IT'S A MAN'S WORLD
Two hundred years ago, a man was needed to protect the home, to supply food, to build the structure of a house, to provide leadership and express his strengths in ways that modern man is unneeded for. As society becomes more civilized and technically advanced, those things men are relied on for become obsolete: we have police, firemen, contractors, supermarkets, and so on, all of which take care of the problems men were needed for in a family. As a result men feel cut off from their purpose, left adrift, feeling useless.
This is why you'll sometimes see men doing insane things just to get a taste of that former sense of responsibility, danger, and necessity. Sky diving, bungee jumping, rodeo riding, there is a scattering of the more risky and courageous things out there that challenge what makes a man feel masculine but that are utterly irrelevant to his modern life.
I ended that essay with the suggestion that to be a man in the modern world, one should turn to the virtues and express them in a masculine fashion. In short, he should be a gentleman:
Great Britain was one of several nations in Europe that rose out of the dark times of the Medieval age into more cultured times in the renaissance and beyond. And from the need for physical strength, violence, and steadfast courage in the face of tangible enemies, they faced the same dilemma we do now. Where does a man find his real place?The idea is that when faced with a culture that has no more dragons to fight, no food to gather, no homes to build, no enemy to protect your family from, you have to find other battles to fight, other hills to claim, other ways to provide, build, and defend. In the comments following that essay I noted that I'd intended to write a followup essay about application, how to be a man in modern society. Now, over a year later I'm finally about the business of that essay.
Their answer was the Gentleman. Being a gentleman was an extension of the age and code of chivalry, it grew out of knights and daring-do into a cultured version. The same basic rules applied, but instead of a sword one had his money, wit, and understanding of law. In the place of monsters and raiding parties, one faced criminals, the uncultured thugs, and the immature wastrel. The Gentleman lives by a code, usually unspoken, like that of chivalry.
Being a Gentleman means that you keep your cool when all is going crazy, being someone reliable, trustworthy, and with integrity. That one word, integrity, carries a world of meaning and significance, if one word describes a gentleman best, that is it. Having integrity means being consistent, reliable, and strong in one's convictions. Integrity means that you hold to what you believe to be true even if it is hard, unrewarding, or even personally dangerous. Integrity means doing what you believe is right even if the whole world laughs at you and it seems to be doing you no good. Integrity is the opposite of being pragmatic.
Being a gentleman carries with it no uniquely masculine characteristics in and of its self. There was a female counterpart to the gentleman, the lady which has taken on an all-too-generic meaning. Lady is used interchangably for "woman" which is an error. You can be female without being a lady. The lady is the feminine version of the gentleman, a woman of honor, integrity, mercy, and strength. A woman who expresses all the virtues that men do as gentlemen, and does it with a certain poise and dignity that many women lack. Another time, perhaps, I'll tackle that concept and what has happened to the idea of femininity in modern culture - it's just as in ruins as masculinity, I believe - but for now, I wish to simply focus on the similarities of men and women in living lives of virtue.
For gentlemen to be truly masculine, they must take the characteristics of being gentle in the original sense another step, or another few steps. First, lets consider what made the previous age more masculine-seeming.
It is easy to see a man being rough and manly when he's doing the work of a more primitive time. Clearing out brush to prepare a plot of land for a home, building the home from materials at hand, dealing with large predators as they threaten the family, killing a deer and bringing it home to cook, fighting off local bandits and troublemakers, all this feels innately manly and powerfully masculine to a degree that little we do today can compare. There are some tatters of this lifestyle left: ranchers, firemen, soldiers, policemen.
A man exercising his strength with courage and purpose, focusing on what must be done to the detriment of himself to build up and protect his family and society is a strong image. Yet again, women followed the same pattern at the times: they were self sacrificing, courageous, strong. They worked hard with little to make their own way, protecting their family and working for their society. Indeed, sometimes lacking a man due to the dangers of the life, a woman had to hunt and build as best she could as well.
Yet there was something more masculine about these tasks, something that even while a woman was carrying them out made her seem more masculine and lose that edge of femininity when she had to, often relying on the oldest son to do the work. Masculinity in its best essence is described by the original meaning and use of the spanish word macho. Today macho has become perjorative, a word of mockery; macho men are exaggerated, buffoonish cartoons rather than something to look up to in modern culture.
In the movie The Milagro Beanfield War, the concept of being macho was looked at. The hero was not a musclebound war machine with few words and steely glare. He was a man who did what he could for his family, who stood up to danger with courage, who abandoned self preservation to do what he knew was right. It was a small battle for a small community, but it was also a right battle, a time to stand tall for what needed to be done, to take the burden on his shoulders and stand between opposition and the ones he loved. In a small way, in a small war, this man showed what it meant to be macho: to use your strength to build, protect, uphold, and carry responsibility.
