As men we are taught to choose many things in contemporary culture. We are taught to choose the most attractive women to try to have sex with. We are taught to choose the most powerful and attractive cars and motorcycles to buy to proclaim that we are high status males. We are taught that we need to be doing the most potent drugs and drinking the most expensive drinks, go for the high-paying jobs, and have the most physical strength.
We are frequently not taught how to successfully build meaningful relationships around a mature love that is not merely feelings of lust and a collection of hormone-driven emotional highs. We are frequently not taught to bear the sufferings of others alongside them, to allow ourselves to be vulnerable by sharing our weaknesses, or to have compassion for those weaker than ourselves.
In X-Men: Days of Future Past, the dialogue between a young Charles Xavier and an old Charles Xavier expresses very well the strength we need to cultivate most as men. The young Charles Xavier is the embodiment of the modern male; he is walled off from all the suffering of the world by his addiction and his refusal to accept it. He vehemently states that he does not want the suffering of another.
The old Charles Xavier, serene and dignified, points out that while it is difficult to bear the suffering of others with them, that is precisely what will make him stronger. He knows the value of empathy, that sharing in the wounds of others which helps us to begin healing our own. He has accepted that his vocation is to help others, not by sedating them and thereby encasing their lives in dull bliss, but by standing by them and bearing with them as they live fully in the beauty and the pain.
This is a choice we all must make, and it is a particularly difficult choice for men who have been taught to leave others behind and strive for their own aggrandizement. But the choice to love deeply and use our empathy to bear with others is a good choice, and not just because it will make us stronger. It is not a good choice because everyone else deserves our help; they don’t in fact deserve our help. It is not a good choice because we are the beasts of burden and worthwhile only for the drudgery we perform; we are worthwhile for many other reasons. One of the reasons we are worthwhile is that we can choose to be there for others, to sacrifice and not count the cost precisely because we do not do it for the cost or the reward, but because it is a choice and a commitment we have made to love others. We are fulfilled by this choice, and that may be the better reason for making it.