Fearless, I Face The Future

I was thinking; if my best mate were to put his hand to his face and rip off what I was led to believe was human skin, thereby revealing himself as a cyborg, should I be afraid?

Well, should I? If so, why is that?

After all if the guy has given me, say, ten years of friendship, why would fear suddenly enter the equation?

Should I be intimidated because I can now see his moving bits? (And if he were to show me his, am I obliged to show him mine?)

Okay, so on one level – thinking he was a homo sapien – I’ve been bonding with him under a misapprehension, but is that enough justification for the relationship to end?

If so, is it because a basic element of being human – that of having the power to trust – has been exposed as false?

I ask, because doing my day job involves working with young teenagers, and the amount of technology that now fills their time suggests to me that a few of them may be cyborgs. What kind of disturbs me is that I can’t tell who are the humans. I find myself becoming suspicious that I may be lecturing to a mixed group. Those who yawn a lot during the morning are obviously humans who were in front of a screen until the early hours. On the other hand, Lance and Jerome are, I suspect, unnaturally brighter than they should be for fourteen year-olds, never yawning and having a challenging look whenever I communicate directly with either of them.

So if they are part of the cyborgian fraternity, well, should I worry?

For some months, I’ve been trying to work out – privately – what properties make us human, like, for example, trust. I only have a few mates, not because I am a miserable bastard (which I’m not) but because I find that inevitably, I only have a limited time to share with others. I’ve learned from experience that if a thing has life, it will atrophy if it isn’t fed, so I make an

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effort to keep my one-to-one friendships well-watered.

Shooting the shit regularly with each of them helps to build the trust that I reckon is a fundamental element of bonding between guys.

There’s a section in the What Men Do Guide about Alexander the Great and the way he sustained close relationships with the guys with whom he was tight. Remember, we’re talking about a time when entrapment and betrayal were the ultimate sins (though according to today’s leading psychologists they still are what we guys fear most.),

So, is my current fear of getting close to a cyborg a sad reflection of my lack of balls? Should I accept that I’m fast becoming like one of the Neanderthals who, 30,000 years ago, couldn’t keep up with the competition of the homo sapiens and eventually died out?

Currently, as a homo sapien, perhaps I should start to pal up with the homo cyborgs and get used to grinding my molars on a diet of megabyte salad.

Re-addressing the Balance

Three weeks ago we posted a blog entitled ‘Life’s A Buffet’, in which we bemoaned the ‘speed’ of Life today and its resultant demands on our time, our energy and the ramifications on our thought processes.

Since we produced that blog I’ve been thinking about how reflective it was of our lopsided existence –

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in that we have fallen into the trap of placing excessive emphasis on ‘Thinking Man’ at the expense of ‘Feeling Man’ and ‘Sensing Man’.

Is this cutting-off of Feeling and Sensing the inevitable result of the power of the bureaucrat and his need to reduce life to quantity so that, unlike quality, it can be objectively measured and assessed?

It makes me wonder how much of the pain that is so common in families – the taken-for-granted/under-appreciated wife; the emotionally neglected children; the ‘forgotten’ parents – are now unhappy because the father figure at the centre of these relationships no longer includes Feelings and Sensing within his system of human values.

And if you were to make a list of the qualities that you deemed made you human, would you place ‘Feeling’ above ‘Thinking’?

If this was considered relative to our communication with others then the heart, as the centre of ‘Feeling Man’, reaches a deeper level of human understanding than the surface level of the brain.

Compare, for example, the empathy we have with those in distress or who are grieving because they have lost a loved one. Our power to display compassion and empathise deeply with the

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other guy is the result of recognising his Feelings from an awareness of our own. If we lack access to these Feelings there is no way we can reach the depth necessary to provide him with comfort and understanding.

Instead, we have only the glib surface provided by the brain which, through its intelligent knowledge of our culture, ‘knows’ what to say and how to behave. But this is little more than sentimental good manners akin to the calculated bonhomie we share with the guy with whom we play golf – the ‘friendship’ of the intellect; the brain-to-brain communication which allows us to play chess with a robot.

This is not to decry the powers of the brain but simply to question if the aforementioned ‘speed’ within which we now live has created a distortion of human values.

Have we succumbed to the philosophy promulgated by Rene Descartes (1596-1650) with his ‘Cognito, ergo sum’ – ‘I think, therefore I am’ – which clearly places the brain at the centre of our existence?

A serious study of the history of our long maturing process is

surely a better guide to the formation of our human values.

The Sensing with which we first made contact as human beings occurred in the trees when we risked our first experience of co-operation.

Recognising that co-operation actually achieved its objectives, the process led on to the emergence of Sensing Man and, much much later, to Mr Intellectual and his practical knowledge. We became as we are – fully fledged homo sapiens.