For a man to be a man, he must face whatever trials he faces not with stoic terse independence, but with a determination to carry out his tasks so that others may benefit. The macho man uses the strengths he has as a man for the benefit of those he loves and lives with. Masculinity is how you use the advantages of being male, and why.
Snips and snails,
And puppy dog tails...
Men are, on the whole, stronger than women, particularly in upper body strength. Men have a greater resistance to physical damage and incapacity (while women tend to have a higher resistance to pain). Men are larger physically and more imposing as a result. Men have deeper voices, which gives their words a sense of greater authority and significance. Compare a speaker such as James Earl Jones with Senator Clinton. Ms Clinton tries to sound strong and authoritative, but too often when she is excited or trying to make a point, she comes across as shrieking, harpyish. James Earl Jones can read from the telephone book and sound significant and fraught with deep meaning and import.
Men are in general better at tasks that require dogged persistence and physical power, women at tasks that require meticulous detail and small motor skills. Men are typically superior with rational and intellectual pursuits such as math and logic, while women are better in general with more artistic and emotional pursuits such as music and language. Men tend to be more focused on finishing goals, women on building relationships. We're dealing with what men in general are superior at, not specific examples or exceptions. As the saying goes: the exception proves the rule.
Men are and always have been leaders. This is not a function of female inferiority or male superiority, it is simply a matter of human psychology and roles we both play. In every gathering of humanity there is and always will be a leader, even if that leader is poor, does not do his job, or has little to do. Due to the physically imposing build of men, their strength, and their voice, men tend to be more naturally suited to this role than women.
There are times women will be superior at guidance, advice, and vision than men, and certainly many times when a given man is a poor leader or no leader at all, while women take his place. Again, I speak of generalities. It is not societal pressure and teaching that makes men and women both react better when a man stands up and says "here's what we have to do" more than a woman. It is part of our nature as human beings: I'll follow the one that seems more impressive and reaches my psyche better with a sense of power.
This is no easy task. Without getting too deeply into leadership and what it means at this time, I want to briefly point out that leadership is service first and foremost. Leading does not mean ease and comfort, it means hard work, tireless effort, and selfless focus so that others can be comfortable and have ease. Being a leader doesn't always carry with it great benefit, although it can carry prestige and some superior compensation. Saying men are leaders is not unlike saying men need to be the greatest servants, which is what they are doing when they hold the line so that others benefit, when they stand and die in place on a bridge so that their family can escape. That self sacrifice is service, not dominance.
With this as a foundation we can see what makes the deeds of the past seem more masculine: they were actions that required and put to best advantage the things men are superior at. These were deeds of strength and physical imposition, of leadership and effort. Stalking and killing a deer can be done by a woman, but skinning, cleaning, and carrying it home is a bit more challenging, and the kill more difficult with heavier weapons. Women can build a home, but the superior strength of a man makes the task more comfortable and swifter. The end result is that when a man does these things, it lends to his abilities, when a woman does, it is exceptional.
So it is not the tasks themselves that were masculine, at all. They were simply obvious and easy expressions of masculinity. In those past days, it was easier to be male, because the world relied on that more than it did the strength of women. When that effort by the men was complete, the world became a safer, more comfortable place with more time for other efforts such as education, religion, art, and so on. Civilization shifted the focus on tasks easy and comfortable for men to tasks easy and comfortable for women. In the place of a need for physical might and brute toughness, we have a world that needs interpersonal relationships and social interaction.
This seems like a world that does not need men, a world where men fall through the cracks, irrelevant, redundant. This is not so. We live in the world that those men worked, fought, bled, and died to build - not a world that no longer needs men.
NOW, MORE THAN EVER
While the deeds of men are not as easy and obvious today as they once were, men are needed now more than ever before. It is the ways that masculinity expresses its self that have changed, not the need of it. Today, the strength to build, the courage to stand for right against wrong, the physical capacity to go on when work gets hardest, the clarity of reason to see what is true and right, and the integrity and self-sacrifice to live a life of virtue.
There are four areas in which I see men are needed most today to be men. Places in which we as men can stand up to our tasks, put our backs into it, and grind civilization's decay to a standstill, pushing it back. These are the ways we as leaders and men who are macho in the truest sense can stand tall and give our best.
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.LEADERSHIP
-Peter F. Drucker
As I noted above, men tend toward natural leadership, and this characteristic is one that men tend to be the most flawed in. It is also a natural tendency of men to laziness and to shirk responsibility, to let others do the job, to put it off to later. Men will tend to give in, give up, and follow rather than lead because its easier and because then you don't have to put up with complaints, whining, nagging, and so on.
