Alpha Male

That’s not my term; it’s Valerie’s. The word to me draws up pictures of Gorillas in the forest. But the other night, as we were driving home, I was whining about the fact that I have so few friends, particularly guy friends. Due to a weird quirk in my personality, not having a lot of friends doesn’t normally affect me so much – I don’t get lonely. But what bothers me is that it seems pretty consistent that whenever I meet somebody I think I ought to be able to get along with, I don’t like them. This is particularly true when the person is a guy with any kind of position or prestige, or strong character. Almost inevitably, I don’t like them: they’re too harsh, too rude, too proud, too wrongheaded, too unopen to correction. Normally, I like to think of myself as an easygoing kind of guy, but it seems like I have something in me that rebels whenever I think I ought to make a friend, and I just can’t get along with half the men I meet.

Valerie summed it up in two words: “Well Kyle,” she said, “You’re an alpha male. And these other men you keep having problems with, they’re alpha males also, and you recognize that in them – it’s part of what makes you think you ought to get along so well. But when you see them leading in ways you don’t approve of, it sets off triggers so that you want to fix them.” Of course, being a dutiful wife, she also assured me that all my judgments about these other men are of course correct, that the things they’re doing that get under my skin are betrayals of their weak character, and that I’m perfectly justified in disliking them. In short, I am the very image of Jane Austen’s Mr. Knightly, and not merely a jerk with control issues, which gratified me immensely. But in one step she punched my equality button and registered an incipient dislike of silverback gorillas.

I’m a gut-level American believer in equality. The suggestion that some people are better equipped to be leaders and others are naturally inclined to be followers makes me queasy because there seems to be buried in it somewhere the idea that some people are better than others. Doesn’t it follow that men who are leaders are better men – more manly, more virtuous – than men who are merely followers? Besides, much of what I’ve seen under the guise of “leadership” has been nothing more than stiff-necked bullying. Isn’t leadership really another name for bullying? But unfortunately for my gut, I’m having a hard time holding on to my opinion. Equality in the sight of God is not the same as equivalence in calling or talent. Just because some people with leadership ability are nothing more than bullies doesn’t mean that others of us can’t be knights and lords, where “lord” means “protector, benefactor.”

As I was mulling over Valerie’s assertion that leadership is good and that I have some of it, I began to think of some consequences to my point of view: Since I have been assuming that, except in special circumstances, leadership was bad, by default I was passive in my relationships. My idea of friendship (among men) has been that we become friends by falling in together because of a common goal, and then stay friends because of common interests and amiable temperaments. The idea of pursuing friendship with another guy was totally foreign, because pursuit means control and control is bullying. As a result, most of my friendships have come about because *they* pursued *me*, or there was some combination of need or pity that caused me to go to them. It’s a wonder, you may think, that I’m married, or that I married so well. But that’s a different beast altogether: pursuing a relationship with a woman was all right, because that fell under the category of romance. And this of course creates another hurdle by association, because pursuing friendship isn’t at all romantic.

So let me take the other view for a moment: some of us are leaders, “alpha males,” and some of us are not. This does not undermine equality. In fact, it supports the idea of Christian hierarchy: that it is entirely possible for us all to be equal without being equivalent, and that it is possible for there to be legitimate lines of authority invested not merely in positions, but in people, all without demeaning the inherent value of the follower, or elevating the worth of the leader. Paul is no better than Barnabus.

If this is the case, then I am one of those leaders. I do not say “I have decided to be a leader,” because that would be impossible. Rather, I say that the instinctual desire to control isn’t inherently sinful, but rather can be directed by God that I may be used to nurture and protect. If I am in fact a leader, then I have a duty before God to seek out people who are followers and befriend them. They want (that is, they lack) someone to follow, and I want (lack) someone to lead.

I now have the grounds, I think, for a kind of philosophical experiment (if there can be such a thing). If the “alpha male” instinct is inherently wrong, then giving in to it should lead to increased strife. The people I seek out to be their friend will be offended and will want to avoid my oppressive ways. But if leadership can be subject to God’s redemption, then by being more assertive in relationships, by being more proactive in pursuing friendships will result in the relief of people who are natural followers and the gratification of all. I think I’ll try it, and we’ll see what happens.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Is everybody supposed to be a leader? Does God desire hierarchy in His church? Are some people naturally more equipped to be in charge than others? What’s the difference between equality and equivalence?

3 thoughts on “Alpha Male”

  1. Lead by being honest and clear about where you are going first to yourself but no less to those who may chose to follow. In my mens small group we are all leaders in the fact we are all the the first of our group going someplace new. Each of us in turn are followers as we listen, watch and follow in the path of our brothers in Christ. We can all do our walks alone but it is being in a group and leanding as well as following that gets us further in the end.

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  2. Hierarchy is not a bad thing. Also, leaders are by no means the most qualified. I think it likely that there is almost always someone in a medium to large group that would be a better leader, they just don’t want to. The most importiant thing is the will to be a leader, not just the ability. Of course, ability is nice to.

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