Today Ninja Grandma raises compelling and thoughtful questions about the nature of good and bad men. She also persuasively argues that the most attractive dangerous man is one with a moral center of goodness.
In high school, I was, to put it mildly, obsessed with Lord of the Rings. I got made fun of for it, but I knew I was far from alone. However, I did start to wonder about six scenes in the story that I reread a thousand times. They gave me an oddly powerful feeling I couldn't put into words. For eleven years, I tried to puzzle out what drew me to them and the pattern that pulled them together.
You can skip this list if you haven’t read Lord of the Rings. For those who have, they were the following scenes;
- When the hobbits first meet Aragorn in an inn.
- When the group meets an elf named Glorfindel.
- When the fellowship reaches Lothlorien and run into elves guarding the area.
- When three characters nearly get themselves killed by Eomer.
- When Frodo and Sam are captured by Faramir.
- When Faramir scares them as though he will take the ring of power, then does not.
I was drawn to these scenes like a drug, reading them near daily, to the point I had to ask what was going on. Other than this mysterious emotion they caused, what was the common thread? I’m usually decent at patterns, but this one lost me. Perhaps it was something to do with characters meeting new people? But other scenes of first meetings did not give that feeling; and one scene here was not a first meeting. That wasn’t it.
While I puzzled over it, I noticed something else as I read Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and various mythologies. Things are often described as "dangerous" to imply bad. Intriguingly, I noticed this was not the case in these works.
In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf says they will enter Fangorn forest after spending the rest of the story warning them never to enter that dangerous place.
Dangerous! cried Gandalf.
And so am I, very dangerous: more dangerous than anything you will ever meet unless you are brought alive before the seat of the Dark Lord. And Aragorn is dangerous, and Legolas is dangerous. You are beset with dangers, Gimli, for you are dangerous yourself in your own fashion. Certainly… Fangorn himself, he is perilous too; yet he is wise and kindly nonetheless.
In The Chronicles of Narnia, it is stressed that Aslan is not a tame lion, not safe, but he is good.
In Hinduism, they worship deities of destruction. For a while, that threw me, but once I immersed myself in the stories, I realized destruction is not inherently bad. What makes it good or bad is what is being destroyed. And the Hindu gods of destruction, such as Shiva, Durga, and Kali, destroy what's evil and create new life. They are protectors.
God in the Bible destroyed entire nations for mistreating the vulnerable: foreigners, widows, and orphans.
In a short story called "The Smith of Wooten Major" by Tolkien, the main character goes to a supernatural realm, which is dangerous because he is a mere human. Sure, there are evils there. But the critical point is that even the really good things "cannot be approached without danger." He is just a tiny ant-like creature in a land of beings who could accidentally trample him with their magic and power.
I started to glimpse a specific kind of good, one that is gritty and terrifyingly dangerous. I love thunderstorms, fire, and the ocean, and I love sitting outside watching lightning, the wind threatening to carry me away. I am drawn to these powerful, good things. But I am also fully aware they might kill me. Light symbolizes truth, life, and goodness, yet a laser could vaporize us. There is such a thing as a good too potent and concentrated for us; so pure it would kill a mere mortal.
Good is exciting when you look at it this way. "Bad guys" have all the fun? Not a chance! "Dangerous guys" have all the fun, but you do not have to be bad to be dangerous. A strong enough good is just as exciting and wild and free! I suspect it is the more dangerous and scary way to live—where real adventures are to be found.
I grew to love the idea of a goodness so powerful it could kill us because it means that in a world with evil strong enough to utterly destroy, there is good just as powerful. An extremely gritty, scary, sometimes ugly goodness that can be trusted to stand against and defeat the evil I hate and fear, and there is much of that in this world. It gave me the freedom to be my own kind of dangerous, to fight when needed.
In college, two of my friends were discussing jiu-jitsu and a guillotine choke. She had recently started taking classes, and they explained that even though he was this strong army guy, she could take him down with it. Curious, I asked what it felt like, so he wrapped his arm around my neck and told me to tap out when I wanted. I did so right before I passed out.
Emotionally it was one of the strangest feelings I'd ever had. I was utterly helpless, there was no way I could get away from him, and he could even kill me if he held it long enough. But I knew he would never hurt me, so I was not only helpless but also completely safe.
I really liked that feeling. - Ninja Grandma
I wondered for a moment if I was a masochist, but then it hit me; I had felt this before! This was the feeling I got reading those Lord of the Rings scenes! The pattern was suddenly clear; when they meet Aragorn, he tells them he could kill them there. He is dangerous. But he is good and protects them. When they meet Eomer, his soldiers surround them with deadly weapons, but he is good. Down the list. Being vulnerable, surrounded by danger, but completely safe – not "safe," but "safer" than before they were surrounded by the threat – was the common element to all the parts of stories I felt addicted to.
