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I'm going to do something very different today.  I'm going to talk about a matter has been on my heart and on my mind for a good long while.  Now seems like as good a time as any to address it.  To put it bluntly, observing the constant back-biting, smears, below-the-belt attacks, and other supremely childish means of conducting supposedly civil discourse that I find in every avenue I observe has been really getting to me.  This criticism is meant towards both no one in particular and everyone in particular.  While a gaze towards the past will reveal that these sorts of juvenile tactics have been with us since the beginning of time, this doesn't mean that they are justified or somehow not counter-productive in the end.  We all revel in the thrill of victory, but sometimes our successes prove Pyrrhic and nearly bankrupt us, even though we may be the first to limp across the finish line.        

For example, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, writing of the need for coercion in the cause of justice, warned that: "Moral reason must learn how to make a coercion its ally without running the risk of a Pyrrhic victory in which the ally exploits and negates the triumph.

The above quote has application to many avenues, politics being only one of them.  But I would prefer to broaden the context to as large an audience as possible, singling out no one, but extending the ability for personal reflection to any and all that might be capable of hearing it.  To provide a personal example from my own life, I contribute to Feminist discussions and take an active part in the cerebral discourse raging inside them.  Yet, interestingly enough what all of this soul-searching and cerebrating produces often is not my still-growing understanding of femininity, some supposedly foreign concept based on my being born and socialized as a man, but rather a calling to question my own conception of masculinity and how it relates back to how I perceive the construct within the framework of my whole identity.  

The idea that perhaps the solution to sexism, misogyny, and gender inequality lies within a re-examination of male behavior and restrictive societal definitions of masculinity has been an informal thesis of mine that is beholden to a million related postulates.  Moreover, that the true resolution can be reached by a collective effort between men and women working shoulder to shoulder is my ultimate goal and my fervent prayer.  When men see that which is feminine within them and do not recoil from it and when women see that which is masculine within them and do not feel shame, then I know we will be finally close to true equality.  In the meantime, I have never really had any heart for the fighting and I look forward to the day we lay our burdens down by the riverside.    

The poem which follows below has been on the back burner of my mind for a while.  It speaks to our bloodthirsty impulses and questions whether the expectations of winning we hold are really worthwhile and tenable.  In a darkly humorous manner, the piece reveals what happens when our egos encourage us to rush blindly into one fight after another, recognizing only in hindsight that we are forever damaged and notably impaired by each and every one.  Reconciling our primordial impulses with the wisdom of reason is a major challenge within every person and sometimes, as the poem notes, it is a realization only granted circumspectly.  But when I see so many people who have made it their personal quest to pick rhetorical fights or who seem to think that their occupation or chosen purpose in life gives them a right to act like a Type A bully, then it compels me to speak out and to push back, but notably not with fists raised in opposition.  This includes the thousands of legends in their own mind who possess the cockiness, the arrogance, and the attitude, but have nothing in the way of insight or intellect to back up their lofty claims or poker faces.

"The Winner" by Shel Silverstein

The hulk of a man with a beer in his hand looked like a drunk old fool,
And I knew that if I hit him right, I could knock him off that stool.
But everybody said, "Watch out -- that's Tiger Man McCool.
He's had a whole lot of fights, and he always come out the winner.
Yeah, he's a winner."

But I'd had myself about five too many, and I walked up tall and proud,
I faced his back and I faced the fact that he'd never stooped or bowed.
I said, "Tiger Man, you're a pussycat," and a hush fell on the crowd,
I said, "Let's you and me go outside and see who's the winner"...

Well, he gripped the bar with one big hairy hand and he braced against the
wall,
He slowly looked up from his beer -- my God, that man was tall.
He said, "Boy, I see you're a scrapper, so just before you fall,
I'm gonna tell you just a little what a means to be a winner."

He said, "You see these bright white smilin' teeth, you know they ain't my own.
Mine rolled away like Chiclets down a street in San Antone.
But I left that person cursin', nursin' seven broken bones.
And he only broke three of mine, and that make me a winner."

He said, "Behind this grin, I got a steel pin that holds my jaw in place.
A trophy of my most successful motorcycle race.
And every mornin' when I wake and touch this scar across my face,
It reminds me of all I got by bein' a winner.

Now my broken back was the dyin' act of handsome Harry Clay
That sticky Cincinnati night I stole his wife away.
But that woman, she gets uglier and meaner every day.
But I got her, boy, and that's what makes me a winner.

You gotta speak loud when you challenge me, son, 'cause it's hard for me
to hear
With this twisted neck and these migraine pains and this cauliflower ear.
'N' if it weren't for this glass eye of mine, I'd shed a happy tear
To think of all you'll get by bein' a winner.

