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  • J Putnam

Measure and Be Measured

(This is an essay that will be included in my upcoming book.)


The realm of self-improvement gurus has expanded vastly in just the last two years. Scores of people flocking to become better versions of themselves or finally assign some meaning to their lives have contributed to the majority of all book sales, and that includes those in the business genre. Self-proclaimed stoics and modern-day philosophers are churning out page after page teaching people how to think and feel like winners. How to take ownership of their lives by learning how to artfully not give a fuck while being a boss.


These books have such great appeal to so many people that even as I sit here writing this, I wonder why I didn’t just jump on that bandwagon. It would certainly be more lucrative. But the reason these kinds of books are so popular is that we live in an age of dopamine-driven instant gratification. The melodic chime of likes and shares from social media apps serve as technological zen singing bowls that take us away from the mundane droll of everyday life while the numbers on the screen act as a gauge to tell us how popular we are. We see the highlight reels of everyone else’s lives and get sucked into their world as a distraction from our own. The way of the empire is the way of the consumer, and like the fat guy at the all-you-can-eat buffet, we keep getting up for more because it all just looks so good.


It’s the same reason why people have so many self-help books on their shelves. The idea that inside them lies some secret to becoming a happier and more successful person is intoxicating. When we read them, we come across exceptionally well ghost-written lines that make us feel like we’re accomplishing something just sitting there. When we have finished with that one, we pick up another and another because it felt so good. We keep doing this because reading those honeyed words makes us feel good, and feeling good has become all that matters. We will engage in lengthy conversations with others who have read the same books for hours as we regurgitate the ideas and philosophies inside.


Yet, we are left feeling empty at the end of it and need something else to answer the question that we are avoiding asking. Who am I? The question of existentialism has existed since man first crawled out of the cave in search of others like himself. It wasn’t enough to just become upright; the man needed roots and identity. He needed a context in which he could define himself. The tribe is that context. Those self-help books and gurus all say the same thing. That we should only measure ourselves against ourselves, that comparing ourselves to others will only serve to leave us feeling inadequate. That’s all part of the modern agenda pushed by women and failed men. Those who have it in their best interest that the upright man never becomes more of what he is or what he is meant to be.


It’s in their best interest because if strong masculine men were to become more of themselves, they would pose a threat to the soft and pliable people of the empire. Men who don’t want anything to do with becoming strong and self-reliant won't rock the boat. They won’t one day decide that the world isn’t what they want it to be and go about trying to change it. They won’t buck the system of rules and laws and accepted social norms and tell the impotent rulers, make me. They will be happy to go along with the flow, which makes things better for everyone. Everyone except the man who only wishes to exercise the power that he was born with and put it to use, that is.


A man who never uses his power is like a muscle car that never sees the open highway but instead backs up and down the driveway before hiding itself back in the garage. What a damn shame. All that power and weight and steel resigned to a life of grocery store runs and trips around the block. How will anyone ever know just how well that car performs unless pitted against other cars on the open road? How can a man know where he stands unless he pits himself against other men?


A man wants to know who he is and what he is capable of, but each of those things means nothing unless he is measured against his peers. In a tribe of men, each individual is forced to face the truth about themselves and their abilities. As they work and live among other men who have their own strength and power, they can get an understanding of where they stand and can then plot their course of action on how to improve.


Competition between men is as old as the species itself. Even peers stack themselves against each other to see who is the strongest or fastest or who possesses the most outstanding mastery of skill. In combat sports, such a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, men who are friends and allies will lock themselves in battle with one another until someone submits or gets choked out. The intention isn’t to harm or injure the other but to test their strength and skill against another man. The purpose is to see where they stand among the tribe. The lone individualist who has no tribe can only speculate on his own abilities. He can only sit there on his couch watching other men fight or compete and fantasize about how he would have dominated in that fight because of some imagined level of competence.


To know himself, he must test himself, and to test himself; he must do so against other men. And unless he does this, he will never be able to answer the burning question that he so desperately needs answering. Who am I? Those failed men are those who were too afraid to ask that question because the answer would almost certainly be one that they found hard to digest. Too afraid to discover the truth, they abandon the search altogether and cast a reddened disapproving glance at any man that dares to possess the testicular fortitude to face himself.


It’s no secret that the truth will free a man from any illusions that he has about himself, but that truth can also act as an anchor tied around his neck. The truth has weight, and for many, that weight can be too great a burden to bear. The fear of being dragged down into the depths of self-doubt is one that every man has to be willing to face and overcome. For the upright man, it isn’t even a choice. He tasted the horizon and found that it was sweet. Anything and everything that lies in between him and his destiny is just one more foe to be conquered, one more step on the path.


He gives no regard to the crawling masses who are content only in surviving because he knows that he can have more, that he can take more. He and those he counts among his tribe have faced themselves and each other and the truth. These noble werewolves that carry the forest within them as they walk the streets of the steel and glass empire of the depraved seek something far greater than what just surviving can offer them.


They know what they are, and they do not turn from it but embrace it. The looks of disdain from the huddled masses that scurry around for scraps go unnoticed by their upward gaze. They have measured, and they have been measured by a tangible context in which they can define themselves, and for that, they know who they are.

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