This article is part of a regular feature on what we can learn from infamous thinkers and achievers. For each one, we dive into a simple observation, action, or policy that you can take, on-the-ground and in real life. As we explore, you’ll discover the reasoning and rewards for your own personal development.
Perhaps it’s simply good luck. Although I planned this week to write about C.S Lewis and learning wisdom, it worked out nicely to be on Christmas Day.
So, first, for your holiday weekend, Merry Christmas.
And as I write this piece, the holiday music is on in the background, and my wife is preparing all sorts of food for soon-to-be-arriving guests. And as I sit, bundled up with a homemade cocktail, the children are dancing around the house with their new gifts.
There’s laughter, a gentle melody, and our traditions.
Perhaps it’s also appropriate that this year has brought a ruminating feeling for many of us. As we enjoy good cheer, we can’t help but think of who’s missing. And who’s opted to use the pandemic to throw off their already shrinking, almost non-existent investment in family or friends.
As I write this, several people we know are still too afraid to leave their houses. And this includes some young men.
Where did they learn this spirit of distress and despair? And how do we safeguard our children’s innocence as long as possible while teaching them to accept reality but also to recognize and reject such anguish?
More from C.S. Lewis on the topic of learning wisdom, especially masculine wisdom.
Whether you’re a young man or an old dog, mentoring seems to have become a lost art in our society. And so has even the pretext of tradition. As I write this, technocrats, very tellingly, have been trying to “cancel Christmas” at all costs. At times, it certainly feels like our society has traded in the age of carefully shared wisdom and thoughtful inheritance for the grotesque and perverse remedies of over-credentialed cheats.
But Lewis’ metaphor draws out even deeper conventions of modernity. These, traditions unto themselves to manufacture frightened young men and women. And a process designed for it.
For this age, the poultry-keepers dole out a steady diet of doctrine and dogma. And in each case, it is the same for every animal without deviation. The conveyor belt that funnels the multitude forward to their final destination is easy-to-maintain. If it teaches anything, it is that the magnanimous scale brought by our machines is the greatest god. And a god we all know because it demands unity in the purpose it brings.
Still, the only knowledge imparted is the logic of the guillotine.
And you can hear them today clucking this same empty tradition of the slaughterhouse. And their only rite of passage is the edge of that blade that opens up blood even as it closes out the journey.
Then there is the old way.
Men investing in other men as individual men with a path of their own to walk. And there are no easy answers or clean deaths. Yet, we are united, not in a hollow, mass-produced fear of the scythe, but in the very pursuit of the heavens. With this journey, those who have commanded the skies above gravel and bedrock impart the promise of generations. And transmit the many millennia of hard-won principles that are impossible to capture in rule-books.
Coming of age is an opening up of the deep, unending celestial sphere we all must seize ourselves to truly see. And then a close to childish things.
That tradition of trust between generations doesn’t hid away purpose, it reveals it. And, rather than taking by force, you give to the young what is already theirs. More so, you are their ally not their executioner. And you remind them that you are, not unlike them, an imperfect creature. And one who has shared in difficult things. But also one still made for surmounting the very greatest of challenges, however new or terrifying, that stand in our way.
A very poignant lesson from Mr. Lewis.
Oh, but it probably goes without saying: if you’re the one being mentored, make sure you’re in the treetops instead of on the butcher block.