The Personalist Project

When I was growing up, I was—unfortunately—a little guy.  Eventually I grew to almost six feet tall (never quite made it, had to settle for 5-113/4), but my growth spurt didn’t hit until the teenage years.  This meant that as a youth in sports I was always small.  How small you ask?  Consider the following.  In elementary school in Montgomery, Alabama, there were several levels of football leagues, depending on weight.  There were leagues for the big guys, the medium-sized guys, and the little guys.  The little guys were called the Pee-Wees.  Amongst the Pee-Wees, there were the big Pee-Wees (Blue) and the little Pee-Wees (Gray).  However, down below the Pee-Wees were the Termites: big Termites (Blue) and little Termites (Gray).

Well, I was a Grey Termite for all four years of my football career—from ages 7-10 inclusive.  I never even made it to the Blue Termites, much less to the high, exalted Pee-Wees!  This meant that for several years I was constantly getting beat up on, run over, mashed into the ground, stepped on, stiff-armed, bruised, and shoved aside in every practice and every game.  And I loved it!  I loved the contact, the physical battery, etc., even if I was usually on the receiving end.  I must admit that in my fourth year as a Grey Termite (age10), I was finally bigger than most of my 7 and 8 year old teammates, but I don’t recall that year being any more fun than the others.  It was the physical contact I loved, and the power and force of it, whether I was hitting or being hit, whether I was leveling the other guy or being leveled.

Similarly, I took several years of boxing lessons from about ages 8-10.  I still have the old mimeographed outlines of the moves and counter-moves. (My dad was in the Air Force and wanted to see to it that I was toughened up.)  All those years, I was usually fighting—in practice or in matches—someone who was 11/2 to 2 times my size and weight.  So again, I was usually getting pummeled, and again I loved it.  Even if I was getting beat up, I was happy.  One time in three years, I remember a single great moment of triumph.  I was fighting a fellow twice my size, but he stumbled on his own big toe at one point and while off-balance, I landed a right-cross to his jaw with everything I had.  More due to his own momentum than to the power of my punch, he careened toward the ropes, neatly went through them instead of into them, and sprawled out across the gym floor.  For all the world it looked like I had knocked him out of the ring. Everyone looked at me with new respect, despite my diminutive size, after that one!  But, as in football, such triumphs where not essential to my happiness in the sport.  I thought it was great to get knocked around and up and down.  Why? 

It showed that I was a man.  I could take a hit—and occasionally give one.  This taught me a lot about life, since we often have to take more hits than we give—and we have to live and learn from it.  Early on, I learned that we will lose many times in our lives. Our dreams of championships and glory will come true only rarely; often we will get beat up, run over, mashed, stepped on, stiff-armed, bruised, and shoved aside in life.  Yet we can endure, get up again, and nobly continue—like a character in a Faulkner novel.  "They endured."

This gave me a feeling of maturity and confidence.  I could take the blows (and the failures and the disappointments) and realize that didn’t mean my life was over (or worthless).  I could get up again—to fight another day! This in itself was a victory—to endure and to take the field of battle again tomorrow.  That’s why I was happy even when getting pummeled.  It showed I could take it; it showed I was tough.  One of my favorite memories, at about age 8, was playing a much bigger football team in the rain and mud, and getting steamrollered on every play, offense or defense.  It was 49-0 at half-time.  My one bright moment was being the player who officially accepted a 5 yard off-side penalty against the other team (about the only yards we gained that day). 

Now my question to you girls is, are you the same?  Do you take pride in being physically pummeled and showing up the next day to take it again if necessary?  Is this a primary way in which you learn about life?  Or do you learn the same life-lessons in a different way?  My impression is that there is a significant difference here (whether attributable to nature, nurture, or choice is a further question).

Comments (6)

Rhett Segall

#1, Aug 25, 2012 9:40am


My 9th grade Latin teacher went off topic one day to praise the boxing champion Carmen Basilio who did not give up in a bout in which he was being pummeled. "He was a man" the teacher said with the hope, I presume, that we shouldn't give up in our Latin translations!

My brother got married at the age of 17 in 1948. When his wife was about to give birth he wanted to be with her. My dad, however, told Dick to "Go to work. Women give birth and they can take care of that. Men have the task of being providers."

Today we look askance at such attitudes as antediluvian. But I suspect in doing so we are denying a deep seated archetype of the masculine and feminine, something rooted deep in our nature.