I loved those six scenes in LOTR, I loved the feeling of my friend making me pass out, because they were examples of being vulnerable and safe. And that is precisely what intimacy is; safely vulnerable.
I think women crave intimacy more than men. Why? Not sure. But let's try this explanation; I am a woman, and I always feel physically vulnerable in the back of my mind. Most women walking down a street at night are worried (not necessarily scared, maybe not even conscious of it, but it's there) about being raped and attacked. I think we're all aware of that danger on some level. Most men are surprised when I tell them, and it seems evident and familiar to the women I talk to; it is always there. So to feel safe is incredibly impactful for those who usually do not. It's this immense relief, something out of the ordinary for us. It allows a certain tension and energy running through our bodies to relax. One in three women worldwide will be raped, coerced, and abused into having sex against her will. Lots of beatings too. Lots of us die. Women are NOT living in safety around the world. And we are all aware of that to our very core, even as nice men remain clueless to the extent of its impact.
Gregory David Roberts, the author of Shantaram, is one of the few men to have figured this out. I found this on his website back in 2009;
A recent email, unique but addressing a fairly common theme among my readers, talked about how the reader’s identification with my character, Karla, became much more poignant when it was revealed in the novel that the character had been raped by a man who was in a position of authority over her. I chose to give this aspect to my character’s history because I felt it to be such an important issue. So many of the women I’ve known, across the world, have been sexually abused or assaulted, that I felt I had to incorporate this subject in my novel, Shantaram. I’m not exactly sure why, but women open up to me: they tell me things, quite often, that they haven’t told their closest friends. During the course of many late night or quiet afternoon conversations, a lot of women – I mean, a lot: way more than half – have confided to me that they were sexually abused…..One night, many years ago in Bombay, I was talking with some friends about the wonders that can be seen and experienced in a walk around Bombay city completely alone at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. One of my friends, a young Israeli, said ‘It must be good. Of course, as a woman, I can’t do that.’ It struck me – stupidly, for the first time – as horrifyingly unfair that women can’t enjoy this great pleasure… without fear that men will assault them. As this insight burned its way into my consciousness, and the stories of sexual attacks, told to me by women in every country where I lived, increased in number through the years, I resolved to include a component of this sexual abuse in my novel…..We [men] have to acknowledge that half of our species lives in fear of the other half – at least some of the time, and sometimes frequently – and that the shame and disgrace for that is ours…. (Gregory David Roberts, Your Say, 2009)
So to be vulnerable but safe… it hits women deeper than any man can imagine, and it often hits women subconsciously.
Guys have wasted a great deal of time they will never get back, puzzling over “nice guys” and “bad boys” and how to get a woman to like them. Sometimes they go so far as to throw their hands up in exasperation, claiming women don’t know what they want, even though it’s the men.
Bitcoin culture brought me into contact with this gem of a bull’s turd;
If [women] are in the Follicular phase…, she will crave aggressive dominance from her man while during the Luteal phase… she will want more vulnerability from him…. A woman has emotional issues by design, and this chaos within her is like dueling spirits that pull her away from having certitude over her desires. They clash with options that ring in her ears when she attempts to make a rational decision. Half the month, a woman craves “Bad boy” while the other half, she craves “Nice guy.”
It astounds me that it never seems to occur to so many that women do not want either a nice guy or a bad boy because both absolutely suck.
On the other hand, I understand why something so obvious ends up not being obvious; there is a scene in Lord of the Rings with Galadriel, an elf queen. She asks Sam if he wants to look in her mirror, which is magical, for lack of a better word;
For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean, and they seem to use the same word of the deceits of the enemy.
A detail in LOTR is that the orcs and trolls originate from elves and ents, who were captured, tortured, and bred by evil lords. Tolkien said that evil cannot create; it can only distort, twist, and ruin what is good until it is a specific evil thing.
I realized two things; evil is often the distortion of the good (always? I don’t know), and we often do not have a name for the good. For example, magic. Like Galadriel says, we use the same word for everything. But traditionally, magic was an evil supernatural power. What was the name for the good supernatural power of angels and God and prayer? The word didn’t really exist. We have a name for fear, but it’s generally considered bad. What about the wisdom to treat a laser with caution? It is a good fear, but there is no name for it. Respect is close but not quite right. It isn’t a ‘good fear’ because the distortions are never the original. You don’t call elves ‘good orcs’; they are no longer remotely the same thing. Selfishness distorts our desire for good things; there are lots of good things we are supposed to want, but we only talk about selflessness (giving everything up) and selfishness (wanting in a bad way). We rarely discuss the unnamed desire for things we are supposed to want. We miss out on an entire world of goodness contained in desire.
