THE YEARNING OF MAN
I’m about halfway through A Man At Arms by Steven Pressfield right now. The main character, Telamon of Arcadia, is a classic Jack Reacher figure. He’s a retired Roman soldier who roams first-century Judea making his living as a mercenary. Like Reacher, he has his own idiosyncratic code that does not always mesh with the demands of his former masters. As a result, Telamon is no more willing to bow to the Roman Empire than Reacher is to the American government.
As with Reacher, there are also a lot of Leadership nuggets weaved into Telamon's story. For instance, he will not eat until his apprentice has been fed and won't let his apprentice eat until the donkeys have been fed. That Leaders must eat last is just as true in the Levant of 55 A.D. as it is today in America.
The enduring archetype
My wife and I have also been watching the television show Strike together. He's a Reacher/Telamon as well, only set in modern day London as a private investigator who lost a leg serving in Afghanistan with the British Army. Like Reacher and Telamon, Strike lacks the three things that most men have: a wife, a mortgage and a boss. As a result, he never has to sacrifice his code to the demands of conformity, like the rest of us men must do from time to time.
Tempting as it is, telling your boss to take his job and shove it is a reckless move for a man with three kids. So, I guess a little Walter Mitty-ish fantasizing is the closest a man is going to get to living out his code. Thus, the enduring popularity of the Reacher/Telamon/Strike archetype. It reveals how deeply men dream for something beyond the lives they live.
Battle, Adventure and Beauty
As John Eldridge writes:
Men want a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. That is what is written in their hearts. That is what little boys play at. That is what men's movies are about. You just see it. It is undeniable.
Battle-Adventure-Beauty, the BAB. Men yearn for the BAB. Writers who understand that yearning can motivate a man to read their books or watch the movies made from them. Leaders who understand that yearning can motivate men to great accomplishments, if they lead with virtue.
The true BAB
The challenge for every man is to reconcile his yearning for BAB with the realities of his life. Unlike Reacher, Telamon and Strike most of us do have a wife, a mortgage and a boss. And it's a damn good thing we do too, because without that there would be no community in which children could be safely raised into adulthood. Absent new children, what then of humanity?
In fact, that might be the BAB that we were truly built for, regardless of that for which we think we yearn. The Battle is to stay committed to your family and community. The Adventure is the wild ride of your life, once you surrender it in service to the ones who depend upon you. And the Beauty? Is that not your wife, the one for whom you were formed by God to join into as one soul?
Fantasy is fine for a man, in good measure. It helps open up the imagination like a window thrust open in a musty house. But we must never confuse our fantasies with reality and forget that the life we have been given to live is the true BAB for which we were designed to yearn.