Wednesday, August 14, 2013


All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts
-Shakespeare, As You Like It Act II, Scene VII

Authenticity, integrity, and honesty are all virtues, things which all people should strive for and exemplify in their lives for others to learn from and follow.  Especially parents need to live lives that are consistent with their confession or stated ideals, so that their children learn by example an important lesson of how one ought to live.
However, there is a part of life which is often ignored, overlooked, or even rejected in the name of "keeping it real" which is not hypocrisy or lying at all.  Each of us, at various times in our lives, must play parts, stepping into roles which may not be a natural part of us but that we must carry out.
For example, when you get a job, you must learn that role and play it out; becoming a waitress or clerk a a counter requires a certain set of behaviors, actions, and even costume which you do not ordinarily wear and act out in the rest of your life.  Being polite, upbeat, friendly, and courteous to all sorts of strangers while wearing an apron and working a machine to serve them is not ordinary behavior.  However, it is a role you play like an actor in a film which you step into for a time.
Most of life is filled with these roles.  We behave differently in different places with different people.  The person you are while at a club or on a date is different than the person you are while at home with your buddies.  The role you play at a wedding or funeral is different than the role you play at work or while visiting the grandparents.
Few think of it in these terms, but I've found it quite useful.  I dislike drawing attention to myself and very much dislike any sort of self-promotion.  The entire process makes me feel uncomfortable and even immoral, prideful.  Yet there are times when it is not just necessary, but proper.  To get through those times, I think of myself playing a part, a different character who is doing these things rather than myself.  This is a useful trick to get past stage fright and nervousness, incidentally; that's not me on the stage, it's a role I'm playing.
Having played Role Playing Games such as Dungeons and Dragons since 1979, I'm quite familiar and experienced at the process of stepping into a role completely different than myself.  Its something I've gotten used to being able to do, and it helps me through some tough spots, like parties or meeting new people.  I'm not playing someone totally different than me, just a more outgoing, conversational version.
These roles go beyond simply jobs and situations, however.  A mature human being has to play many roles through their lives to fit each situation and time they face.  Shakespeare's monologue quoted in part at the top touches on this quite well.  The character Jacques describes life in terms of several different parts we play, which some writer at Wikipedia sums up quite well:
  1. Infancy: In this stage he is a helpless baby and knows little.
  2. Childhood: It is in that stage of life that he begins to go to school. He is unwilling to leave the protected environment of his home as he is still not confident enough to exercise his own discretion.
  3. The lover: In this stage he is always remorseful due to some reason or other, especially the loss of love. He tries to express feelings through song or some other cultural activity.
  4. The soldier: It is in this age that he thinks less of himself and begins to think more of others. He is very easily aroused and is hot headed. He is always working towards making a reputation for himself and gaining recognition, however short-lived it may be, even at the cost of his own life.
  5. The justice: In this stage he has acquired wisdom through the many experiences he has had in life. He has reached a stage where he has gained prosperity and social status. He becomes very attentive of his looks and begins to enjoy the finer things of life.
  6. Old Age: He begins to lose his charm — both physical and mental. He begins to become the butt of others' jokes. He loses his firmness and assertiveness, and shrinks in stature and personality.
  7. Extreme old age: He loses his status and he becomes a non-entity. He becomes dependent on others.
As you go through life, you play different parts, whether deliberate or not.  As we mature, we go through different stages, playing different parts.  And while the description above is by a particularly morose person describing mostly the worst parts of life, it is generally accurate.
 The thing is, people try very hard these days to not play these parts.  They're so fixated on being "real" and not having anyone dictate any rules or behavior to them they reject any sort of roles imposed on them by life or society.
But I would argue that playing roles is not just a way to deal with life, but a critical tool of maturity that we all should and need to learn to do properly and in its place for a fuller life, better society, and greater stability for our families, neighbors, and friends.
He said, "You don't need no strength, you need to grow up son"
I said, "Growing up leads to growing old and then to dying
And dying to me don't sound like all that much fun"
-John Mellencamp, "Authority Song"
One major role rejected constantly in modern society is simply maturity.
When asked about whether wanting to be a writer when you grow up is crazy, author Niel Gaiman responded "yes, just be an author.  Growing up is crazy."  You can see and hear this constantly in our culture, telling you to never grow up.  As boomers age, they fight continually to avoid any appearance or limitations of age - so much so that advertisers and merchants are trying to adapt to this and hide aging while adjusting to it.
For decades now, advertisers have targeted not mature, wealthy consumers, but young, hip consumers especially in the 18-34 age group which has the least disposable wealth.   And while this targeting is of questionable economic wisdom, it works because the entire culture has become so youth-focused.  Yes, technically that ad is targeted at 22 -year-olds, but everyone wants to think they are still deep down 22 and cool that they identify with and are pulled in to desire the product.
Growing older is inevitable and proper.  People should not just act their age, but do so with pride and confidence.  Yes, I'm less nimble than I once was and have less vigor, but I have at least some greater wisdom and experience, and therefore ought to be less rash and more contemplative about action.  Age is bad physically but good otherwise, it enhances the rest of you while your body loses its edge.  And that rest of you is the bulk of your being: your intelligence, your soul, your memories, your spirit.  Who you really are deep down is not what you look like or what your body is capable of doing, but why and what makes you do it.  We are physical beings, and that cannot be separated from our essence, but the physical is only one part.  Indeed it is the rest of us that most separates humans from animals.
And while young people are criticized - often for good reason - in modern society, its the elderly that are the worst of our culture for refusing to grow up.  Now that white haired old granny was at Woodstock and thinks she's still 20, or 30 at most.  Now grown men in their 60s are putting self pictures of their naked torso on social media as if they're 19.  World leaders pose shirtless, future monarchs pose with a newborn baby in casual clothes.  Its not cool to be old and cool is the end all and be all of existence.
Remember this scene from Almost Famous?
DENNIS HOPE: much as you may believe that it will last forever, it does not last forever... your biggest fan right now soon they're going to go to college, gonna wanna buy clothes, spend that money some other way, and you know what?  They'll tape your record from a friend's copy.  You've got to take what you can, when you can, while you can.  And you've got to do it now.  That's what the big boys do.