The English language needs more words. How can we talk about something we have no language for? It is not easy. - Ninja Grandma
Women do not like "bad boys." A jerk who is temporarily nice to only me can be a cheap ego boost, but the appeal fades real quick. It's just that it's often the closest thing available to what we do want because the thing we want is one of those original goods with no name in English. We want dangerous good. A good that is scary, dangerous, loving, protective, providing, kind… strong enough, gritty enough, harsh enough, and brutal enough, to actually make a dent in the evils that are so powerful in the world. Men seem to think they must be 'nice' or 'bad boys'. Trust me, as a woman, I dislike both. I want someone very dangerous. But like Aragorn and Fangorn, "wise and kindly nonetheless."
Men of that sort? Damn, they’re attractive. And I’ll admit they’ve scared me on occasion; it wouldn’t phase me today, but there was a time when my male friends discussing the right and wrong ways to cut a throat felt... unnerving. But even stronger was the realization that they were the kind of people who would, and could, protect me from the awful things in the world.
It gave me the paradox that the more they scared me, the more they comforted me. The more dangerous a good man is, the safer women feel. So, scary guys attract us.
Unfortunately, most scary guys are missing the ‘good’ element. And the good guys are dull and weak, missing the danger, leaving women wanting. The problem with a “nice” guy is that he is not dangerous enough to fight anything.
Women are drawn to dangerous men because that is the safest place to be. Because the fact of the matter is that I do feel vulnerable walking down streets at night alone, no matter how independent I am. The point I eventually have to admit: I’m little.
Strong, good, dangerous men, there are not many of them. We don’t even have a name for them as we do for “nice guys” and “bad boys,” so we have trouble discussing their merits or their existence. But when women see one, without knowing why, we are STRONGLY and consistently drawn to them.
...Back to Shantaram
Lin "Why do you like me?"
Karla "When I saw you singing to that woman on the beach – you’re a very crazy guy, Lin. I love that. I think that’s where your goodness comes from – your craziness."
Lin "My goodness?"
Karla "Yes. There’s a lot of goodness in you, Lin. It’s very… it’s a very hard thing to resist, real goodness, in a tough man."
Roberts understands what I'm saying. Karla, raped, who knows what it is to fear men, also sees that a tough man, with real goodness, is what a woman can't resist. And real goodness is not a weak thing. It is strong and dangerous itself, which is why Lin had to be a tough man to be irresistible; if he weren't, there wouldn't even be the possibility of him being truly good. (side note; physically dangerous is not the only type. The pen is mightier than the sword. Intellect, wit, charm, knowledge, social connection, politics, money, beauty… all these can be dangerous.)
I remember one experience I had with the effect of this true goodness in a man. I’m pretty independent; I can usually stand up for myself and others, and it can result in others seeing no need to stand up for me. The side effect of being the big sister, I guess. I’m also attractive enough to get some uncomfortable attention. I got some attention when I was in Europe years ago at a train station. I was standing alone, and these four men came up and started blabbering off to me in their language, laughing. “I don’t speak that,” I said, laughing. “We know!” they said, laughing even harder, and then continued talking to me in their language. One of my male friends appeared out of nowhere and asked, “Is there a problem here?” The guys backed off and left pretty damn quick. It was the first time I’d had a man stand up for me, and the feeling shocked me. The relief was so intense my entire body relaxed instantly. I hadn’t even known I was nervous! That tension is normal. I was not sad, but the relief was so powerful I nearly cried. He did so very little, and it hit so very deep.
Indulge me for a moment in a quick thought experiment. Imagine if, instead of acting as he had, he had stood there watching, then later told me, "But not all men are like that. I'm not!" Wonderful, I would have found a nice guy, but still been searching for a dangerous good man.
Do you see?
Dangerous good. I still don't have a word for the concept that satisfies me, which is unfortunate because it includes the best heroes and gods, the best adventures, the best lovers, the best parents both father and mother, and the best human beings.
But whatever it ends up being called, become it. Do not worry about being nice, do not worry about making enemies. Instead, focus on becoming fiercely kind, dangerously good, and making the correct enemies to protect the safety and self-sovereignty of those more vulnerable than you.
From what I've seen, this community is off to an amazing start.