Leadership makes you a target. Leadership puts you in front where everyone will question and pick apart your every statement and decision. Leadership is where your ability to face adversity, shrug off attack, and shoulder the burdens of others is tested the most. Facing shrieking hordes of wildly-painted tribesmen is easier in many ways than facing smiling orderly ranks of dissenting backstabbers and armchair quarterbacks. At least the tribesmen make their position and intent quite clear.
Yet it is this very hostile environment that modern masculinity is tested most clearly. The world today needs this leadership more than in many times past because the comforts of civilization have made it far too easy to shirk responsibility, to lie back, and to give up. When the alternatives were between obliteration by a barbaric invader or fighting back, the choices were far more clear and the consequences of failure far more stark.
Leadership takes the virtues we all must live by and puts them on display for others to learn and grow from. When a man lives his life with integrity, fortitude, wisdom, courage, humility, and other critical virtues, he is showing the world how one ought to live. When a leader does so, he influences and shapes the rest of those around him in how they behave, and should behave. A minister need not say a thing to influence people around him, all he needs to do is be known in that capacity for the others to change their behavior. He has moral authority, which we'll look at in a bit.
Men as leaders give an anchor to others, a place that can be clung to in times of peril and remembered in times of ease. The leader gives an organization direction and purpose, which in turn makes a whole society coherent and meaningful. When leadership is understood, as I noted, in terms of service, then the character of this society changes as well. Consider the example of Jesus Christ, kneeling to wash the feet of his disciples; He was teaching them the basic principle of leadership. Be the greatest servant so that others will know and learn to serve.
When a people have great leaders, they become a great people. This is a fact well demonstrated through history. I do not refer to powerful or charismatic leaders, but leaders who were men of great virtue, who understood their purpose as serving the people, and who through their example, vision, and direction led others to greatness. Men must step up to this role, as hard as it is.
Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence.REASON
Left-brain thinking is a strength in general for men, and as a result men have a responsibility to use this strength for their family and community. In our society today, the pleasures of the abstract, of a nice walk in the park and the delights of art and social interaction are much easier than in times past. This is a strength of civilization and not to be taken lightly. However, with this there is - as always - a drawback. Lulled into comfort, society has begun to think that reason is misleading, that absolutes are the source of problems, and that objective thinking is harsh and critical.
We tend toward the irrational, the emotional. Education in rhetoric and logic is an extreme rarity today, leaving adults groundless in critical thinking. In its place is offered a sort of emotive thought, an intuitive version of analysis that chooses what is most appealing and emotionally compelling rather than what is true or right. It is this sort of argument and decision making process that is most starkly seen on television talk shows like Oprah, where a short, pithy statement from an audience member gets more applause and appreciation than a statement of fact or reasonable analysis. Listen in to any argument and with even a rudimentary understanding of logic you will spot fallacy after fallacy offered up because they are emotionally compelling and few have the tools to counter them.
Men, with a greater inclination toward reason, have a responsibility her to bring reason and logic back into our culture. This is a battleground far more subtle than the Ardenne Forest, but every bit as critical. Without the ability to fight back against this loss of reason, the very framework of civilization will inevitably collapse. Culture and society is based upon shared rules and understandings of life, stripping away each and every one of those bases will result in anarchy, splintered and separated people, and a loss of society entirely. What was built together as a whole will be sundered into individual groups with shared interests and emotional needs.
Emotion is fine, but it must be informed and controlled by reason. That's the very basis of courage: knowing what you must do and ignoring the fear you feel to do it. When we exercise our emotions without rational guidance, we are merely brutes, doing whatever our first whim takes us to. And this will always be toward the greatest immediate comfort and pleasure, regardless of consequence to ourselves, or more importantly, others. What you feel is your most basic reaction - what you know is what sets you above animals and lets you make proper decisions about your feelings. Sure, you may lust after that woman, but she's another man's wife. Sure, you may want that money, but you didn't earn it. Sure, you may fear to do what is right, but you must do it anyway.
It is this focus on virtue and doing right that leads us to the third characteristic of masculinity in modern culture.
police work is as much about preventing crime as it is fighting crimes. Most importantly, it is about procedural correctness in the execution of unquestionable moral authority.MORAL AUTHORITY
With leadership and rational clarity, men are equipped to stand tall with moral authority. This sounds terribly oppressive and totalitarian, but in fact it is the reverse. Moral authority puts one in the position of a servant, again. Each of the virtues points us in the direction not of self aggrandizement or personal gain, but toward the gain of others, at the cost of self. It is through denying our basest whims and immediate emotional urges that we become better men, leaders, and moral authorities. The gentleman was a natural leader not because of his position and assumed power, but because he was the kind of man who knew what should be done in any basic situation, and could extrapolate from that in difficult ones.
