For our third song in this series, I have taken a recommendation from @sam.i_am to look into Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons. In it, the singer tries to give advice to a young boy who is struggling to hold on to courage, grace, and his own heart.
The song shows just how hard it is to be yourself as a boy and as a man, and how difficult the adults in your life can make it. The song starts like this:
From the beginning, the advice to the “little lion man” tears him down. He should weep for himself, implying that no one else will do it for him. He is then told that he will never be true to himself, or make good on the promise of his heart. He is no longer brave and his only choice is to grade and insult his performance. He is then gaslit into thinking his problems are not real and that his courage is not sufficient to face them.
When taken in its entirety, the first verse of the song is a perfect representation of how collective groups of adults treat male children. It is the message that many of us heard growing up, even as individuals like our parents or particular teachers may have been more encouraging.
We possibly saw ourselves as little lion men, capable of anything, but the world at large contradicted that notion at every turn. If we want to be brave, it tells us we are cowards. If we want to have self worth, it tells us we must rate ourselves according to others. If we want to trust our feelings and try to move forward with an understanding of who we are and what we need in order to improve our lives, we are told it is of no use and all of our problems are just in our heads.
But, it isn’t true.
It isn’t true because you are what is in your heart. It isn’t true because weeping isn’t weakness, it is strength to recognize your own vulnerability. It isn’t true because you are as brave as you need to be and you don’t have to to rate yourself according to others or rake yourself over the coals for not achieving what others have. And while problems are made in your head, they are not solved there. They are processed and solved, with or without courage, by putting your heart on the line as the repeated chorus ultimately shares:
The singer continues to berate the “little lion man,” telling him to tremble and beating him down because of wasted grace and the inability to settle scores. And yet ultimately, the fault lies with the society that says these things and not with the individual who must endure them. It is not our fault that we must toil in impossible tasks like trying to bite our own necks. It is not our fault that our grace goes unappreciated.
We can stand bold among the wreckage. We can learn from our mothers, which in the song represents not just a singular role but also anyone in our lives who is kind and shows us a more empathetic way to live. Because it is our “hearts on the line” and we get to decide whether or not to continue the cycle of beating others down. We get to decide if we want to mess things up for others just because they were messed up for us.
And we don’t. We don’t need to make things worse while simultaneously calling one another “my dear.” We don’t need to perpetuate the toxic rage that is imparted to men and tells them who they must be and how they must act. We do not have to accept “the wreck” that we have been given or blame ourselves for what others have handed down. Rather, we can acknowledge that we have seen it all before and that it is time to move on to something better. Our hearts are on the line, and we can boldly move forward as the little lion men we are without the baggage of those who have told us we will never be what is in our heart. We will be that, and so much more.
Thank you to Mumford & Sons for their reflective music and thank you to @sam.i_am for the recommendation that I tackle this song.