Stoicism: How Displaying Strength Goes Wrong

CONTENT WARNING: Murder, Suicide, Drug Use 

“Man Up.”  “Be strong!”  “Real men don’t cry.”  

These are common phrases said when a boy, man or even woman or girl perceived to be “strong” is told at a young age. This model of strength, and masculinity in the case of males, is heavily influenced by stoicism. Stoicism is an Ancient Greek school of philosophy that argues displays of emotion are due to lapses in judgment, and true strength and rationality is emotionless. It has made its way into the Model of Masculinity in America. I can’t say if it has made its way into other nations’ Model of Masculinity, though I suspect it has. Some people will admit to murder before admitting to therapy, as most men in America will.  

Modern stoicism is best defined in the basic emotional philosophy of professional wrestling. I have only seen two major emotions defined in the ring, and yes, I watched pro wrestling for years: Rage and Lust. It’s as if any emotion at all that is not rage or lust does not exist. That kind of aggressive stoicism takes a toll on a person, woman or man. Want to know something really weird? Pro wrestling is chock full of early deaths – including one which, if I remember correctly, involved family annihilation. But the man who did that has become a sort of He Who Must Not Be Named. (No, not Voldemort, my dear Harry Potter fans.) 

He Who Must Not Be Named, Chris Benoit, I briefly touched upon. He killed his wife and child. Now, it has been revealed that Benoit had brain injuries consistent with CTE, sustained during his career. I wonder if he knew he was going downhill physically? I wonder if that prompted such an extreme reaction? Unfortunately, I have previous experience in family annihilation. It happened to a friend of mine at church. The theory floating around is that his father did not think anyone could take better care of them than himself. I wonder if it a similar case? 

More examples of Stoicism abound. Many men have died of suicide due to not being able to get help for themselves. I have also heard that the success rate of suicide is four times higher among males than other genders. Also, what does modern stoicism contribute to the usage of alcohol and other drugs to evoke the “proper” state of being? How many people have fallen into addiction due to pressure to Man Up or Be Strong?  

You may think I have no business talking about Toxic Masculinity or Stoicism, but Stoicism has made its way into dealing with female emotions. How many times, when crying, have women and girls been told they are “Hysterical” or “Irrational” and unable to deal with hard issues due to emotion? By the way, “Hysterical” comes from the Ancient Roman word “Hystericus,” meaning “Of the womb.” The very idea that women are too emotional is ingrained in us from the ancient world. How are they prescribed to overcome their womanly emotions? “Woman Up!” “Be Strong!” Stoicism!  

I suspect that emotions may actually be helpful to one, if used correctly. If you’re feeling bad, there may be something wrong. If you’re depressed and putting on a face at a party, something might be wrong. If you’re feeling too good, something also might be wrong.  

I must admit, I was inspired by a segment on Sunday Morning about the toll that modern masculinity takes on young men in our culture…based on recent school shootings, mostly done by young men. We need to remove the stigma and hate of emotion from our national psyche. The Dam of Stoicism will burst eventually, and like any other dam holding back giant walls of water, the ending will not be pretty.

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