Of the short stories Jack London penned, “In a Far Country” is my favorite.
The story follows two characters London calls “The Incapables” who travel to the savage and unforgiving Alaskan North searching for gold and adventure.
The men make a very poor go of things: they bicker, shirk chores, hoard food, take pleasure in each other’s suffering, and ultimately come to a bad end.
The Incapables’ most glaring problem was that they lacked what London called “true comradeship.” At the beginning of “In a Far Country,” London describes the quality as part of the overall shift a man must make if he is to successfully be part of a wilderness expedition:
his pinch will come in learning properly to shape his mind’s attitude toward all things, and especially toward his fellow man. For the courtesies of ordinary life, he must substitute unselfishness, forbearance, and tolerance. Thus, and thus only, can he gain that pearl of great price — true comradeship. He must not say ‘Thank you’; he must mean it without opening his mouth, and prove it by responding in kind. In short, he must substitute the deed for the word, the spirit for the letter.
For London, true comradeship is when you put the interests of a unit to which you belong before your own selfish interests. You do what you can so you’re not a burden on those around you. You “carry your own pack,” as Theodore Roosevelt put it.
It goes beyond that, though.
True comrades have each other’s backs. If one man in the group falters, the others help him up and stand in the gap. In turn, when that man again finds his footing, he turns around and reciprocates: he sees what he can contribute to the team; he doesn’t just express his gratitude in word, but in deed.
Males band together to accomplish some purpose or mission, whether that’s carrying out a military operation, winning a game, executing a campout, or removing a neighbor’s tree stump. And whenever males band together, camaraderie manifests itself; the extent to which it develops determines both how much the men enjoy being part of the group, and the group’s success in their endeavor. True comradeship represents a “pearl of great price” because it’s what makes a group hum; it’s the esprit de corps that overcomes obstacles and makes a team feel special, close-knit, bonded.
Given the importance of true comradeship in a group, males tend to have little tolerance for those who disregard its standards.
I think most (well-adjusted) men know there’s an unspoken rule that you don’t want to be the guy who acts as a stumbling block on a team. They’re honest about their capabilities; they step up when needed, and get out of the way when appropriate. They try not to be an annoying, grating chooch.
I also think most men aren’t a-holes. If they see a guy in their group who’s having a hard time, but who really wants to be part of the group and wants to help move the group forward, they’ll cut that guy some slack. They’ll offer encouragement, provide some one-on-one coaching, and/or find that man a place in the group that allows him to contribute without being a liability.
But when a dude fails to pull his weight, and demonstrates that he doesn’t care about the needs and purpose of the group, that guy is going to be resented by his comrades. And may ultimately be booted off the team.
I saw these dynamics in action when I played high school football.
Football is a team sport. Every guy on the field has an assignment, and if just one of those guys blows his assignment, it can blow an entire play, and in turn, the game. Success on the football field requires that an individual put the team’s interests before his own personal interests and ambitions.
For me, that meant I had to content myself with being a scrub during my freshman through junior years of my football career. I wasn’t a naturally talented athlete, so I didn’t get much playing time under the Friday night lights during my first three years of high school. Personally, it was disappointing, but I understood that it was what was best for the team. My getting on the field wouldn’t help us win.
Even though I wasn’t a starter, I did my best to live the principles of true comradeship. I found where I could contribute and that was on the scout team at