In common with many guys who reached adulthood, I wondered: what did masculinity mean? Over a decade or two, here’s what I came to realize was true for me.
A hundred years ago, the western world’s view of manliness was reflected in Kipling’s poem If-.
Published in Rewards and Fairies in 1910, the poem has been copied, parodied and passed around for decades. It is even on the wall at the All England Tennis Club, Wimbledon.
Is it relevant today?
Although If- describes in paradox some timeless virtues such as determination and decency, its language and examples are from a long-past era. Today’s language is different; our expectations are also more inclusive.
But what hasn’t changed since Kipling’s time is this reality: we each have to learn for ourselves what masculinity and manhood mean.
Here are some things I learned at the coal face of adulthood:
What others think of you is unimportant; your worth is measured by what you think of them.
In considering which men the world rates highly, the names of several current world leaders come to mind. Of course, they are in the news nightly. But I rate highest people like The Dalai Lama and Nick Vujicic.
Those men spend their days putting others first.
“Selflessness. Humility. Truthfulness. These are the three marks of an honorable man.” ― Suzy Kassem
It’s hip to hate if the world hates. But we can fall into a pattern of imitating our group’s behavior so much we lose our individuality; by doing so we empty ourselves.
Empty, there is nothing for anyone else to value.
An act of showing respect for another’s desires, expectations and beliefs is not the same as embracing those values. And putting down our trumpet so we can hear the sound of another is simply acknowledging that someone else has worth too.
When you’re a Man, you don’t arrive home with a rant about your week of wrestling with the world. Instead, you’ll listen to your partner’s day; you’ll put your partner first. And you’ll keep your promises, because holding yourself accountable shows you value others, regardless of the cost of remaining so.
One of the most important things is that things are not important.
I’m not immune; I’ve been lured by sparkle and the weight of supposed expectation: I too have wanted stuff the crowd says is “in.”
Got that, tick. Got the other thing, tick. Now I’m cool, correct?
But your greatest possession is your mind. And you got that at birth.
“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.” ― Winston Churchill
The often drinking, unthinking crowd has many stereotypes about manliness. You might not agree with many of them. But we often go along, unthinking ourselves into line anyway.
But on the way to becoming a Man, you’ll learn, if you reflect on the real worth of physical things, that showing off your latest acquisition only gives you a reputation of shallowness.
What matters more, to the Men most valued by others, is the number of people they help strengthen, not the number of gadgets on their shelf, or zeros in their bank account.
In younger days, I didn’t spend nearly enough time listening. I do a lot more now. In a relationship, I believe almost every partner wants uninterrupted attention more than shiny things. Maybe you’ll come to the same conclusion. And I think you’ll value yourself more when you spend less time focused on material things.
Your voice may bring you attention, yet your example is your legacy
This is a hard point to argue in the middle of an insult-filled American Presidential campaign, where the loudest, rudest voice is getting the most coverage.
I reflect on my experiences: It’s easy enough to raise a voice, to get attention by being provocative, or by riding popular agreement to belittle those out of favor in the moment. Nevertheless, I don’t believe crassness marks you as a Man, although an alpha dog in full cry stirs the blood in many people.
For my money, a Man doesn’t call someone a derogatory or belittling term.
“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.” ― John Lennon
When you’re a Man, you show compassion. You occupy space you’ve won without bragging about your cleverness or scoffing at someone who failed today. And you’re known for your optimism, because you’ve learned two things about positivity: it affects everyone around you, and you win when that occurs; and it’s catching.
Sure, we’ve heard for years that bad news spreads faster. My observation is that good news spreads further, even if it takes longer, and a positive fire eventually burns bigger effects more people.
Through the process of becoming a Man, you’ll learn the importance of example. Reputation is defined by example. Your discipline and commitment – whether at work or home – communicates your substance much more than any words you might say.
Do you value your photos or chatter being ‘shared’ or retweeted’? I think you’ll value more the Man you’ve become when others share principles you’re proud to promote.
A casual opinion means little; conviction that results from reflecting on your core beliefs is invaluable.
It’s very easy to grab an opinion on an issue, and reflect it like a mirror, half thought-about, and perhaps barely believed, simply to cause an effect or gain attention. I’ve found that even a deeply held opinion means little if I share it without evidence that I live that way or work that way.
“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” ― Epictetus
Reflecting on ideas and comparing them to your values will strengthen your self-belief. When you decide you’re for something; be decisive in the way you express your support. Nonetheless, recognize that opposing views are valid for those who hold them. Even people with opposing political philosophies or differing religions can still agree on many things, because much of human experience is the same, regardless of culture.
You can consciously explore yourself in many ways.
Journaling about your day and your accomplishments or failings helps you firm up your direction and your belief about it. The more you understand why you believe what you do, the more strength you’ll have for the stands you take.