Justin Taylor Gives Advice to Young Men

In 2014, I experienced one of the darkest years of my life. Like an idiot, I processed some of that darkness on Twitter. That took the form of publicly distancing myself from Desiring God. In response, a bunch of female bloggers responded to what I said with a lack of tact or knowledge. That’s one of the problems with twitter—I didn’t have the emotional self-awareness to realize that it was a terrible platform for any serious discussion, most of all difficult emotional issues. One woman, in particular, accused me publicly of causing harm to individuals in the church simply by virtue of some of the things I was saying. That was a very bad season for me, and I didn’t know how to handle myself during that season.

At the same time, there was one man whom I simultaneously revered and resented. He represented everything I wished I could have been, and for that reason, I was very jealous of his prestige and position within evangelicalism. It ended up one day, during my dark night of the soul on twitter, that this man liked this woman’s tweet accusing me of harming people. I was furious. I unfollowed him. I was on the edge of leaving the Christian world altogether.  

And then—this man emailed me. He took ownership of our relationship—instead of backing away, he sought to strengthen it. He said: “If there’s anything I’ve done to offend you, I’m sorry. You’re a very gifted man. I would love to talk on the phone if you have any free time.” So, I agreed to talk with him on the phone. He called me, and said: “Paul, I’m not going to judge you. I’m not here to rebuke you. I just want you to know that I really do care about you. I’m here for you.” And he stayed on the phone with me for about three hours, asking me questions—joking with me, sympathizing with me. 

He said: “When you move out to Chicago, I would love to get breakfast.” The very weekend I moved out to Chicago, he bought me breakfast. Every time I went out to Wheaton since then, he buys me breakfast. Every time, he says the same thing: “Paul, you’re one of the most gifted young men I know. I’m excited for your future.” This man’s act of belief in me is one of the reasons I’m alive today. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’m still a Christian today.

This man laid down his ego, and reached out to me, when as far as he knew, I would lash out at him. He listened. He believed in me. When I lost my faith in God, he didn’t lose his faith in me. Justin is one of the main reasons I ended up remaining an evangelical. His kindness to me softened me to the culture, and to the possibility of it being a safe place for men. So, I reached out to him to ask what advice he would give to young men who were in my position. His answer was very profound. In fact, if there’s anything missing in my formulation of masculinity, it’s probably this man’s advice. 

This man is Justin Taylor, whom many know as the executive vice president of book publishing at Crossway, but he is also well known for his blog Between Two Worlds at The Gospel Coalition. I asked him to give my SelfWire listeners advice—specifically advice for young men who find themselves in a dark place.   

Justin Taylor’s Advice

Consciously cultivate the Christian virtue of kindness.  

Every word counts in that counsel.  

Consciously. Few meaningful changes happen in life without an intentional plan and a deliberate choice. It doesn't matter your background or your personality or your limitations or your preferences. You can choose to be kind. Today.

Cultivate. That's an agrarian metaphor. Our hearts, like soil, are rocky and need tilling and preparation and work in order for fruit to grow and for weeds to be killed.

Christian virtue of kindness. Christian kindness and worldly kindness can look similar on the surface. But Christian kindness has godly motives, standards, and goals.  

As you struggle in your early years to find your place in this world as a man, you will be told that kindness is a form of weakness. But that is only true of worldly kindness, which is a poor imitation of the real thing. Biblical kindness is not lazy and passive and mealy-mouthed and soft. Robust biblical kindness is at the heart of the meaning of the universe. Those who are in Christ have received the richest and fullest display of kindness ever seen through the gift of Jesus Christ (Rom. 2:4; Eph. 2:7; Titus 3:4). God is kind to those who continue in his kindness (Rom. 11:22). And his kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Love is kind (1 Cor. 13:4). We are to commend ourselves by our kindness (2 Cor. 6:4, 6). Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). We are commanded to be kind to one another and to put it on daily (Eph. 4:32; 2 Tim. 2:24; Col. 3:12).


I think you'll discover the consciously cultivating the Christian virtue of kindness will draw you outside of yourself, will encourage others, and will honor our good and kind Lord. 

Paul’s Reflection — Tactical Application of Christian Kindness

I won’t comment at length on Justin’s advice. But it’s a very deep and packed statement, which is a credit to Justin, so I’d like to unpack and apply what he said.

1. Alpha males can be just as bad as beta males.

The opposite of a beta male isn’t an alpha male—it’s a real man. And a real man doesn’t let his most masculine qualities run unchecked. In terms of Aristotle’s conception of virtue, a good man is a balanced man. Men who aren’t assertive often fail to be fully men. But men who are discourteously aggressive often have no control over themselves—they are just as childish as sheepish, passive men.

