“A man’s got to know his limitations.” – Magnum Force
I’ve often ranted about one or another of the virtues, with emphasis laid on the nature of true charity and the importance of humility. However, I don’t want my Gentle Readers to think I consider myself a paragon of those virtues. It’s just that I regard them as supremely important. Indeed, the cultivation of those virtues could heal much that’s wrong with the world.
This morning, a recent default in the two of them is very much on my mind. It’s particularly painful because it arose from a failure to understand where and how they applied – and I’ll have more to say about that in a few hundred or thousand words.
First, a snippet from a recent novel – which I fervently hope won’t be the last novel we’ll see from E. William Brown:
“So the great Daniel Black is too cowardly to face a woman’s wiles?” She said scornfully.
I shrugged. “You’re not worth the trouble.”
Her face turned red, and for a moment I thought she was actually going to explode. But then the fire went out of her. She sagged, and looked down at the table.
“So you’re just going to leave me here?”
“Ah, so we’re switching to the damsel in distress act? Let me see if I’ve got this one right. You’re really just a helpless, innocent woman being abused by these horrible men, and getting back at them as best you can. But if some kind, selfless knight in shining armor were to ride in and gallantly rescue you from your chains you’d be oh, so very grateful. Why, you’d feed him secret information, and help him with his schemes, and no doubt you’d be so overcome by his saintly purity that you’d fall hopelessly in love and swear to be true to him forever.
“All of which will last until the poor fool manages to get those chains off of you, or until you decide he isn’t useful anymore. Then you destroy everything he cares about, and he dies in some poetically horrible fashion just after you break his heart one last time by letting him know that you’re responsible for it all. Probably at the hands of your next tool, who is convinced that he’s rescuing you from a terrible fate and you’ll be eternally grateful for his help.”
She huffed. “Well, at least you’re not stupid. It’s surprising what fools most wizards are.”
A little context is required to understand what’s happening in the above. “She” is the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who’s being held as a thrall – a sex slave – by the Norse pantheon headed by Odin. She’s endured that condition for a thousand years, and it’s filled her with hatred and lust for revenge. But Aphrodite, according to Greek mythology, is also supremely vain and predisposed to scheming. Her “plea” for super-wizard Daniel Black’s help is a false front, for she cannot honestly regard herself as needing anyone’s assistance, much less that of a mere mortal. Daniel, who’s honest with himself despite his sorcerous powers, grasps this at once. He declines to test himself against Aphrodite’s schemes.
How many mortal men, placed in Daniel’s situation, would react similarly? How many would possess sufficient humility?
Fortunately for the race of Man, there aren’t a lot of Greek goddesses wandering about. But “regular” women can pose similar temptations, even at a distance.
You might think I have a low opinion of women. You wouldn’t be entirely wrong. Robert A. Heinlein once wrote that “most women are damn fools and children.” He wasn’t wrong either. But like all humans, women have their tools – their ways of getting what they want – and prominent among those tools is the art of manipulating men.
There aren’t many women who completely eschew those tools. Even the brightest of them will revert to type if they think it’s the most likely way to get what they want from a man. I encountered one quite recently – let’s call her Jane – and she came close to pulling me in by appealing to my charitable impulses. If Jane hadn’t unthinkingly “let her mask slip,” I might have found myself in very hot water.
It would be unwise for me to go into great detail about my interaction with Jane. I hope the following will suffice.
Shortly after she’d joined it, Jane approached me through a social media site. I’m still not certain why, nor am I certain that I was her only target. She’s an American, but she’s currently working in another country, among people whose ways are quite distant from ours. So she’s lonely for companionship. I’m generally happy to converse with anyone who shows an interest, so things started normally: exchanging a few personal details, talking about our occupations, and so forth. But within two days she started “love-bombing” me, as if this 70-year-old married Catholic man were the answer to all her prayers.
I sensed danger. I told her to knock it off. She throttled it back, but it remained a disturbing subtext to the conversation. I made a point of recording everything that passed between us. Words once said cannot be unsaid, especially on the Internet.
There came a point where it was impossible to overlook what Jane was trying to do. I kept talking to her even so, out of a misplaced impulse toward charity. I empathized with her loneliness and yearning for companionship. I felt it would be unkind to cut her off. In so doing, I think I fed her hope that she could “roll me.”
Just a few days ago I broke through to understanding what was going on, and I did cut Jane off. I don’t know if she’s accepted that yet. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. But the moral of the story does matter.
As Daniel Black realized, you must know whom you can really help, and what the consequences will be. You must be humble enough to be aware that you, too, can be “played.” I could have failed that test out of misplaced charity: if I’d allowed my empathy to override my sense for “a woman’s wiles” and my awareness of my masculine vulnerability to them.
God’s purposes are not open and obvious to men. However, these past decades it’s become clear that He didn’t create Eve exclusively so Adam wouldn’t be lonely.
Not the sort of sermonette you expected from the Curmudgeon Emeritus to the World Wide Web, eh, Gentle Reader? Well, I write about what’s on my mind, and that’s what been near the top these past few days. I hope it was at least amusing enough to justify a thousand words of reading time. Just keep the import in mind:
You can’t help someone who’s trying to play you.
Don’t think that you can’t be played.
Here endeth the sermonette. Have a nice day.
All of us men are vulnerable to the savior trope. I’ve been suckered a time or two. One thing that protects me is that women want to be subtle and I tend to be oblivious and clueless when some woman is trying to play the victim. It requires a blunt force object applied to my consciousness to get me to notice what they want me to believe. Innumerable times a day or a week later I’ll suddenly go “oh, wait, that’s what she was trying to react to.” Lack of awareness can be every bit as efficient as deep understanding.
Hm! I never thought of cluelessness as a potential shield. It’s got promise! Thanks!
Humility is a difficult virtue to cultivate. On the one hand, no one likes a braggart. On the other hand, the self-deprecating ‘it ain’t nothin’ routine is equally annoying. The point of balance is knowing how good you are, and what you are capable of doing, and knowing just how good you aren’t, and what is beyond your ability. If you happen to be a world’s champion it is no boast to say so. If you’re a participation trophy recipient, you have no claim on being a prize-winning anything. We would all rescue someone if it were possible to do so, but if the person is about to go over Niagara Falls, only a fool would jump in the water.