Monday, August 19, 2013

A manly tone – Anton Chekhov

In a long letter, the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov (pictured) admonished his older brother Nikolai, a talented artist but a drunkard, that he was living a lie. Anton’s tone is manly: direct and substantive. It is strikingly different from the pussyfooting tone that many American men use today (samples here and here).

For example, Anton is direct and substantive when he expresses sympathy and respect for his brother:
As your brother and intimate, I assure you that I understand you and sympathize with you from the bottom of my heart. I know all your good qualities like the back of my hand. I value them highly and have only the greatest respect for them. If you like, I can even prove how I understand you by enumerating them. In my opinion you are kind to the point of fault, magnanimous, unselfish, you’d share your last penny, and you’re sincere. Hate and envy are foreign to you, you are open-hearted, you are compassionate with man and beast, you are not greedy, you do not bear grudges, and you are trusting. You are gifted from above with something others lack: you have talent. This talent places you above millions of people, for there is only one artist for every two million people on earth.
He is also direct and substantive when he comes to the main point:
You have only one failing, the cause of the lie you’ve been living, your troubles, and your intestinal catarrh. It’s your extreme lack of culture.... Please forgive me... The thing is, life lays down certain conditions. If you want to feel at home among intellectuals, to fit in and not find their presence burdensome, you have to have a certain amount of breeding. Your talent has brought you into their midst. You belong there, but... you seem to yearn [to] escape and feel compelled to waver between the cultured set and your next-door neighbors. It’s the bourgeois side of you coming out, the side raised on birch thrashings beside the wine cellar and handouts, and it’s hard to overcome, terribly hard.
He states and describes the conditions that he believes “civilized people ought to satisfy.” I summarize and paraphrase them here:
They respect other people.
They have deep compassion.
They pay their debts.
They are candid and truthful, even in small matters.
They do not fish for compliments.
They are not starfu**ers.
They respect and exercise their talent.
They “cultivate their aesthetic sensibilities.”
In the letter, Anton Chekhov (more precisely, the translator) uses none of the creepy effeminate euphemisms that so many men use today. For example, he does not use issues as code for failings, or self-esteem as code for unearned self-respect.

Refreshing, isn’t it?

The Takeaway: If you are a man, talk and write like a man. Be direct and substantive, not evasive and flimsy.

See disclaimer.

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