Kindness, closest to Thomas Aquinas’s category of humanitas—without humanitas, a man was an unenlightened brute. The opposite of humanitas was invidia, which we call “envy.” But a more straightforward Latin translation of invidia is “nonsight”—Dante depicted in Hell that those guilty of invidia were wandering around with lead jackets, their eyes sewen shut with leaden wire. What they were blind to was what they already had been given by God and family. Kindness is the opposite of invidia because it represents the refusal to be the victim—it is the ultimate, common relational mode of taking responsibility for another person. Kindness is not just being caring, but taking responsibility for someone who hates you. This is the ultimate version of responsibility.

This is the hardest aspect of what Jocko Willink calls extreme ownership. That’s why kindness is manly—not because Christians should be people-pleasing doormats, but because they recognize that the people to whom you most need to be kind are often those to whom it is hardest to be kind. That’s why kindness is the opposite of niceness—niceness is passive conformity to one’s social circumstances; kindness is the most radical form of common relational responsibility.

Kindness is the proactive directional concept that we ought to place on our masculine energy—kindness is the fitting end of aggression. Kindness makes the expression of moral grievances more eloquent. Jordan Peterson said: “It’s better to be a restrained monster than a well-behaved coward.” By the same token, it’s bad to be an unrestrained monster. Kindness is one of the restraints that helps men who wield the power of internal chaos toward a worthwhile creative act.

Kindness is really the lost masculine virtue. In the original chivalric code held by medieval knights, there were many masculine virtues. Léon Gautier, a 19th century French historian, explains the ten rules of the chivalric code of knights:[1]

  •             Believe the Christian doctrines.

  •             Defend the church.

  •             Defend the helpless.

  •             Love your home country.

  •             Don’t be a coward.

  •             Make war on the infidel without mercy.

  •             Be a hard worker.

  •             Never lie.

  •             Champion good against evil.

  •             And kindness

2. Kindness is verbal judo.

In 1993, George Thompson, a police officer with his Ph.D. in English, wrote the timeless book Verbal Judo, in which he explains the communicative principles that helped him to emotionally deescalate situations.[2] The metaphor of Judo communicates that, unlike a striking martial art, judo utilizes your opponent’s momentum against them, rather than countering their blow with your own blow.

I had a professor once who would always use this tactic with hostile students. Angry students would often approach him after class to disagree with him, and he would walk up to them nodding, with his eyebrows raised, communicating with his body language complete agreement and receptivity. He would say: “Absolutely, brother. I’m so thankful you’re in this class. We should get coffee.” Most of the time, the students would calm down and turn into a fanboy. It’s a basic psychological principle. He explained it to me one time—he said: “Paul, always find something to apologize for in a conflict. Even if it’s your tone. It’s a way to express kindness, which covers a multitude of sins.”

This is of course expressed in Romans 2:4 “The kindness of God leads you to repentance.”

3. Kindness separates you from virtue signalers.

The best part about kindness is that you can’t use it to posture over your opponent. The moment you use kindness as a tool to humiliate your opponent in a conversation, you become unkind, and you lose your tactical advantage. People will virtue signal about every single kind of virtue—how loving they are, how humble they are, how disciplined they are, how patient they are. But you’re never going to have a guy yelling at you about how kind he is. It’s impossible to virtue signal kindness. The only way to virtue signal kindness is to be genuinely kind—in which case, it’s not virtue signaling; it’s just virtue.

Conclusion

Cultivating a kind disposition is tactically advantageous in three ways—it puts other people at ease, it proactively deescalates conflict, and it keeps your ego from taking control of your behavior. Again, it is helpful for us to conceive of kindness as a virtue. A virtue is different from an obligation. An obligation is an abstract category that dictates how you should behave. A virtue is a manner of right behavior that is dictated, not by abstract logic, but because it is fitting with who you are as a human being and it cultivates your flourishing.

If you are the sort of man who is strenuously seeking to attain masculine qualities for himself, be kind. It will keep you smart. It will keep you sharp. It will make you a man. You need some sort of restraint on the monster inside—and it is a distinctively Christian virtue used by the most manly Christians in the history of the church. It’s effective. It’s orthodox. It’s historical. And it’s very neglected—especially by me. I need to do better. I need to be more kind. Otherwise, I’m just a monster.

Thankfully, Justin reached out to me when a nice person would have avoided me. Justin reached out to me when a domineering jerk would have written me off. Justin reached out to me when a passive-aggressive person would have told me everything would be okay while he gossiped behind my back. Justin was kind. Justin was a man. And in doing so, I can now try to imitate the same virtue.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Léon Gautier, Chivalry: The Everyday Life of the Medieval Knight, trans. Henry Frith (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1891).

[2] George J. Thompson, with Jerry B. Jenkins, Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion (New York: HarperCollins: 2013; orig., 1993).

 
 

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