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When you've never seen the elephant, it's really
easy to imagine yourself swingin'  it by the tail.
                         Ollie B.

Hollywood macho vs. real toughness

On this page:
Deeds not words | When words fail | Don't tell yourself what tough is | Lies about "respect"| Reality of respect | The St Bernard and the badger | So how do you become tough? | Further Resources

To "take a message to Garcia" is an old term from the Spanish-American War. Until the middle of the last century, it meant "show that you are resourceful and inventive, that you have determination to overcome difficulties, that you can accept responsibilities and that you can carry them through to success." It literally means to show that you have what it takes; for you to do what you have to do.

And do so by doing it, not just talking about it.

It was both a challenge and a charge to young men. It gave you power, but it also gave you responsibility. This concept is a cornerstone of what "real toughness" is. And until you understand that, you will never be tough, because toughness has very little do with physical prowess.

It has everything with commitment of spirit and determination.

Deeds not words
In the movie Aliens, because of a perceived danger of what a bullet might do to machinery, the Colonial Marines are told by their commanding officer to take the ammunition out of their guns. One of the team members, mutters under his breath, "What are we supposed to use man, harsh language?"

If you look at the history of movies those words prove themselves to be rather prophetic. In the movies of your grandparents if an issue could not be resolved, manly macho men slugged it or shot it out with their opponents. That wasn't considered action/adventure, it was simply drama. These days, many of the most intense dramas revolve around the courtroom. There, hard-eyed, passionate and committed men valiantly contest each other with words. The winner of the fight is he who can argue better. The fight is fought, the battle won, without ever messing up your hair.

Kind of a limp noodle that.

Somehow a steely eyed lawyer as the protector of truth, justice and the American way, just doesn't have the same panache. And since lawyers tend to be motivated towards achieving victory more from a desire to get paid than proving what is "right and wrong," it is also as much an unrealistic fantasy as the macho loner who rides in to save the town with his blazing guns.

Words alone don't get anything done. Doing something is what gets it done.

Unfortunately, in the more modern, politically correct culture that pervades western society, words have often replaced action as a measure of conduct. In "civilized circles," words are ascribed more power than actions. And it is most often words that are used as weapons against your fellow humans. Words can easily inflict emotional pain.

What is even more indicative of the power of words is the task of a "spin-doctor: a person who controls "truth" (or at least public perception) by the clever and subtle use of words. As words can reveal truth, they can also confuse and cloud it. And in that murky haze, you never have to step up to the line and actually do something.

And that is the comfort of words and emotions, you can hide within them telling yourself that you are right and justified and never take the chance or the risk to be proven wrong or defeated. The quote by Teddy Roosevelt comes to mind at this point:

Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor souls who neither enjoy much, nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Being tough is a matter of deeds, not words.

When words fail
By looking at the movies, media and emphasis on rhetoric, one might construe that modern western culture has decided that words are the most powerful medium. And the person who uses words the best is the most powerful.

It is true words have great power.

That is right up until the moment someone quits listening. And then it becomes a matter of what you do. Not what you say. Because words have no power when someone isn't listening to you anymore.

Unfortunately, while people tend to use words to provoke violence, they really aren't that good at listening. Nor are they particularly aware of the effect that their words are having. It is a thin line between verbal violence and physical and one that is quickly crossed when someone decides that they have had enough of your lip.

Tough people tend not to be talkers, and they don't really respect or trust people who talk too much. As many a person, who has been slugged in the middle of saying something harsh has found out the hard way.

There comes a point where, words are of no use, it is time to act. It is time to do. It is time to achieve. And from that moment on, you need something more than just words. Return to top of page

Don't tell yourself what tough is
If you're too busy talking, you ain't listening. And that includes talking to yourself.

In psychology, there is a thing called "information bias." We filter out information that does not conform to what we think is the truth. We literally will not see contrary information, or we will alter its value or definition so as not to threaten our preconceived notions.