But where are we going now?

Craft or Die

In an age in which we must have everything instantly, I’m thankful to work in an Industry in which Craft is still highly valued.

Graphic Designers and Art Directors seem to fiddle endlessly, obsessed with the detail. They stew over

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tiny gaps between letters (they even have a word for these gaps), the less tiny gaps between words (they have a different name for these types of gaps), and will spill their (or your) blood before diminishing their favourite gap of all, ‘white space’.

Then there are Copywriters. There’s something a bit ‘Orwell 1984’ about them. They try to reduce every possible piece of communication to its absolute minimum and simplest. It’s not quite got to “Doubleplus Good” but it can’t be long now. A copywriter will spend days, if not weeks, fiddling and prodding and pruning to see if they can say a two word phrase in one word. It’s word whittling.

An Ad agency full of bearded chaps in skinny jeans might not seem like the ideal foundation for a post about manly crafting, but it is. So an Ad agency isn’t the Carpenter’s workshop, the Blacksmith’s forge or Stone Mason’s lathe, but it shares the requisite qualities to be grouped with these super masculine crafts.

And while we’re at it, let’s throw in the Samurai too. Early on in their career(?) they would choose a discipline, archery, hand to hand combat, sword, horsemanship and more, then they would spend the rest of their life in the pursuit of perfection in that discipline. Crafty bunch.

To craft almost seems unreasonable now. “It’ll do” passes. Furniture is expected to fall to pieces sooner or later. Typos are found in every newspaper (and a lot of ads… and the odd one on this blog). Craft is the opposite of this culture. Time is irrelevant to an extent, because the aim isn’t to produce as much of something in as little time as possible, it’s to make something to the standard you are striving toward… and hell, if you don’t quite reach it this time, you’ll be that little bit better for the next attempt.

Craft is caring and passion and sweat. It’s standards. It’s setting an example. And that’s What Men Do.

A final note from the one and only Snoop Lion (neé Dogg)

“If it’s flipping hamburgers at McDonald’s, be the best hamburger flipper in the world. Whatever it is you do you have to master your craft.”

Me, My Razor and I

This week’s Guest Blog comes after a shaving related revelation by our good friend, Philip Ralph.

I suppose I must have been 12 or 13 and I guess he must have shown me how to do it but none of this is based on any actual recollection or memory. I’m just guessing that, at some point, my dad must have done what all dad’s are supposed to do…

He must have taught me how to shave.

I’ve never been a guy with a ‘five o’clock shadow’. More like a ‘midnight the following day if I’ve

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eaten a lot of spinach shadow’ kind of guy. But still, like every other man, at a certain age, the dark shadows on my face ceased to be mud and actually were that crappy downy hair that guys get before they start shaving. And after thinking it was cool for five minutes – (a mistake, guys, let me assure you of that – it isn’t cool. It looks crap, end of story) – I realised pretty fast that I was *never* going to look good with a beard and so began to dip my toes into the adult world of shaving.

My dad has always been an electric razor kind of guy. Maybe it’s because he was born during the war and saw this new technology as a boon when it arrived. No more soaping and brushing, scraping and hacking. Just plug it in, charge it up and BUZZZZZZZZZZ … Beard gone! But I never felt that way. Right from the start, electric razors seemed to me to be about as much use as chocolate teapots. I rubbed it round my face for five minutes and came away feeling vaguely dirty. So, for me, it was always going to be wet shaving. And this is where the fun really starts. And also my story.

The common way of going about it nowadays is you buy some form of disposable razor system – Mach-this, or Zoom-that – you slather your face with foam from a can and scrape away with your – how many blades?!?! – razor until your face is smoothish and then you dab something on it and Bob’s your uncle. And that’s how I shaved for years – squirting, scraping, dabbing. But something about it wasn’t right… All those razors, used a few times and then chucked away; a process of hair removal that never required me to do anything other than move my hand up and down. It was boring. It was soulless. It was wasteful.

I know you’re probably thinking what difference do a few little razors make in the grand scheme of things? It’s not like throwing away a car, is it? But – in the course of a lifetime of shaving and throwing – it probably is. And I don’t want to contribute to landfill. Not till I’m dead.

