What Does it Mean to be a Man? Part 5

I’ve been discussing what it means to be a man for a while now. So far I’ve presented an introduction of the problem, shown that innate traits and talents are not a qualifier for manhood, argued that emotional maturity is one qualifier for manhood, and defended the idea that particular skills are not a qualifier for manhood, but dedication to mastering skills is. So far all of this has led to one overarching conclusion. It is not how I appear, what I have, or what I’m good at that makes me a man. It is the choices I make. Real masculinity lies in the character that I develop and portray on a daily basis. The claims that I have made thus far all lead to this conclusion. Neither the way I look nor my inherent capabilities make me a man. The emotions that I feel also do not make me a man, though the manner in which I express them might. The skills that I pursue do not make me a man, but the dedication with which I pursue them certainly says something about my manliness. All of this leads us back to the above conclusion: true masculinity is found in the qualities of character that an individual develops.

This being said, what character qualities make one ‘a man’? If we remember Kant’s argument that it is respect, not admiration, that is truly valuable in determining quality, then the conclusion is obvious. Those character qualities that are inherently respectable are what separates a man from a boy. Of course, in all of these things the same could still be said to separate a woman from a girl. While there are clear physical and emotional differences between the masculine and feminine genders, the qualities that separate an adult from a child are still going to be largely similar. Plato proposed four qualities of character essential to a valuable person: Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Temperance. The code of Bushido argued that the significant qualities of character were Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, and Loyalty. Confucius argued that the character qualities of a man were seen in five right relationships: Ruler to Ruled (Obedience), Father to Son (Respect), Husband to Wife (Devotion), Elder Brother to Younger Brother (Filial Piety), and Friend to Friend (Loyalty). The Christian Bible lays out the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, patience, gentleness, and temperance.

Many of these we can see as similar. For instance, Plato’s ‘justice’, Bushido’s ‘rectitude’, and the bible’s ‘goodness’ all speak of essentially the same thing. Similarly, Plato and Bushido both set forth courage as an important trait, Plato and the bible both set forth temperance as an important trait, and Confucius and Bushido both set forth Respect and Loyalty as important traits. Some of these we can also throw out entirely because they result from other traits. For instance, if one is righteous (just or good), benevolent, courageous, and loyal, then one will be honorable. Similarly, if one is good, kind, temperate, and gentle, then one will be patient. If one is loving, faithful, and at peace, then one will be joyful. At the same time some, while not exactly the same, are similar enough that they may be embodied in a single word. For instance, love, kindness, and gentleness may all be embodied in the word ‘love’. If one is truly loving, then one will be both kind and gentle. So, here is my first compilation of the essential traits of a ‘real man’: Wisdom, Courage, Righteousness, Temperance, Fortitude, Love, Honesty, Devotion, Humility, and Community.

Over the next few months (I said days when I started this series and it’s been two months already) I intend to discuss each of these in detail (I’ve already discussed Courage), but for now I’ll give a brief explanation of each:

Wisdom: A man pursues both knowledge and experience. He considers the world around him and is not rash or foolish in his decisions. He is capable of being impulsive without being ruled by his impulses.

Courage: A man does not allow himself to be ruled by fear. Instead of running or hiding, a man faces his fears and masters them.

Righteousness: A man has a strong moral compass and holds fast to those beliefs. He does what is right simply because it is right and does not knowingly choose to violate his moral understanding. (Please note that I have not attributed Righteousness to a particular moral system here)

Temperance: A man is emotionally stable and capable of controlling his actions. He rules his desires instead of being ruled by them.

Fortitude: This is one that you will not see in any of the lists above, though Plato does include fortitude in his idea of courage. A man does not avoid difficult things. He does not shy away from doing that which is good and/or necessary simply because it is hard or uncomfortable. Courage and fortitude are related, but courage is directly related to fear, while fortitude is simply a steadfast endurance in the face of hardship.

Love: A man shows concern for those around him. He is kind, caring, gentle, and patient. He willingly puts others before himself. Moreover, a man loves fully and deeply. He does not hide his heart away, nor does he build walls around it. A man accepts the risk of being hurt by others in order to have the chance of investing into their lives.

Honesty: A man speaks the truth. He is open, truthful, even vulnerable. A man is blunt when necessary, tactful when appropriate, and always speaks truth in order to be a boon to others, not to harm them.

Devotion: A man commits. Whether this is loyalty to a nation/faith/organization, dedication to the pursuit of a particular skill/career/path, or commitment to a woman or family, a man shows commitment to the things that he pursues.

Humility: A man has an honest view of himself. He is capable of seeing his strengths without being puffed up, and he is capable of seeing his flaws without being destroyed.

Community: A man realizes that he does not exist in a vacuum. He understands that independence is an illusion. Instead of insisting on his own independence, a man is willing to depend on others when necessary, and allows others to depend on him. He considers those in his community in his actions, he contributes to the community, and he allows the community to support him.

Obviously, none of us is a perfect representative of any of these traits. Courageous men falter, wise men make foolish choices, devoted men stray, and humble men have moments of pride. The judgment of manhood must not be an unrealistic expectation of perfection in these qualities. Instead it must be an understanding that one’s life should be characterized by these qualities. One should be known for these qualities, however imperfectly, instead of being know for foolishness, fickleness, pride, selfishness, cowardice, or deception. So, hopefully soon I’ll be discussing each of these qualities in greater depth, but these are the qualities that a man of high character embodies.