And believe it or not, when you are so busy telling yourself how things are that you don't see how things really are, you are doing the exact same thing. You are filtering out other important information.

If you are so busy telling yourself what tough is, you won't see the truth of what it really is.

This is especially true if your definitions of "tough" come from movies or small-time, local assholes. You will be so busy telling yourself how tough these guys are for bullying people that you won't see who they steer well clear of. And if you don't see that, you will never ask yourself, "Why are they avoiding that person?"

In otherwords, you will be so convinced that you know what tough is, will you won't see it when the real thing walks right past you. Only by watching those who are truly "tough as nails" that you begin to see what it really is, and how tough people really act. This as opposed to punks.

And there is a world of difference.

Truly tough people have a quiet commitment about them to do what ever it takes to get the job done. It is as much a part of them as light is to daytime. They don't need to talk about it or convince other people about it. It is just there. The next time you see a group of punks, who would ordinarily be loud and boisterous, but are sitting there quietly, take a look around for such a person. Odds are they have spotted him long before you and that is why they are not misbehaving. Return to top of page

Lies about "respect"
Being "respected" is a big thing on the streets. Unfortunately, what a lot of young gangbangers and toughs are really talking about when they are nattering on about respect is an airplane without wings. It's not going to fly. And the reason is that it is missing critical components.

Straight up, "respect" as it is used on the streets is a fantasy made up by children -- albeit dangerous children

Children who have no idea what is really involved in being an adult or what is good for them. A child left to him or herself will gorge on sweets and things that taste good with no concept of nutrition or health. In time, that diet will backfire and reality will catch up. The same is true with children telling themselves what it means to be a man.

I'm not joking when I say it is children telling children what it means to be an adult. An 11 year-old child being lectured on what it means to be a man by an 18 year-old is the norm among gangs and streetrats. What does that inexperienced punk know about life? He doesn't know anything outside a 50 block area. He figured out in five years the secrets of life that have eluded billions of people for a million years? What were those poor ignorant fools thinking? The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about life is right there

Think about that: An ignorant, illiterate, dysfunctional drunk/stoned child is telling another child what life is all about? How accurate do you think that version of life's truth is going to be?

The street's version of respect, isn't respect at all. It is fear, bullying and selfishness.

It's the illusion that you are such a total badass you can do whatever you want, say what you want, take what you want and nobody will stop you -- because everybody is so afraid of you. That's one level. The other level is that you are safe from being hurt because you are so tough that nobody will dare cross you. That is why the idea of respect is -- a scared child's fantasy. One that wants the fear to go away and at the same time give them everything that they want.

It's do whatever you want without any repercussions or responsibilities. That's the dream.

The reality is most people trying to reach that dream end up dying a dogs' death, landing in prison, end up as burned out zombies on drugs/booze or spend the rest of their lives shitting in a bag taped to their stomach from where the bullet blew their guts out.

That's because they end up surrounded by like-minded people. Sane people want nothing to do with them. And when you are surrounded by like-minded people the realities we just mentioned catch up with you sooner or later. Return to top of page

Reality of respect
The truth is there are two wings that make the plane of respect fly. And those are duty and responsibility.

Without assuming these twin mantles, you will never be respected. Nor will you ever be tough. It is only after you have taken on these twin burdens that you will finally see what toughness really is.

Toughness isn't about instilling fear in others -- because fear only creates hatred. And hatred is the most common motivation for someone to attack. Toughness is the self-commitment to survive and carry on, no matter what is thrown at you. And the ones who are most successful doing this are the ones who are loyal to something bigger than themselves.

The person who has taken on the responsibility and trust of others and who will not quit because people are relying on him is truly tough. It is the man who has decided that there is something bigger than himself and works towards that no matter what happens is the one who defines tough.

