There’s a cowboy culture in Texas that consists of games where you prove your worth through machismo. They call this a “rodeo,” but really it is men competing with men for who is dumber.
They prove dominance over animals and battle for “strength” with games like “how long can you stay on top of a bull before it swings you off” or “can you catch a running horse while on another horse.” There is a history and heritage to these games that is treated with profound respect.
I grew up adjacent to this culture. My family isn’t Texan, but we lived in Texas. And as my family assimilated into the dominant culture, I was expected to assimilate with them. But all I could see was the stink of cow manure and the sound of a question no one would answer: Why is this fun?
For many, it’s exhilarating. Watching a man atop a bull, man triumphs over nature. It’s visceral. It’s ancient. It’s stupid. All I could think about were the neck problems this poor cowboy will have from all the whipping around – and then when he falls, because they always do, the animal stomps on him. And you’re expected to give him sympathy for putting himself in harm’s way gratuitously. They call this “brave.”
It’s a silly tradition. And my writing about it is sacrilege. Which is the part I want to talk about today: There are things you are not allowed to say, see, or admit you believe. For if you do you risk – on a personal level – rejection and mockery. And on a macro level – you risk exposing the fraud. Dispelling the illusion.
Most people cannot sit with the tension of two truths. In the case of a rodeo, parts of it are beautiful. Heritage, culture, respect. There is even love. And there are parts of it that are inhumane. Parts that are inane, ridiculous, arcane, and downright dumb.
Two things are true.
The rodeo is both dumb and profound. Inane and historical. Stinky and nostalgic. Gratuitous and important (some cowboys and ranchers make their entire yearly incomes from one of these rodeos). Being human means we have the capacity to hold the tension of two truths. To recognize our beliefs are different from our thoughts and different from reason. We can hold the tension.
Most of us simply never learned out. It is easier to choose the illusion. Blind acceptance of the status quo. To take the position you’re instructed to take: This is fun. And never ask why. Why is this fun? What are we doing here? And why are we doing it? What are we participating in? And do I agree?
It is difficult to interrogate our own moral intuitions, but, IMO, it is fun. And critical. Because blind acceptance of the status quo is always dangerous.
We make progress as a species when we probe and challenge what is considered “tradition.” That is how we honor both ourselves and our loved ones. It is how we improve upon what came before.
But you cannot improve if you do not challenge, question, and endure the discomfort of asking: why? And forcing a tradition to justify itself.
Blind acceptance of the status quo and dominant culture is dangerous, AND rejection of the status quo and dominant culture is dangerous, too.
There is no safe option. In one, you risk blindness. In the other, you risk rejection.
Choose being ousted from the group. Mocked, chastized, and put down. Choose to not assimilate into belief systems that are rigid or do not accept dissenting opinions. Blindness is the more dangerous option, even if it comes with the illusion of friendship, belonging, acceptance, and – above all – certainty.
Do not settle for the illusion.
Any “friendship” forged while upholding an illusion, is not a real friendship.
Any “connection” created while upholding an illusion is not a real connection.
Any “certainty” promised while upholding an illusion is a delusion.
If you look at the world around you and ask, “Why?” surround yourself with those who will contend with you in answering the question.
Most people go through life asleep – accepting “this is how things are” and relegating themselves to lives of quiet desperation. They refuse to face their own internal why. To assess their motivations. To audit whether or not they’re actually happy. To ask themselves what they want, need, and believe. To separate what they believe from what is true.
These people are dangerous. Because in order to justify their self-abandonment and shame, they must push their value system on others.
Examining our invisible scripts and deigning to challenge them – that is the call.
Take the call.
Endure the discomfort that comes from being who you are, challenging the status quo, and being the person at the rodeo who asks, “Why is this fun?”
PS: Other important life questions we should ask ourselves regularly:
- Why do we do it this way?
- Why is that better?
- Why does this matter?
- Why is it important?
- What do I want to be true?
- What is actually true?
- What is this really about?