Because if you think Mick Jagger will still be out there trying to be a rock star at age fifty, you're sadly sadly mistaken.
Except Mick Jagger still is prancing around on stage at age 70.  In his last interview before being shot to death, John Lennon said this:
They will be showing pictures of the guy with lipstick wriggling his ass and the four guys with the evil black make-up on their eyes trying to look raunchy. That's gonna be the joke in the future, not a couple singing together or living and working together. It's all right when you're 16, 17, 18 to have male companions and idols, OK? It's tribal and it's gang and it's fine. But when it continues and you're still doing it when you're 40, that means you're still 16 in the head.
Lennon understood something, in that moment at least, that the culture around us does not seem to: you grow up.You change, you mature into something different, even better than you were - or ought to.  You change your role from a youth to an adult to a mature adult.  You grow not just in size and shape but maturity and person. Refusing to grow up doesn't make you 'fun' it makes you childish and immature.  There's nothing long with having fun and being young as the situation calls for it, but not as a perpetual template for life.
Playing with your children in the sofa cushion fort or splashing in the sprinkler with your sweetheart on a hot day is one thing, patterning your life after Peter Pan is another entirely.
And the concept of role playing goes deeper yet.  Love is another role to play.  Yes, that sounds crass and unromantic, but bear with me.  For modern man, love translates almost exclusively into infatuation and pleasure.  The meaning of making love has gone from "pitching woo" to physical sexual activity, as if procreation = love.  Yet love is much more than that, which I've written about much in the past and will not repeat here.
You can and will love someone you might not particularly like at a given moment.  All of us have experienced that with friends and family in the past (yes, there's a sort of love between friends; for more on this concept, read C.S. Lewis' excellent book The Four Loves).  You can be very upset or even dislike a friend momentarily, but the love persists while you are yet friends.  You can dislike a family member but still love them.  Love is commitment, self sacrifice, focus on the well being of the other person, it is outwardly focused.
And the role we play in all this is to be lovers in the most broad and technical sense (those who love, not sexual partners) even if we don't feel it.  
Demonstrate the love you have even when it doesn't feel present.  Yes, you're enraged because she insists on hanging the washcloth from the faucet when it belongs on the divider between the sink, and this is the last straw (or whatever silly thing that sets us off in a relationship).  But you still have that relationship, that love, even when you're not feeling it.  And the role you play here is the lover, the companion, the partner even when you haven't got it in you.  Because the truth is, when you play the part of what you are but don't feel, eventually you become that part once more - the role awakens the truth inside you.
By playing that role, you act out what the person you love needs, and you should be, even when you do not feel like it.  Acting only as you feel is the behavior of a toddler, not an adult.  Act as you ought to be, and you will become it in time.

