Monday, February 13, 2023

Purpose makes life worth living

David French, Men Need Purpose More Than ‘Respect’, NYTimes, Feb. 12, 2023.

But is respect a key to happiness and meaning? Let’s consider veterans. They form one of the most respected communities in America. The military is the second-most respected institution in the United States (barely behind small businesses), and many Americans perceive vets as “more disciplined, patriotic and loyal than those who have not served.”

Yet as The Times reported in 2021, the suicide rate for veterans is “1.5 times as much as the rate for civilians.” For younger post-9/11 veterans, the suicide rate is 2.5 times the rate for civilians. Men I served with have died by suicide. That’s a staggering toll for one of America’s most-respected populations. Clearly, even profound familial and national respect is not enough to immunize men from deaths of despair.

Yes, the trauma of combat accounts for some of this terrible toll, but not all. If you speak to struggling veterans, many will tell you that they have respect, but they don’t have purpose. That lack of purpose is often exacerbated by the loss of fellowship. My own experience helped me understand this powerful reality. Every person endures dark nights of the soul. One of the worst of my life took me by complete surprise. It was at the end of my deployment in Iraq, where I served from 2007 to 2008, the first evening after I departed Forward Operating Base Caldwell in Diyala Province to begin my long journey home.

I was a reservist, so I didn’t return with the unit but by myself. I’d longed for this moment — I was returning to my wife and children! — and yet I felt bereft. Empty. After almost a full year of having a very clear, decisive and delineated mission (with life and death often at stake), I was returning to a more complicated, confusing reality of often conflicting responsibilities — one shared, I think, by most American men and women alike.

I was confused by my feelings at the time. Now I understand. My mission was over. My brothers were gone. They were returning to Fort Hood in Texas. I was in Tennessee. Our relationship could never be the same. [...]

One does not have to join the infantry to find purpose in life, and a man can and should find immense meaning in the simple yet profound daily rhythms of fatherhood, friendship, healthy romantic relationships and an honest day’s work.

The true challenge to American masculinity is far upstream from politics and ideology. It’s not fundamentally about what ideological combatants say about men — that they have become “toxic” on the one hand, or “feminized” on the other. Rather the challenge is much more about a man finding his purpose, and there are few better purposes than helping the people you love walk through life.

There is more at the link.


  1. Witness the change in work culture in Johnstown after the exodus of mining and steel. Rampant drugs. I've met people in Philly who know of Johnstown because of its place in drug dealing networks.

  2. Alas, that makes sense geographically – west to Pittsburgh, south to West Virginia, and east to Central PA & then Philly.