No doubt about it, such a perspective on the animus and anima can go too far. But I think society in ridiculing man as the provider who is willing to endure pain and woman as the nurturer who happily depends on man's protective instincts is harming a rich dimension of God's providence.

Devra Torres

#2, Aug 26, 2012 3:19pm

I heard a talk recently given by Andrew Pudewa (known to homeschoolers for his Excellence in Writing curriculum).  He said--I hope I'm getting this right--that for boys and men, physical pain makes blood rush to their brain and makes them more alert and attentive.  For girls and women, it makes it drain away from the brain, and has the opposite effect.  He also said that the "fight or flight" response happens in males, but not in females.

I'm not sure I got the details right, but if it's anything like that, that seems like an enormous difference.  He talked for a couple hours about its implications for educating boys and girls, and it all rang true.

Scott Johnston

#3, Sep 1, 2012 1:57am

I love this! I think this is a fundamental difference about the sexes and we are losing something very essential if we ignore it.

Have you seen the (yes, violent, but powerfully effective) movie, Fight Club? I'm sure it was much more popular with men than women. And in part, it seems to have been implying that the male psyche has lost something it needs on a deep level when it has nothing that seems like a battle for him to be engaged in fighting. As though, to feel alive, a man needs somehow to be waging a war of some sort.

To my way of seeing things, perhaps a reason that men are more likely to relish this sort of physicality more than women, is that it fits our natural role as we have been made by God. As men, ultimately, it seems to me we are called to fight satan and his henchmen for the common good. Especially on behalf of wives and children. We have an instinct for battle because we are made for it. And this, ultimately, is meant to find its proper end in our expending ourselves fully, against evil, for those we love.

Scott Johnston

#4, Sep 1, 2012 2:07am

So, for a small boy, developing the mettle to take a pummeling and get right back up, gives him the assurance that in the future, he can enter the fray when it really counts. He will be ready to fight and not give up when it matters most. And this is essential to the desire of a man. To be one who can expend himself against the forces of darkness and never give up, no matter what. It's a powerful archetype in the male psyche of the ultimate male hero. Why was Rocky so powerful when it first came out?

As Christians, we might say that this is a natural premonition, planted in male nature, for making the way of the Cross. Walking that painful road; taking those blows; receiving those lashes, and yet never giving up. Never losing one's confidence of one's role. Victory over death by death. Death being swallowed up in love. Perhaps I'm going too far here, but I think there is some hidden though real intuition in men about this--though it remains shadowy until made explicit by the life and Passion of Christ.

Scott Johnston

#5, Sep 1, 2012 2:36am

I can see a way this even ties into Ephesians 5!

Note verses 25-7 of this chapter. The husband is called to give himself up for his spouse, so that she might be sanctified.

I would offer that this includes the husband protecting his wife (through his willingness to suffer for her, to be a bastion between her and hostile attacks, and never give up in this). How? Perhaps, she can grow deeper in holiness through a new epiphany of her own worth to herself, by seeing her husband repeatedly "taking a beating" for her. In seeing this, again and again, her husband laying himelf down for her, and getting up yet again and again, she glimpses her value through his willing sacrifice, in a whole new way, with a whole new depth, than she could know any other way. With this added appreciation of her value, activated by her spouse's sacrifices, a new depth of holiness is possible.

We can't deeply desire holiness unless we first see, in Christ, the vast depths of our true worth as unique human persons. It's a source of energy for us to open ourselves up more fully to divine grace.

Lenore Williams

#6, Sep 10, 2012 6:23pm

As a practical matter, looking at brain research, this type of behavior is much more likely to produce brain damage than confidence.  I am appalled that my dad encouraged these activities (from the perspective of today's knowledge).  However, as a teacher of 40 years, I agree that boys love physicality and movement and competition.   This highlights different learning styles  for boys and girls.  Certainly similar experiences are important for boys In a safe environment.

I recall an article written by the Stanford Women's Swim Team coacth.  He was making the case that you need to take an entirely different approach to coachiing men/boys vs women/girls.  Coaching  boys you need to challenge them and knock them down a little.  They are almost always overconfident and secure un their abilities.  They need to learn how to loose and how to learn from losing.   Competition between teammates sprs growth.    Girls on the other hand tend to be critical of themselves and therefore need encouragement.  Coaches need to praise girls and give encouragement.  Focusing on the team and friendships and support of other girls j(as opposed to competition) also helps girls to improve.  If the coach is too critical, it can lead to girls leaving the sport.  


I recall ani article

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