There is a less than quiet desperation that lingers in the souls of men. It is an insidious force that, like the molten lava of a volcano, constantly seeks a path of escape. Sometimes it calmly seeps out a steam vent without causing much in the way of damage but other times the pressure builds until the top is blown off of the dormant cone with an explosion that demands immediate attention. This desperation, I might add, is one that only men can relate to. Granted, women have made great strides in the past couple of decades in their efforts to gain parity in the stress game, and the heart attack numbers are beginning to bear that out. But, at the risk of sounding sexist, women still cannot relate to the desperation that, historically, has been uniquely male in nature. The desperation of which I speak is that which in born of the ever present fear of failure.
Now I know what most women and even some men are thinking at this point. The fear of failure is not a particular male chromosome in the double helix that women have no knowledge of, or feeling for. Most everyone fears failure at something because it’s human nature. What I contend, however, is that millenniums of social ingraining have concentrated this fear into an abscess in the male soul that no female has ever felt. The simplistic explanation for this difference is that men are expected to succeed and women, whatever their social stature, are expected to fail. If a woman fails it will be said, by members of both sexes, that it was because she is somehow genetically inferior and that any previous successes were probably just luck. A woman who fails may even be applauded for `getting so far to begin with’. If, however, a man fails then he is considered less of a man for doing so. No applause for his past accomplishments. No `rah, rah’ for giving it the old college try. He is a failure and past history does not alter that fact.
I would, at this point, like to offer a personal introspective. It is one that I am sure many men can relate to. That is, of course, if they are `liberated enough’ to admit it. The example I offer to my fellow men is that of the most male of endeavors – the sports arena. Now I have always considered myself a little better than average at most sports that I have attempted. Yet I am, by admission, chronically inconsistent in all of them. As an example, in my younger days I was a fairly decent `sandlot’ basketball player who could, at times, drain virtually every shot I took. There were other times, however, when the opposing team would pick me to intentionally foul in the closing minutes of a close game because my previous efforts at the free-throw line indicated that I would be lucky to come within three feet of the goal. The point here is not how good or how bad of an athlete I was or am, but that any history I may have built up as a decent player meant nothing. Maybe it meant something to people who had seen me on a better day, but it certainly meant nothing to me because I failed at a time when it “really counted”.
The example I cited is relatively trivial, but it clearly illustrates how desperate we men can feel while being stalked by the specter of failure. Past successes are viewed as a fragile house of cards that we constantly seek to prop up instead of a solid foundation on which to build. Men continuously strive to renew their self worth by proving themselves everyday. And, when failure intervenes, a man will often feel that he is worthless until he can prove himself once again.