Saturday, June 14, 2008

On Father's Day, be a mensch

"What separates the men from the the size of their toys."

You’ve seen that phrase on the bumpers of king-cab pickups, or maybe on fancy boats plying the waters at the reservoir. Maybe you heard it on a Father’s Day commercial urging you to buy something big for that big boy in your life. A mega gas grill or riding mower or tool set.

But maybe we should work on a new slogan. "What separates the men from the the size of their consciences."

Doesn’t rhyme, I know, but I couldn’t think of a good one to get my point across. Which is: a man is supposed to have a mature conscience, while boys can be forgiven for immature thoughts and actions. A teenager, for instance, might wield his sexuality in a reckless way. It may lead to unwanted consequences, such as the pregnancy of his partner. A man, on the other hand, has the ability to use discretion when it comes to sex. Don’t laugh – the opposite is just as possible. But a man can think through the rush of testosterone to its inevitability. Gee, maybe I should ask her if she’s on the pill or has had any STDs or maybe I should check out the condom aisle at Walgreen’s before doing this. Consequences!

But if we’re all just overgrown boys, then what’s the point? We’re only fit for playing with toys, whether young or old or in-between. That’s all we see on TV commercials. Poor saps can’t be counted on to take care of the kids or figure out the new cellphone or shop for groceries.

But I propose that the measure of a man is not in his pants or in the garage. It’s in his heart and mind. We’re part of the animal kingdom, that’s true, but we also possess higher brain functions that determine behavior. We can judge the ethical and moral implications of a situation and can act accordingly.

This also makes us political animals, too. We should be able to tell when another human being is lying to us. We should be able to tell when condescension raises its ugly head. We should be able to determine when a politician is up to no good with his/her policies, foreign and domestic.

So, you’re immature if you say "I can’t believe George W. Bush lied to us about Iraq." You’re a boy if you back Bush on his Iraq policies because he's our elder statesman and it's wrong to question your elders in time of war. The facts are out there. By ignoring the facts about life in the adult world of politics, you’re not a man but a boy. You're unable to look beyond the wants of the present to the possibilities of the future. You're a boy.

American conservatives seem to be stuck in an eternal boyhood. Gimme our tax breaks now! Gimme our guns now! Gimme answers now! Gimme our SUVs now! Gimme cheap gas now! Why do they (the terrorists) hate us? Why can't those Liberals quit whining and let us get on with mindless consumption?

Liberals (especially Baby Boomers) are not blameless. They too have been caught in a twilight world of adolescence. We love to bitch and moan and say we're going to change the world. But if it doesn't work out our way immediately, we take roll up our protest banners and go home -- or to law school. The inability to see things through is also a sign of immaturity. Another reason we are in this current mess.

Men, be a mensch, as they say in Yiddish. Or work to become one. Here's how columnist Paul Krugman put it in the New York Times:

'Be a mensch,' my parents told me. Literally, a mensch is a person. But by implication, a mensch is an upstanding person who takes responsibility for his actions.

The people now running America aren't mensches.

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