Playing roles fits into gender as well.Recently Warren Farrell wrote book entitled Why Men Are The Way They Are in which he calls attention to the confusing and contradictory role men are required to play in today's society.  Most of it is complaints about unfairness or inequity to men and some questioning traditional male/female roles but he brings up some good points (courtesy John Hawkins).  For instance, there is this quote:
"He asked me out, therefore he pays" is just a double jeopardy of the male role: he must not only do the asking, he must pay. It's two conditions he must fulfill to be equal to her company. -- P.277
Now he questions the validity and propriety of this situation, but I think it highlights a significant difference in genders and the roles we play. Men are in the position of having to take the risks, to take initiative, and to do more to win a woman's attention.  Women are treated as having such exquisite worth and importance that men have to do extra duty to win a woman's affections and time.
There's nothing innately superior as a human in femininity, yet the role that women play in society as child-bearer and child-raiser makes them special and set apart.  And the role that men play in society is that of the gatherer, the responsible leader, the one that takes initiative and risks, the one out on the limb who can take the punches so women do not have to.  Men asking a woman out and paying is about leadership, about taking responsibility and being the one who takes the initiative. It is a gesture to the innate value and importance of women, not about a penalty for being a man. Women are critical to the foundation and maintenance of civilization, the central pillar around which family and children are raised and thus the future of a culture is ensured.  Another quote helps emphasize this point:
Women are often killed in horror movies. Why horror movies? Because the very  purpose of the horror is to break taboos -- that is what creates horror. Killing a woman is taboo. Killing a man is not. In westerns  and  war films men are killed left and right, yet they are not called horror   films. -- P.227
Kill 8 men in a movie, and you're a killer, but kill a woman and now you're a monster.  Why?  Because women are treated - properly - as especially to be protected in society.  The role men play is protector and leader; the role women play is nurturer and ethical guide.  Women are the ones who restrain men's more primal tendencies, men are the ones who protect the women.
Yet as these roles are reversed or eliminated, society begins to crumble as we can plainly see all around us. The basic foundational building block of any culture is family; each family is that culture in miniature, a tiny example of that society's beliefs, traditions, patterns, and culture.  As the family is erased, so is the culture's foundation, and without these tiny structures and patterns of the society, suddenly it is cast adrift without any shared understanding, history, morals, or future.  And that means the society crumbles into like-thinking small portions, little city states, tribes, and clans.  It is a reversal of the growth of civilization, devolving into barbarism.
Men playing one role - the one most men are better suited for - and women playing another - again usually best suited for - means that society has a skeleton to build around, a foundation to rise from.  Eliminate these due to some sense of inequality, oppression, or desire to progress beyond some despised mythical past and you eliminate civilization entirely.
Like most of the rebellion in the 60's, the reasons and frustrations of young women were genuine - sexism was real and wrong. Like most of the rebellion of the 60's the solution offered by feminism was often flawed and worse than the problem it addressed. The different roles of men and women were not the problem it was how they were being implemented and how people acted toward each other in those role.
These roles aren't some cruelly imposed enslavement. This isn't about unequality, it is about roles and "offices." Its like the positions on a baseball team. The catcher directs the defense and pitching, the batter tries to get on base and move other runners, the outfielder tries to handle balls hit in his direction and get runners out. These offices are different but not unequal. This isn't about separate but equal, its about equal and distinct.
The concept of offices helps understand the roles and duties of men and women in society, in general - there are always exceptions. Offices are about the things you do and how you go about them for the same goal, not about who is better or worse, who is equal or unequal, or who is oppressed and oppressor.  When someone has an office they hold they aren't a superior person, but they are in a role which may have a superior position.
Take the judge.  This is nothing more than a lawyer in a black robe with a job with greater social standing.  There's nothing inherently superior in a judge compared to you or I.  Yet when the judge enters the courtroom, all are directed to rise out of respect.  Why?  Because of the role they play, not their innate nature.  This judge may be a fool or a brilliantly wise jurist.  He may be corrupt or pure, he may be experienced or a novice, but the position he holds is one worthy of respect and honor.
When you begin to treat the judge as a superior person rather than a superior role, then the problems start.  Judge Bean isn't a better man than miner Bob Jones, he's in an office of greater respect than Bob.  
And here we come to the concept of headship or leadership of a man in a marriage.  Feminism sees this as horrific tyranny by nature, a stupid, cruel oppression of women which holds them down and keeps them from achieving whatever potential they imagine having.  And it certainly can be true.  But the concept of roles and offices changes all this.
Understanding this changes the idea of man as leader or head of a household from oppression and dominance to one of roles for structure and stability.  The man isn't a head of the house in order to be in power, but in order to serve and build a family.  Someone is going to lead that house, one way or another.  Men are innately better at the role in most cases - and it could be argued that in all cases the man leads, either by bad or good example.  This isn't about men being better, its about the office they hold.  This isn't about women being inferior, but about the office they hold.  Headship is about organization and structure, not oppression or superiority.
This concept of office and role playing affects all parts of life.  It changes growing up and older from one of loss and misery to one of wisdom and experience.  Your boss isn't a better person, merely the person in the role or office of being in a management position.  The president isn't a superior person, merely someone serving in the office temporarily. Understanding this changes many things you see in life, especially your own role.
Because if you know the role you play is about service and taking the position of something for the good of others and society rather than what you gain or some greatness in yourself, then your entire attitude changes.  Imagine if congressmen thought of themselves as citizens serving in a role rather than men and women of higher stature by nature?  Imagine if men thought of themselves as servants and protectors of wives rather than dominators and rulers.  Imagine a society where the roles we play were about a part, rather than our worth and nature.
Surely that would be a better place to live.

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