So, I got this idea. I knew that – somewhere in the mists of time, before disposables – men used to do it differently. I’d seen it on TV or in movies. They used to shave with cutthroat razors – otherwise known as ‘straight’ razors. A single blade, agonisingly sharp, without any guard or safety features. And you shave with it by, literally, dragging it across your face. (For the record, at this point, if you saw Naomi Harris’s Moneypenny shaving Daniel Craig’s Bond with a cutthroat in Skyfall and thought it looked cool, you were right. If you thought she wouldn’t have left him a bleeding mess, you were wrong. Dreadful technique…) I knew this was how men used to shave but I didn’t know if you still could. I turned to the internet to find out…

Some weeks later I was walking into a shop on London’s Jermyn Street called Taylor’s of Old Bond Street. Despite this odd confusion of name and place, everything else about the shop is a paradise for men. Its sole purpose is ‘male grooming’ and not the kind that is illegal… Inside, amidst a wonderland of brushes, sprays, creams and unguents, a fantastic shop assistant, dressed to the nines in tails and dress shirt, took me through the process of buying my first straight razor and all the accoutrements I would need to use it. And then he showed me how…

The blade must be stropped – run up and down a strip of leather – to hone the already sharp cutting edge to infinitesimal thinness; the face must be washed and prepared with shaving oil; the soap must be lathered using a traditional badger hair brush before being applied to the wet beard; and then the blade must be carefully – oh, SO VERY, VERY CAREFULLY – run against the grain of the beard, shaving back to the skin; before finally after shave cream is applied and a block of moistened alum dabbed on to cauterise any major snicks or bleeds. As I took my many purchases to the till where George, a man as old as the shop itself, rang them up for me, I felt as if I were joining an ancient lineage of male behaviour. George saw my trepidation and excitement and winked at me – “Best shave you’ll ever have, son…”

Later, at a friend’s flat – when everyone else was out

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so as to avoid spectators – I prepared myself for my first ‘real’ shave. Half an hour later, dazed and bloody, I looked at myself in the mirror – and for the first time, perhaps in my whole adult life, I felt like a man.

Why? Because shaving like this is all about responsibility, danger and time. It’s about staying present and aware for every second because the tiniest moment of distraction can lead to a cut, or worse, a serious wound. You can’t stand there, razor in one hand, dick in the other, listening to the radio, checking Facebook and scratching your arse. You have to focus entirely on the task at hand. And you have to take your time. And you have to care for the blade – sharpening, honing, oiling. I asked the guy in the shop how long it would last and he looked at me with an amused smile at my naivety: “This razor, sir, will last you a lifetime…”

Imagine, just for a second, that instead of handing me a plug in electric monstrosity when I was 13, my dad had taken me to that shop and bought me my razor. Not my ‘first’ razor. My one and only razor. And I had learnt from him – and all the men there – the art of male grooming. Every shave from then on would have been a sign that I had entered manhood. And it was not a thing to take lightly. Manhood means being responsible for yourself. And that means being able to wield a razor that could quite easily kill you if you don’t pay attention.

This isn’t just shaving, my friends. It’s a philosophy for living. It’s a philosophy for being a man. And I’m never going back because George was right in so many ways…

It is the best shave I’ve ever had.

Life’s a Buffet

I know that there’s that famous quote from Forrest Gump, that, “Life is like a box of chocolates…” but Life is actually more like a Las Vegas buffet:

Endless opportunities to indulge every taste, and no way you can have everything you’d like.

As with a Las Vegas Buffet, more and more of the guys I talk to seem to have the same problem, too much on their plate.

More and more is being demanded from us. Work wants more of our time for no extra money, rents are increasing, bills are on the up. There are friendships to maintain, relationships to contribute to, stuff to be bought, fun to be had…

On top of all of that is the increase in speed of the world. Well, not the world actually, that turns at the same pace. The sun rises and falls. But the thinking world has accelerated (if not been wiped out).

The result is that lots of us find ourselves strained, under pressure and stretched. We’re running from spot to spot, with little time to think. And when we’re stretched thin, we have to sacrifice or everything suffers.

And there’s the rub. Many of us aren’t willing to take a good look at what we’re doing, see where it’s heading (a life of total compromise), and take the tough choices to change things.

This thought process reminded me of a story I was told by a very tight Friend some years ago.

An expert in Time Management was speaking to a group of business students when he announced it was time for a quiz. He pulled out a large glass jar into which he placed a dozen fist size rocks. He asked the students if the jar was full and when they answered “yes” he proceeded to pour a bag of gravel into the jar. Again he asked the students if the jar was full

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and, being more wary this time, they answered that it probably wasn’t. The lecturer then poured a bag of sand into the jar, followed by a pitcher of water.

When he asked the students what they thought was the point of the illustration one bright spark said it was to show that no matter how full your schedule there is always space for more.

“Wrong” said the tutor. “It teaches us that if you don’t put the big rocks in first then you will never fit them in. If you sweat the little stuff (the gravel, the sand) then you’ll fill your life with little things to worry about that don’t really matter and you’ll never have the real quality time you need to spend on the important stuff (the big rocks).”

So, when you find yourself in a situation where you find yourself overstretched and under pressure, there is really only one question which you should ask yourself:

What are your Big Rocks?