It is by giving an example of a virtuous life that men are able to demonstrate the way life ought to be lived, and the way people ought to be treated. Humility puts the other before the self. Love prevents cruelty and oppression of others. Wisdom directs the best manner to deal with conflict and ease. Fortitude keeps the man on the path of virtue when it becomes least attractive. Courage enables him to continue in the face of adversity and opposition, and so on. Through this behavior, men influence their surroundings, and because of this, the culture and society as a whole benefits. Combined with leadership, those around them are guided in the best paths toward the noblest goals.
Imagine a society in which the majority of men lived lives of virtue and nobility. Imagine what impact that would have on the world at large, on the productivity of the economy, on the standard of living, on the safety of our streets, on the character of our youth, on the treatment of the needy and minority. Imagine what an impact this would have on the rest of the world, watching those men. This is a difficult place to fight, it requires tools most of us simply do not have.
Recapturing the virtues gives men moral authority because it is through living life right that others are shown how they ought to live. With this moral authority, men can then be trusted with leadership, can be trusted with power, and can carry out their service with unquestioned and honored responsibility. Moral authority is simply doing what is right, so that others might learn and follow.
And there's more to this. Moral authority also means that men understand and follow this authority. Men who live as moral authorities know that we must at all times fight against evil, injustice, and cruelty, wherever we find it. That we must not shirk the need to oppose wrong and fight for justice, even and especially when it is hard, long, expensive, or politically troubling. Real men do not stand aside to allow evil to prosper, even if it is an evil that seems distant. Masculinity in its most basic and pure sense is the use of strength to fight wrong.
The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.MANNERS
This does not refer to Miss Manners "hold your pinky up when you drink tea, here's how to set the table properly" manners. I'm not referring to etiquette, which is fine in its place, but not a masculine trait. I'm referring to the most basic set of manners that our society has largely lost.
In a culture in which being called out to a duel was a very real possibility, men tended to be more mannerly and courteous. Having your life on the line tends to do that. We have left that system behind, and while it has it's charms, on the whole I think society is better for it. The problem is, we've left behind the basic courtesies of life in the process - thrown the baby out with the gunpowder-steeped bath water, as it were.
This relates to reason, above: a society which has largely abandoned rationality for it's basic decision making processes appeals instead to emotion and immediate reaction. When someone cuts you off or does something you dislike, the immediate reaction tends to be anger, frustration, and outrage. How you deal with this is where manners come in. This also relates to leadership and service. When someone does something you find outrageous and offensive, your reaction will depend on what you believe your status to be and how you view your worth compared to the other person.
If you think of yourself as innately superior, your reaction will demonstrate this with snarling contempt and insults. If you think yourself their servant, your reaction will tend to be less so. When you take the time to mold and inform your emotions with reason and thought, your reaction will be different than a bile-soaked explosion of immediate rage. Taking the time to consider what you ought to do will tend to make that decision easier and swifter next time: you will build a pattern of considered reason rather than gut-level emotional response.
Building upon these basic concepts, we begin to recover what was once considered common courtesy but has now become uncommon, and even an object of derision. This goes beyond simply opening doors for people, giving an older person your seat, letting the pregnant woman ahead of you in line, and so on. These are common courtesy, no doubt, but they are symptoms of an attitude toward others, rather than the origin of it.
Manners are built on the concept that one ought to treat others at least as well as you would prefer to be treated. They are built on consideration and understanding, on compassion and a concern first for others instead of one's self. The reason Sir Walter Raleigh ruined his cloak for a lady was not out of any grandstanding intent or seductive plot, it was because he believed a lady ought not muddy up her clothing, thus hurting her appearance, costing her money, and requiring her to go through the effort of at least replacing the clothing, if not cleaning it.
When a Boy Scout helps an old lady across the street, his intent is not brownie points or a badge, but to execute his basic understanding of right and wrong: she requires assistance, I can render this assistance, and it is better for me, her, and society at large if I do so. Manners are what builds civilization as much as swords, hammers, and books. The proper treatment, consideration, and courtesy extended others results in a smoother flowing and more pleasant society for everyone.
If you must, you can see this as a long term benefit for yourself that any immediate gain is eclipsed by. Sure, you might get your groceries checked out that much faster, but in the end, when you are in a hurry, or sick, or crippled, or elderly, you'll have that rotten punk in front of you with his ten items trying to get through first so he can get back to playing X-Box, while you can barely stand another five minutes with your two items.
