This article is based on the book: Who Stole My Spear?—How to be a Man in the Twenty-First Century by Tim Samuels which his publisher was kind enough to send me for review.
In his new book, Tim Samuels sets out to explore what it really means to be masculine in the modern world. While he dissects a mind-blowing range of issues with humor, precision and insight, a major strength of the book is its heavy focus on potential solutions, alternative ideas, and ways forward.
Here’s a sample of some thought-provoking answers Tim offers to his own question; namely how a man can truly be a man—and even a hero—in the modern world.
Master a manual skill
Office life and underemployment alike can devastate a man’s sense of his own masculinity. Tim explores this in detail; and considers the enviable position of highly-skilled tradesmen, who studies show tend to be happier in their work.
So how can modern men turn this knowledge to their advantage? One answer is to master a practical skill. This can enhance satisfaction, identity and community status—and also represent a back-up plan in a world of unsteady jobs.
Tim even suggests that offices could introduce Manual Labour Mondays, allowing men to put in a shift of physical work that benefits the community.
Practice a martial art
Although not a practitioner himself, Tim is a strong advocate of the power of martial arts training to bring out a man’s inner hero. At one point in his many adventures, he takes a ten-day Krav Maga course in Israel, and feels some intangible, undernourished roots of masculinity come back to life.
He also endorses martial arts (or equivalent) training for men and boys to help them control and channel their positive aggression. He cites impressive case studies with groups of at-risk boys and young men from around the world; and proposes similar schemes targeted at adult men (and women) without work.
Fight (literally or metaphorically) for a good cause
A book about redefining masculinity wouldn’t be complete without a look at war, which Tim describes as, the age-old short-cut to heroism, to achieve that feeling of total meaning. He discusses men who direct this urge into both terrorist and counter-terrorist fighting. He also looks at the nightmarish underside of war, through meeting with ex-soldiers suffering from severe PTSD.
For those not drawn to war, Tim endorses fighting for a cause—tapping into the tribal instincts of battling for something bigger than yourself [can be] intoxicatingly meaningful. He recounts his own powerfully moving experiences of such fights; from putting himself in physical danger to expose racism, to supporting a group of lonely older people to record a global hit single.
Value and pursue time with other men
Tim writes affectionately of male camaraderie—both in battle, and in everyday life—and thoughtfully queries modern-day developments such as the gentrification of pubs, and men whose partners discourage them from socialising with male friends.
He cites studies showing that going to the pub with male friends is beneficial—or even crucial—to men’s mental health.
In fact, Tim unashamedly presents this section of the book as a persuasive business case for the value of men spending quality time with other men.
Think critically about the impact of pornography on society and individuals
Through vivid, real-life stories, Tim paints harrowing pictures of male and female actors with little or no regard paid to their dignity; sexual health and safety; or right to earn a fair wage.
He also outlines the negative impact on society, with easy access to pornography desensitising people, and creating wildly unrealistic expectations. This is particularly concerning for young men, who have never known any other world.
Tragically, Tim visits a village in Ghana, and learns that Western pornography is contributing to rape, marriage breakdown, and a belief that unprotected sex is “cool”—thus severely undermining the country’s fight against HIV.
This is one point where Tim doesn’t seem to have clear solutions in mind. All he can do is urge his readers to think critically about these issues; and consider ways to equip our young people to do the same.
Think critically about “romance” and resist its dominance
Tim reminds us that “romance” is a relatively new social invention; and one responsible for all kinds of problems and unrealistic expectations—exacerbated by “Rom-com” movies, Valentine’s Day marketing campaigns and the like.
As a fun alternative, he explores an unromantic, mathematically-based model for choosing the right partner—and (more seriously) some intriguing practical, common-sense strategies for men to avoid the temptation to cheat.
Allied to this more grounded and realistic approach to relationships, Tim also endorses quietly practicing everyday heroism in family life, work, friendships and community—to make a difference to those around us, and maybe even leave the world a slightly better place.
Speak out about mental health issues
Tim illustrates the issue of men’s (often unmet) mental health needs through poignant stories—including his own painful experiences. He says: I’m not hugely enjoying writing this […] It feels unmanly.
But there is healing power in men openly telling their stories. Tim praises famous men who have spoken out; and encourages all men to be more open with each other about their dark experiences, to reduce stigma and normalize the issues.
He also explores strategies to help men experiencing mental health problems—from some simple emotion-free vocabulary they can use as shorthand for their mental state, to practical approaches including various Western and Eastern therapies.
Engage with ancient wisdom from the world religions
This book is open and transparent throughout; and the section on religion is heartrending in some ways. Tim sometimes yearns for the benefits that religious people can enjoy—which he can’t access himself, as someone who just can’t seem to “feel” religious belief.
Pragmatic as ever—and not unaware of the many downsides of organised religion—Tim looks for a positive takeaway for unbelievers, and finds it in the idea of rituals: from small acts of mindfulness that snap us out of our day-to-day heads, to the occasions that bring us together and give primacy to family, food and music.
Tim pays special attention to coming-of-age rituals for young people, with a focus on boys. As well as suggesting a range of updated alternatives for today’s boys, Tim explores successful modern coming-of-age initiatives from around the world.
Nurture the next generation
Tim argues that boys are vulnerable to academic underachievement, physical and mental health issues, and violent crime; and questions whether schools are serving boys as well as they could be.
He proposes a range of ideas to promote meaningful responsibility in boys’ lives—at school, in leisure activities, and at home. Tim also advocates martial arts training, and other opportunities to face challenge and be exposed to positive male role models.
As part of this, Tim is a passionate advocate for supporting dads in their all-important role to raise their sons and daughters.
Redefine and celebrate masculinity
This is a fitting point to end on for a Good Men Project article; as it’s what the GMP is all about. Tim rounds off the book by placing his arguments in the context of their benefit for everyone. In a nutshell, a happy and grounded man will be a better husband/partner/father. Conversely, the self-destructive man leaves those closest to him—and society as a whole—to pick up the pieces.
He ends the book with an innovative checklist of daily and weekly actions men can take, to give our good masculinity a proper workout.
Who Stole My Spear? – How to be a Man in the Twenty-First Century by Tim Samuels is published by Century (2016).
Photo: Getty Images