The Old Silverbacks


I was listening to NPR this morning (well, half listening) when an interview about military expectations came on, I think. It’s what it sounded like to me at least. I’m not going to look it up. It’s the internet, you can do it for yourself if you don’t believe me.


The topic of young soldiers and the old generals was being discussed, and the reporter analogized that relationship as young gorillas trying to meet approval of their elder silverback alpha gorillas. That thought caught my full attention. Why?

Because it was a little too on the nose.
Because it was a little two-dimensional.
Because it was bathed in a bit of misogyny.
Because I love primates and their unique sociological structures.
Because it felt true.

How often growing up did I find myself trying to make my own path, but still try to gain the approval of the old silverbacks in my community? Too many times if I’m being transparent. Even with the pseudo-joy I had in being an anti-hero, a contrarian, or a literate rebel, I still had eyes on the alphas, hoping they would notice. At least if they noticed, they could challenge me to a fight, or perhaps invite me to their mahogany clad war rooms filled with Rocky Patel smoke and stains of fine bourbon splattered on their red leather chairs.

Now, a brief word. I know this post stinks of testosterone and hyper masculinity. My intent is not to promote or condone a certain social code or hierarchy structure, only to commentate on the particular one that I chose to adopt for much of my life. Alright, back to it.

How much energy did I spend trying to win the attention of old silverbacks? Grinding to be innovative, entertaining, creative, and dangerous for them? I chased a higher circle that I didn’t want to be in, and that they didn’t want me in.

For so many years, that is what I did.

I don’t know when it exactly changed, but it has. There are still the old silverbacks, but I don’t really care anymore about their approval or their gauntlet I’d need to run to be one of them. Maybe that just comes with age; with limited energy and more significant relationships comes a satisfaction with what tree we rest under.

Worst case scenario, I become a silverback, and young leaders learn to ignore me. I hope it never comes to that. I’d rather be the cool-ass owl who reads lots of books and empowers young animals of all Latin derivations and sexes to develop their own communities of health and success.


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