It is the man, who for the sake of his family, lowers himself into a coal mine and daily risks dying of black lung or being buried alive so his children can eat. It is the man who goes out and busts his back, day in and day out, doing hard physical labor to keep a roof over his children's head that is tough. It is the rancher who walks out into a life-threatening blizzard because his livestock need to be tended so his family's livelihood is not destroyed. It is the soldier who, with quiet determination stands, exposed to the elements all night and willing to lay down his life, so no attack can come trough to hurt his fellows. It is the fireman who rushes into a burning building to save someone's life that is tough.

And when these people stand up, punks shut up.

Toughness isn't about fear and doing whatever you want. Toughness is about surviving whatever life throws at you and keeping on going on because you have no other choice. Toughness isn't about you and what you want, it's about not quitting because others need you. Return to top of page

The St. Bernard and the Badger (or why punks walk wide of real toughness)
My wife grew up on a ranch in the mountains of Colorado. The brutal weather conditions were just a fact of life. And no matter what you felt like, the survival of the livestock was paramount. If they died, your livelihood was destroyed. That meant that no matter how tired you were, how sick you were, how much you just felt like loafing or how bad the weather, you sucked it up and went out and did what was necessary. These are tough people. These are the kind of people who will get an ear ripped half off, jam their hat over it and keep on working until the job is done before they will go to the doctor.

However, a story of her's really exemplifies the difference between mean and tough...and why mean little punks (who many people think are tough) steer clear of those who really are. Her mother had a male St. Bernard that was just plumb mean. It was big, and it was a bully that would growl at a human just as fast as it would at another dog. It terrorized the kids and the other dogs on the ranch.

One day, however, while she was out riding the pastures and checking the cattle, the St. Bernard, who had trailed along, came across a half-grown badger waddling across the pasture. The badger wasn't doing anything except going about his business. While the dog knew not to chase the livestock (ranchers shoot dogs that do that), it considered smaller animals fair game. This dog took after that badger and discovered the difference between mean and tough.

That little baby badger ripped the shit out that 200 pound St. Bernard. And it did so before the St. realized that things were going wrong. The dog had been so focused on attacking, it took it a few seconds to realize that it should be running. And during that time, the badger just savaged something at least 10 times bigger than itself. All of a sudden, all its size, attitude and meanness was facing something that it hadn't experienced before -- grim determination and no hesitation to do what had to be done.

The only reason that dog lived was that my wife's father was the vet for the entire mountain valley. He patched it back together. Oddly enough, that dog never went after another badger again as long as it lived.

That St. Bernard was mean, that badger was tough.

A parallel can be drawn here between that story and so-called "tough guys." We aren't joking about those loud, tough-talking, swaggering bullies walking wide of a certain kind of person. And the kind of people they avoid are those who are truly tough. Those who have the commitment to survive whatever life throws at them and keep on going.

Bullies know that someone who is dedicated to doing whatever it takes to survive and take care of his family will -- if the punks try anything -- blow a hole in their chests big enough to drive a truck through...and do it without hesitating. To someone who wades through hardship every day, all a punk is is one more challenge to be overcome. And the punk knows that, which is why he avoids causing trouble with such people.

But like that badger, they prefer to be left alone. They don't go out looking for trouble. They don't try to get something for nothing. They are just doing what they have to do in order to fulfill their responsibilities and duties, namely taking care of their own.

Next time you are in an area where you see a "tough guy" who decides *not* to cause shit, instead of focusing on him, take a look around and see who else is there and why the "bad boy" decided to keep his mouth shut. That will tell you more about the difference between mean and tough than any reality based training program.

How do you become tough?
So here's the secret of being tough...find something bigger than you are and take on responsibilities. Earn the trust and respect of others by doing your duty, whether that means raising your family to the best of your abilities, protecting others, standing the line or taking care of those who depend on you.

That is where you will find the wherewithal to slog through hell if need be. It doesn't matter how you feel, if it is something that needs to be done, do it. You don't quit, you just bow your head and plug on.

And when that job is done and you can look up again, you will be amazed at the difference within you. You will finally understand what it truly means to be tough. And what it means to be respected.

Take a message to Garcia.

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