I got arthritic elbows, boy, I got dislocated knees,
From pickin' fights with thunderstorms and chargin' into trees.
And my nose been broke so often I might lose it if I sneeze.
And, son, you say you still wanna be a winner?

My spine is short three vertebrae and my hip is screwed together.
My ankles warn me every time there'll be a change in weather.
Guess I kicked too many asses, and when the kicks all get together,
They sure can slow you down when you're a winner.

My knuckles are so swollen I can hardly make a fist.
Who would have thought old Charlie had a blade taped to his wrist?
And my blind eye's where he cut me, and my good eye's where he missed.
Yeah, you lose a couple of things when you're a winner.

My head is just a bunch of clumps and lumps and bumps and scars
From chargin' broken bottles and buttin' crowded bars.
And this hernia -- well, it only proves a man can't lift a car.
But you're expected to do it all when you're a winner.

Got a steel plate inside my skull, underneath this store-bought hair.
My pelvis is aluminum from takin' ladies' dares.
And if you had a magnet, son, you could lift me off my chair.
I'm a man of steel, but I'm rustin' -- what a winner.

I got a perforated ulcer, I got strictures and incisions.
My prostate's barely holdin' up from those all-night collisions.
And I'll have to fight two of you because of my double vision.
You're lookin' sick, son -- that ain't right for a winner.

Winnin' that last stock-car race cost me my favorite toes.
Winnin' that factory foreman's job, it browned and broke my nose.
And these hemorrhoids come from winnin' all them goddamn rodeos.
Sometimes it's a pain in the butt to be a winner.

In the war, I got the Purple Heart, that's why my nerves are gone.
And I ruined my liver in drinkin' contests, which I always won.
And I should be retired now, rockin' on my lawn,
But you losers keep comin' on -- makin' me a winner.

When I walk, you can hear my pelvis rattle, creak and crack
From my great Olympic Hump-Off with that nymphomaniac,
After which I spent the next six weeks in traction on my back,
While she walked off smilin' -- leavin' me the winner.

Now, as I kick in your family jewels, you'll notice my left leg drags,
And this jacket's kinda padded up where my right shoulder sags,
And there's a special part of me I keep in this paper bag,
And I'll show it to you -- if you want to see all of the winner.

So I never play the violin and I seldom dance or ski.
They say there never was a hero brave and strong as me.
But when you're this year's hero, son, you're next year's used-to-be.
And that's the facts of life -- when you're a winner.

Now, you remind me a lot of my younger days with your knuckles clenchin' white.
But, boy, I'm gonna sit right here and sip this beer all night.
And if there's somethin' you gotta prove by winnin' some silly fight,
Well, OK, I quit, I lose, son, you're the winner."

So I stumbled from that barroom not so tall and not so proud,
And behind me I could hear the hoots of laughter from the crowd.
But my eyes still see and my nose still works and my teeth are
still in my mouth.

And y'know...I guess that makes me...a winner.

The poet Catherine Davis wrote a well-known work entitled "After A Time", upon which I have based the title of this post.  "The Winner" reveals to us that taken to excess even our triumphs can prove disastrous if we, for the love of blood, plunder, and material gain institutionalize them rather than use them only when all other avenues of resolution have been exhausted.  It challenges the contemporary notion and conduct of unflinchingly tough machismo as advanced by a million cowboy Westerns and John Wayne potboilers.  Davis' poem below addresses the matter from the losing end, reducing self-serving spin and rationalization to mere wind while noting, quite beautifully, that while winning is ultimately transitory, so too is losing and with it the motivating power of defeat.  I find it fascinating to observe that both of these poems dovetail neatly and how a uniquely masculine perspective nicely counter-balances a uniquely feminine one.          

After a time, all losses are the same.
One more thing lost is one thing less to lose;
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

Though we shall probe, time and again, our shame,
Who lack the wit to keep or to refuse,
After a time, all losses are the same.

No wit, no luck can beat a losing game;
Good fortune is a reassuring ruse:
And we all go stripped the way we came.

Rage as we will for what we think to claim,
Nothing so much as this bare thought subdues:
After a time, all losses are the same.

The sense of treachery—the want, the blame—
Goes in the end, whether or not we choose,
 (Emphasis mine)
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

So we, who would go raging, will go tame
When what we have can no longer use:

After a time, all losses are the same;
And we go stripped at last the way we came.

   

Originally posted to cabaretic on Wed Jan 06, 2010 at 07:21 AM PST.

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