After researching the issue of men and suicide in the United States, I learned that eight out of ten suicides are men. And clearly, each of those men had struggled with depression and despair and could not see a way out of it. The future seemed hopeless.
Julie Scelfo, a talented journalist with The New York Times, wrote a very interesting article on men
and depression that became the lead article in Newsweek. She says that millions of men each year are diagnosed with depression, but that millions more suffer silently, reluctant to own up to their condition. Instead of openly talking about their pain, they mask it with alcohol, prescription or illegal drugs, gambling, anger, or the All-American attribute of workaholism. And then Scelfo gets to the heart of the matter: “…when they do realize that they have a problem, men often view asking for help as an admission of weakness, a betrayal of their male identities.”
So why is there such a proliferation of suicide among men? I think we can reasonably conclude that men are suffering from depression much more so than they have in the past. But why?
As I pointed out last week, I am sure that there are a number of various factors. However, based on the work I do with men, I believe there is one overriding issue that creates all types of internal struggles and which ultimately leads to depression.
Ours is a culture in which a man obtains his sense of worth based on how well he performs in his occupation. Dr. Tim Keller goes so far as to suggest that ours is the first culture in history in which men define themselves solely by performing and achieving in the workplace. It is the way that a man becomes somebody. Keller adds that he believes there has never been greater psychological, social, and emotional pressure in the marketplace than there is at this very moment.
Today, for so many men, life is all about “what I do,” and “how successful I am at what I do.” This, then causes us to wonder, “What do you think about what I do? How do you rate what I do?” It is then only a matter of time before I begin to consider, “What if I fail at what I do? What would the people in my sphere of influence think of me then?”
Fear of failure is one of man’s greatest fears. It is like a psychological death.
Bernie Madoff, in his first interview from prison, said he was motivated to pull off this grand Ponzi scheme because he feared failure. As he put it, “I did not want to lose the honor and esteem of men.” David Sokol was considered by many to be the person who would one day replace Warren Buffet as the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.
That was before he was forced to resign because of unethical conduct. Sokol was able to rise up the corporate ladder because of his unbelievable work ethic, largely because of fear of failing. A very wealthy businessman confided in me that every day that his feet hit the floor, he is motivated by one thing: fear of failure. It seems that most men are not driven to succeed, they are driven not to fail. They are not running towards something; rather they are sprinting away from failure.
And as men, the reason we fear failure with such great intensity is because of the shame it generates. Shame, according to popular lecturer, Malcolm Smith , is “the leukemia of masculinity.” Shame makes so many men determined to hide their fears and faults. If we believe we do not have what it takes to be a man, that we are inadequate and that we do not measure up, it invalidates our sense of manhood. Shame is what destroys men’s lives, and failure is at its root.
However, there is a way to come to terms with this. Charles Cooley, a prominent and highly respected sociologist who lived from 1864 to 1929, developed a landmark concept known as the looking glass self, a human development theory which remains valid today. In its simplest form, the theory states:
A person gets his identity in life based on how the most important person in his life sees him.
For an adult man, particularly out in the workplace, the opinion valued most will generally come from colleagues and people within the community in which he lives. We allow them to make the final verdict on the value of our lives. And it explains why we are always wondering, “What do people think of me?”
But what do you think would happen to a man if
Jesus Christ became the most important person in his life? If He were the audience whom we sought to please the most? It would truly change everything, for we are of great value to Him, and He loves us with an everlasting love. And his love does not depend on how well we perform or our level of achievement.
This is what happened to C. S. Lewis when he converted from atheism to Christianity. In Christ he found a new identity. He described it as “coming to terms with his real personality.” Furthermore, Lewis said, “Until you have given yourself up to Him, you will never find your true self.”
Only when He becomes the firm foundation in our lives will we discover who we are and what our lives are all about.
Question: What do you think would happen to a man and his fear of failure if Jesus Christ became the most important person in his life?