongst so much I appreciate about this team— their talent, their teamwork, their refusal to go to the White House when Trump invited them— there is the integrity and courage of their coach Steve Kerr, a man who publicly stated that though he lived much of his life amongst black people, he still has much to learn about their experience. And even more inspiring was his recent post-game interview close to the time of the Texas shooting. Please watch this if you haven’t and watch it again if you have.


I stand by my own personal change from glorifying war as a kid to abhorring it as an adult. But here I want to celebrate the developed Warrior energy that we can all use more of. Men and women. My daughter Talia was a warrior on the basketball court and on the soccer field in her high school years and I cheered her on for every minute of it. She’s taken that energy onward to be a loving teacher willing to take on hard subjects with her kids. My daughter Kerala is showing a similar warrior spirit writing pieces for that tackle hard issues of parenting, child-raising, black-white relationships, the patriarchy and beyond. 

We all could use more Warrior energy as the cowards kill innocent children, our elected cowards don’t do anything about it, the Jan. 6th committee finally shines the light on the cowardice of the insurrectionists and their enablers, but still is not clear on whether we’ll hold them all accountable. Especially the Chief Insurrectionist who promised those he duped that he would walk with them and then hid inside his office. A real Warrior is brave enough to defend home and hearth, use their energy and aggression to keep the invaders from over-running the territory. Yet here we are still excusing the shadow King (more on this tomorrow) from his atrocities. Might we keep the ball of Democracy heading downcourt to score the needed baskets?


Clearly too much to think about here, but one more point. When we take the energy of the Warrior into the realms where no one gets hurt or killed— like sports or music or child-raising, good things can flower. We take the self-discipline, the determination, the courage, the teamwork, the ability to act, the ability to respond, the energy needed to move forward, the energy needed to defend ourselves from the slings, barbs and arrows of jealous co-workers, mean bosses or sometimes, just “outrageous fortune” and transpose it all in service of life. The musician improvising through chord changes like Steph dribbling through the defense and scoring the three-pointer (listen to Wynton Marsalis’ recording of Cherokee!), the politician taking a courageous stand having done the required research and thinking, the teacher at the staff meeting standing up and questioning the next curiosity-killing tests shoved down the children’s throats— warriors all. Gandhi. Mother Theresa. Martin Luther King. Nelson Mandela. Rigoberta Menchú. Warriors.


When I joined the throngs at the bar roaring with each Warrior’s point scored, I thought I just wanted to be associated with my city’s championship team. Now I realize I was celebrating something far greater.


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