The next suitable person you’re in light conversation with, you stop suddenly in the middle of the conversation and look at the person closely and say, “What’s wrong?” You say it in a concerned way. He’ll say, “What do you mean?” You say, “Something’s wrong. I can tell. What is it?” And he’ll look stunned and say, “How did you know?” He doesn’t realize something’s always wrong, with everybody. Often more than one thing. He doesn’t know everybody’s always going around all the time with something wrong and believing they’re exerting great willpower and control to keep other people, for whom they think nothing’s ever wrong, from seeing it. This is the way of people. Suddenly ask what’s wrong and whether they open up and spill their guts or deny it and pretend you’re off, they’ll think you’re perceptive and understanding. They’ll either be grateful, or they’ll be frightened and avoid you from then on. Both reactions have their uses, as we’ll get to. You can play it either way. This works over 90 percent of the time.
- From David Foster Wallace’s “The Pale King”
I think this is completely true. Furthermore, I think the willingness to respond to such an inquiry honestly is a sign of great confidence.
But what about “manhood” and “toughness” and “a stiff upper lip”? These traits should not be dismissed as anachronisms worth evolving beyond. They should, though, be correctly defined so as to maximize flourishing.
Imagine a restless six-year-old named Jimmy. Think of how his shirt always seems stained by an amalgamation of peanut butter, dirt, and blood. Picture him earnestly working through his math test with his knee bouncing at 200bpm. Jimmy jumps off swings. Jimmy jumps off beds. Jimmy touches everything in the check-out aisle. Jimmy is chaos in a tiny package. And when Jimmy’s speed outpaces his balance, he sometimes crashes. “Don’t cry, Jimmy. Come on, boys don’t cry,” his All-American father, Christian, utters.
Society is often quite bad at telling the complete story. What we are here to do is complete the story so Jimmy isn’t left stranded with only part of a valuable lesson.