Ask Andrew W.K.: How to be a Man
Photos by Mario Dane
[Editor's note: Every Wednesday New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
A year ago, I got into my first real fist fight. I nearly pissed myself with fear, but I won, and it felt unlike anything I've ever experienced. It was such a high. For the first time in my life, I felt indestructible and had an outlet for all my years of pent up frustration. Now I get into fist fights all the time. Every weekend I go out looking for fights -- mean and hateful. All this violence is starting to worry everyone around me, and it's honestly starting to worry me too. It helped me blow off steam at first, but now ... my biggest fear is that I'll hit my girlfriend during an argument or get stabbed during a bar fight gone wrong. Should I become a professional fighter as a healthy outlet for this compulsion? Should I force myself to stop the fighting altogether? Do you wanna fight me?
Thanks, I'll Fuck You Up
Dear I'll Fuck You Up,
No, thanks. I don't want to fight you. The only person I'm really interested in fighting is myself, and that's an ongoing war I'm sometimes losing and sometimes winning, one battle at a time. I'm sure you'd beat me in this sort of fist fight, anyway. My strength is in partying, which only involves fist punching the air and head banging for fun -- not fist punching someone's face and banging their head on the concrete.
People who love fighting are very particular. I had a friend who got into fist fights constantly. He claimed he didn't enjoy it, but he seemed unable to resist violent confrontations and went to great lengths to make things come to blows. He got in fist fights with taxi drivers about which route they took. He got into fights with strangers about how they looked at him. He got into fights just because.
He lived by a code that listed the steps you have to go through in order to to become a real man. He said you had to:
1. Punch someone in the face. 2. Get punched in the face. 3. Cheat on your girl. 4. Be cheated on by your girl. 5. Steal something from someone. 6. Have something stolen from you. 7. Know when to be an asshole. 8. Know when to beat an asshole. 9. Blow it alone. 10. Go it alone.
A lot of it didn't make any sense to me. And while I understood what he was trying get at in some ways, I still found it bizarre that all of these were requirements for becoming a man, and not what a real man should strive not to do. Every single thing on that list is pretty much something most people work to avoid as much as possible. So, who is this kind of person that seeks out conflict? What kind of mind builds their sense of self worth purely on the pain they've caused others and brought upon themselves? I could never really figure it out, but guessed that maybe when they were very little kids, they felt very weak and vulnerable -- as any kid does -- and then were somehow taught that feeling weak was bad, so they had to "get tough." Who knows?
I had another friend who loved to fight. He felt that he was defending his honor and the honor of his friends and family when he beat people up -- like he was doing a service to the community by teaching these tough guys a lesson and ridding the town of the trouble makers. But what he failed to see was that he was a tough guy too and giving the other tough guys someone to fight with. One night, he got in a fight with a man about some t-shirt he was wearing. When he punched him, the guy fell back and hit his head on the sidewalk and died right there. My friend went to prison for 15 years and basically ruined his life and, obviously, the life of the man he punched.
I still have a lot of respect for people who are physically strong and who use their power when needed. Whether they are protecting people or meting out some street justice, there are naturally times and places where violence can be necessary and helpful. But we also understand that the concept of fighting for peace is fundamentally flawed.
The best fighter I've ever known was my tour bus driver. He was a Special Forces Vietnam vet and had killed lots of people, most of them in hand to hand combat. He said he preferred killing "up close and personal" with his hands or a knife rather than with a gun. He said it was more respectful to his victim and to the fight itself. But he also was truly tormented by the war and what he had done there. He saw a lot of shit and was a prisoner of war for an extended amount of time before being rescued. Every day he thinks about the faces of the people he killed. He remembers every single face and the look in their eyes when they took their last breath. He told me he prays every day that he will never have to kill someone again. Because he knows he can. He wants smiles and pleasure in his life now, not fighting and violence. He's had enough of that for many lifetimes.
Going back to my other friend's "to be a man" list, I was thinking about it and decided to make a new list here. Not just on how to be "a man," but how to be a real human being. This list isn't perfect and it's nowhere near complete. I'm sure you can improve on it. Just like the process of becoming a full person, it's a work in progress.
To be a real human being, you must try...
To be a real human being, you must try...
1. To care about someone and something more than yourself.
2. To accept help from someone even when you believe you don't need anyone.
3. To cheer people up and bring them simple joy in times when it seems hardest to smile.
4. To bring loving comfort and sincere hugs in the midst of violence, pain, and suffering.
5. To recognize your own shortcomings and failings before lashing out at another's weakness.
6. To have true compassion when someone's in a bad mood, with the understanding that they might be going through a hardship you're not aware of.
7. To constantly remember that life is a fragile and precious miracle which requires all our collective effort to protect.
8. To humbly work to improve our own defects and cut everyone else a little more slack.
9. To remember that being a loving and positive person isn't always easy, but it's always worth it.
10. And lastly, to never give up on the power of humanity and on your own potential to be a caring, loving person.
At the end of the day, just try your hardest to be nice. Fighting and arguing is usually not very nice. Not everyone deserves to be treated nicely, but those moments are there to test our commitment to our belief in loving kindness. The goal is still to live in a world of peace, liberty, and light. We cannot allow ourselves to give into our lowest urges and darkest capacities for cruelty and violence. Nor can we let ourselves grow so cynical and exhausted that we believe our human race can never get better. If we don't cling to life and love, we go hurdling into the depths of our despair and destruction. We may not achieve perfect harmony in this lifetime, but it must remain our ultimate aspiration, for it is in believing in the best of ourselves and our highest potential that we find the necessary inspiration and strength to keep living and loving for another day. For this day. For the only thing we have -- each other. Your friend, Andrew W.K.
See also: The Ask Andrew W.K. Archive
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