Wistful Pangs

I was going to write about sin today. About the difference between sins that are proscribed in scripture (adultery, murder, etc) and sins that are the result of individual convictions (drinking, watching R rated movies, etc), and those sins that seem to fall somewhere in between, and thus are immensely and distractingly confusing. Then I sat down in the only seat available in my favorite coffee shop to see a woman who I rather liked sitting with her new boyfriend.

This isn’t a woman that I dated, not even close actually, but it is a woman that I wanted to date. Honestly, from everything I’ve seen, she’s generally the kind of woman I’d like to marry… except that she wouldn’t give me the time of day. Actually… that was quite literal one time. The one major flaw that I’ve seen in her is that she couldn’t tell me ‘no, thanks’. She simply brushed me off with promises every time I tried to ask her out, and then never followed through on them. This is something that has become one of the things that I generally judge (i.e. discern) a woman’s quality by.

As I’ve said before, honesty is a big thing with me… quite possibly the most important character quality for me to see in someone. So when a woman is incapable of telling me that she’s not interested, when she makes promises with no intention of keeping them, then it really factors into my opinion of her character. This particular woman, we’ll call her Anna, has a very strong character, except for this one important area, which I have to admit rather thoroughly turned me off to her.

That being said, when I first saw them my gut reaction was confused at best. I wasn’t quite angry about her invasion of what I all too often consider ‘my’ place (it is a business after all), and I wasn’t quite hurt that she had chosen someone else when she wouldn’t even give me a chance, and I wasn’t quite happy that she had found someone to share her life, or at least a part of it, with. There was a little of all of these in my first reaction on seeing her, and I think it’s finally settling down into a happiness to see that she’s found someone… I think. Honestly, I think it’s probably something that I need to look more closely at.

The Taoist in me says that my gut reactions show my true self, and that if those gut reactions aren’t pure, then I am not pure and this is something that I need to work on. The Confucianist in me tells me that it is my actions that matter, and so if I treat her with filial love and kindness, then I will become filial in spirit. The Christian in me says that my gut reactions do show my true self (or at least my fleshly self) and that they aren’t pure (duh…). It also tells me that my actions do matter, but that my actions alone cannot change my true self. The Christian in me tells me that I need Christ to change who I am, to make me whole, and to make me better, and that is something that is far too easy to forget.

Confucius Failed

Sometimes I just want to fuck. I hope that you’ll forgive the use of a word that I know is offensive to some. However, saying that sometimes I just want to have sex does not aptly convey the sheer, brutal intensity of the urge that I’m addressing. There are certainly times that I see a woman and desire her. However, at these times it’s generally fairly easy for me to look somewhere else, or walk away. This kind of temptation I generally deal with fairly well. However, there are other times that I just want to fuck something. It doesn’t really matter what: man, woman, old, young, animal… seriously, at these times a 12 year old girl and an 80 year old man are equally attractive to me. At these times I find the neighbor’s dog or my friend’s hula lamp attractive. These are times when my only choice is to run to God in humility and utter, complete desperation, because there is nothing I can do when this urge hits me.

This urge is also generally combined with an overwhelming sense of failure, especially when I fail to run to God and instead wind up searching the internet trying to find something that is marginally close to porn without actually making me feel like I’m watching porn. Needless to say, this isn’t a good place to be. I’m not going to lie, I struggle with porn from time to time. I don’t like porn, I don’t think it’s acceptable, or that it should be acceptable, but I do struggle with it from time to time. So… overwhelming sense of complete, abject failure. Again, when I’m in this place I find that I have to go to God. If I don’t then I generally find myself curled up on my bed in the fetal position as the sledgehammer of depression bludgeons my soul.

Being that feeling like an abject failure is fairly common in today’s world (see my post on striving here) it’s not difficult to understand why it’s a problem for me. However, there are a few things that I try to remember when I’m feeling like a complete and utter failure: Confucius, Socrates, John Huss, Vincent Van Gogh, H.P. Lovecraft.

Each of these men was a complete and utter failure in life. Confucius wanted to be a high level politician, a close adviser to a powerful king. However, he never managed more than low-level government jobs before finally giving up and returning home to be a humble teacher. A few hundred years later, though, his ideas became the foundation of the governmental system that ran China for over two thousand years.

Socrates and John Huss both died in disgrace, executed because of their beliefs. Yet the philosophies of Socrates have inspired thinkers for the last 2000 years, and the theology of John Huss served as the foundation for various movements during the Reformation.

Vincent Van Gogh was an utter failure during his life. His art was ridiculed and he was considered a ridiculous, worthless buffoon. Eventually he committed suicide. However, today Van Gogh is considered one of histories greatest artists.

H.P. Lovecraft was an author around the turn of the 20th century. While he was an excellent author he was generally unsuccessful and had a very unhappy life. He was underpaid for his stories, he had a short, failed marriage, and he eventually died of a very long and painful illness. However, his writing (which amounted to a few dozen short stories, a novella, and a short novel) inspired an entire sub-genre of fiction (Cthulian fiction), and influenced the entirety of Science Fiction and Horror writing.

There are plenty of other examples, but these are my favorites. Men who were utter and complete failures in life, but still managed to change the world. These men give me hope for my own life, and they give me hope for my own failures.