Last week on my radio show, I asked the callers to give me the most acceptable definition of dignity. The winner would receive a copy of my most recently published book.
The answers came in fast and furious, until one man named Mark, sounding a bit angry and disgruntled, called in and defined dignity as something acquired through action in accordance with one’s deepest convictions and conscience. It followed that losing one’s dignity meant behaving in a manner that betrayed one’s deepest moral understanding. It was an eloquent response and I announced that he had won the book.
That night, I received an e-mail from Mark, thanking me for the book and revealing that he had been listening to my show “sitting in my car, overlooking a 500-foot cliff, contemplating suicide.” He said that he understood just how selfish his plan for self-immolation was – “How could I as a man leave four children and a beautiful wife alone to fight on their own?” – but that he was still planning to kill himself because he had:
… lost the will to fight this ever-increasing evil world. I had fallen into this trap that the world has set for us, that I did not have the fancy cars, the big house etc. I had accepted the world’s commercial definition of success and saw myself as a failure. But when you started talking about what constitutes real dignity, I realized that I have far more self worth than I believed.”
He said that he had decided to fight his depression by going for counseling.
This man may sound like an anomaly, but he is only so in the extremism of his response to what more and more men are feeling, namely, that they are losers and failures who have let their families down by not competing successfully with the Joneses.
Western capitalist society is structured like a pyramid at the top of which stand men like Bill Gates and Rupert Murdoch, and at the bottom of which are people like you and me. Every time we open a business magazine profiling Warren Buffet or praising the genius of the founder of Wal-Mart, the message we get, with our basic struggles to simply afford a mortgage and an annual family vacation is that we amount to nothing. More and more men are responding to this feeling of failure with destructive addictions or, in the case of an increasing number, total self-destruction.
The addictions we all know about. There is the porn addiction where the man gets to feel he is valuable because of all the fantasy women who flash their bodies at him. But there is something much more basic at work in the addiction to pornography, which is that these men are not addicted to sex so much as to orgasm and the feeling of numbness that comes in the wake of the male orgasm. The French famously call the male orgasm ‘le petite morde,’ the little death, because these men are really gripped by a death wish, a desire to deaden themselves to all feeling, because when they do feel, all they feel is pain.
Men have much, much higher rates of addiction to alcoholism and drugs than women, the purpose of which is to numb the pain and to get them to stop feeling. And unlike women, who in their friendships with one another talk about emotions and feelings endlessly, even close male friends almost never talk about things like pain and inner dissatisfaction together. Indeed, in friendship, men don’t talk at all. Rather, they do things together that utterly snuffs out real talking, like watching sports, playing cards, or fishing. When they do talk, they talk impersonal subjects like cars and politics.
And here’s what wives – who are forever complaining about how emotionally closed their husbands are, how they are couch potatoes who die nightly in front of the television – refuse to understand. Their husbands are afraid to feel because when they do feel all they feel is an all-consuming anguish. Everywhere they look the world tells them they are failures, that the friend who was smart enough to buy those condos in Florida and flip them is the one who is the real winner. But this guy, who cannot even afford his children’s college tuition, is a letdown.
To be sure, many wives do understand their husband’s pain and try their best to comfort them and get them to believe in themselves. But the reason they so often fail is tied into the original reason for their husband’s depression. Subconsciously, he says to himself, “I am big zero, and therefore, the woman stupid enough to marry me is an even bigger zero.” She is part of the whole loser package. So how can one insignificant person make another feel significant? Which is why so many husbands turn to other women to assuage their macerated egos, because the stranger – the mistress, the women who is specifically not married to him and is therefore not a loser – is the only one who can make him feel not like a worm, but a man.
If we in Western capitalist society – Israel included – do not begin to address the soul-lessness of a culture that weighs the worth of men by their net worth, then we will continue to have churn out broken men who are workaholics; who get their thrills from porn on the Internet, rather than their wives’ naked bodies; who drink themselves into oblivion; who have tawdry affairs; and who use money as a currency to purchase self-esteem.
And herein lies the solution to the riddle that has so gripped the world Jewish community. Why has Arik Sharon, the great hawk and builder of Israel’s settlements, unexpectedly decided to forego the political ideology that has guided him throughout life and give away Gaza? But the kind of bravado Sharon has shown throughout his long and distinguished military career shows that he is exactly the kind of man I describe above, namely, an insecure man who tries to prove that he is valuable.
This is not said as a criticism, since virtually every great man of great reputation falls into this category. But Sharon was different in one important regard. Before his wife Lilly died, he was that rare husband who actually did take solace from his wife’s confidence in him. I personally witnessed how when I hosted Sharon at a hostile audience at Oxford University.
He stood up to the hecklers only through the support of his wife. He literally held her hand as we walked by hundreds of student protesters who showed him unbridled contempt. Lilly Sharon even told me, when I offered to take her for a walking tour of the university as her husband sat for a round of press interviews, that she preferred to sit at her husband’s side because he would ask for her if she left.
It is no coincidence that the abandonment of Sharon’s tough posture vis-a-vis world opinion changed in the wake of his wife’s death in 2000. Forced to soldier on without the wife who helped him stand up to such limitless international opprobrium, Sharon caved in and accommodated his critics.
He used to be a strong man who knew that real dignity came not from accolades, but from acting in accordance with one’s deepest convictions and conscience. But now, he is just another broken Israeli leader who has folded when the world told him that without a “peace” settlement, he is a failure.
Editor’s note: “ISRAEL BETRAYED?” – the July issue of WND’s acclaimed monthly Whistleblower magazine – is devoted entirely to an in-depth exploration of the controversial forced removal of thousands of Jewish residents from Gaza planned for August, and the likely creation of a Hamas-run terror state many believe will follow. Read more about “ISRAEL BETRAYED?”