As men, because of our position as being physically stronger, we have the ability to help in tangible ways. That woman struggling with three grocery bags and two kids could use a hand. That old man trying to get the box from the top shelf could use a hand. That young man who can't figure out how to change a tire could use your help. Manners dictates that we treat others with dignity and courtesy, not simply in small things but in all of life. We don't use racial slurs or cruel attacks, we don't respond with foul language when we're cut off, we show leadership by how we treat others.
The way a man acts in ease teaches no one; the way he responds in times of difficulty teaches everyone, including himself. Each one of us ought to be polite and courteous, men or women. But men because of our position as leaders, our conspicuous physical presence and strength, have a duty to show leadership, to be conspicuously polite, to demonstrate our strength used in service to others. Men shape society by how we act toward others; young people will see and know this is how men act, women will see and be shamed or influenced into better behavior, and the weaker in society are benefited by the stronger - which is the point of a society to begin with.
A BETTER WAY
These four aspects are ways in which men - by their nature and inclination - can shape society, fight the ills we face, use their strength and natural abilities in modern culture and civilization to fight for a better world. In the past this was easier but it is no less critical today.
Consider a world in which men lived like this. Consider a society with this kind of leadership, with this as a core and foundation of culture. How much better would the world be? Naturally living in this manner requires men to understand a higher calling than merely personal gain. They must know that life consists of more than simply the tangible, the measurable, the readily taken in by the senses. For men to be raised to this state, they must know that there is a purpose and significance to life besides what they can benefit from immediately, or even in the long term.
Find out what it means to me
So how does society assist men in this, how should we all behave? Men as individuals need to follow through on these concepts for true masculinity in a modern world, but other men must help in their own way. Not only must we each of us live this way, but we must assist each other in our lives. We all fail, we all stumble, we all will in our unique way not carry out these tasks and live as we ought. It is up to fellow men to encourage each other, lift your brother up when he falls, help correct, uplift, and even admonish each other when we blow it. Because we all will.
Men, like women, need respect. Men, however, are in a unique position of needing respect because of their unique duties and nature. Everyone ought to be respected, men need it in greater quantities because of what they must do. When you carry the responsibilities of those around you, when you are a leader and are attempting to show through your actions and statements what ought to be done, the response of others needs to be respect, not derision, attack, contempt, and a need to tear down that which seems more noble and makes you feel small.
Respect must be earned; it also must be given when it is proper. This second aspect is too easy to forget, or ignore. In a society that so focuses on democracy and equality that it attempts to obliterate difference, we find it far too easy to demand the former and shun the latter as oppressive. We'll respect people who have no real impact on our lives, like the guy with the most touchdowns or the fastest time on Ninja Warrior, but we ought to respect fathers and authorities. We should respect the respectable.
Men who carry such a burden need support as well. It is well and good to have someone you can shift your heaviest troubles to, that you can look up to and respect, that you can turn to in times of crisis for leadership and clarity. It is important that we have those among us who know what to do and why, or those who in small, every day ways demonstrate the we we all ought to behave. We must not ever forget that this is a very heavy burden, one that crushes a man slowly through his life.
Men need support, they need your encouragement, your kindness, and your belief in them to go on. This is not ego stroking, it is not the contemptuous feminist attitude that men are weak and childish and must have their egos babied. It is a simple recognition that the one who carries the heaviest burden needs the most rest and strength. Standing by the ones who do this work - if they are doing it properly and right - is the duty of us all, man and woman, child and adult. It is this dynamic that makes society work: we encourage, assist, respect, and support those who are doing the greatest work, while in turn enjoying this when we do it.
It is easy to criticize, attack, oppose, and obstruct. It is harder to come up with real alternatives, suggestions, assistance, and plausible options. The former is far too common in our society, because it gives a sense of superiority, it strips down those who seem great so we feel less small. It gives a momentary advantage and can be used to step higher on the ladder of power and advancement. But in the end, it helps no one - not even the person doing so. And all of us suffer from it.
One final note: you'll notice, if you're biblically literate, that many of the concepts I've discussed here, even the language used, is rather familiar. That is no coincidence. I stated that there must be a higher calling and better motivation beyond personal gain for men to carry out these tasks. If there is not, then what we gain immediately is far superior to whatever gains society benefits from. Whatever goes wrong will in the end happen long after I'm dead, and I might die tomorrow anyway - why not get what I can, while I can?
Ultimately, the answer is: because you answer to more than yourself. Because what you do now matters forever.