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Friday, June 12, 2009

What Is a Man?

What Is a Man? Boys and the men that they become have always struggled to understand their place in society, how to balance the urges that they have for the pleasure of the moment and that for the esteem derived from virtue, from the proper blend of contemplation and action. (Waller Newell, 2009, A man isn't necessarily a tall hulk, a chiseled physique, or a rich entrepreneur. He is sometimes soft-spoken, sometimes loud, and sometimes lost in the crowd. He is never an animal, a dream, or a woman. And a man will never be faultless, be indomitable, or be completely forthcoming. A person can seek these qualities and find them but their acquisition does not mean that the person has found a man. In order to define the term man, Michael Gurian in his article "What Is a Man?" published on June 3, 2005, outlines some characteristics of men and their behaviors throughout time. (
  • Men will tend to put their pursuit of self-worth and personal power first, intimacy second. It's much more difficult to get a man to put the hands-on care of his family before work at the office that needs to be finished.
  • Men tend to relate to others with greater degrees of personal independence than women do. Men tend to expect more independent behavior from children than women do.
  • Men tend to search out ways to become wounded, show off their wounds, live by their swords, make games out of giving and getting wounds. They test themselves. They push themselves into physical pain as much as possible, such as playing a sport even when they are injured or avoiding the doctor when they really should go.
  • Men do not tend to be as satisfied as their wives often seem to be with making a nest and exploring the relationships within it; they tend to need to leave the nest, even project distant abstract goals through which to experience their own sense of power and worth.
  • Men tend to berate each other, cut each other down, negate each other, and generally treat each other in ways women find nasty and mean. Yet the men laugh, jostle, jest, motivate, and seem to feel helped, supported, and loved in the process.
  • Men yearn to show bravery and courage, to sacrifice themselves toward the highest possible standards of worth and power, against all odds, seeking the power and status that come from battling the impossible and making it possible. During the Vietnam War, when men sacrificed themselves and lost rather than gained status, they sensed that collective manhood had been betrayed.
When men work, and get caught up in their work as workaholics, they often feel justified in raising the quality of their output, partly for their own ego and partly for the betterment of the family. They are fed my compliments of achievement based on initiative and successful completion of task. Their work defines both their character and personality. Very often, the family is viewed as a support unit by the working man. And, unfortunately family life often suffers due to commitments to work. Men have traditionally been given the task of further developing their own independent behavior, respecting it in others they admire, and encouraging it in the children they love. In the male mind, independence allows essential personal freedom and admission into offices of higher prestige. Through his involvement in rights of passage throughout life, a man cherishes independence. When a man is permitted to drive and when he takes the training wheels off his child's bicycle, he is practicing and teaching the power and necessity of independence. He sees his child graduate, work, and become independent as a outgrowth of his tutelage. Men are expected to be tough, and if they fall short, very early in life they become the target of the bully or the object of name calling. Most are taught to take a lick but dish one out even harder. Their play, as in sports, is often coached toward conflict with a worthy opponent, in short, an enemy. As testosterone levels rise, a man will test his skills and abilities against other men to enter a "pecking order" of "beat ass" or "have your ass beaten." For example baseball players are taught never to rub the wound when hit by a pitched ball. Enduring pain is associated with victory in well-balanced contests. It is expected and viewed by teammates as just part of playing the game for the team. Playing through injury is highly honored while playing through injury without complaining is highest honored. Ironman is the term most revered. The home, or nest, in theoretical terms to a man is a place of rest and comfort, a safe haven for himself and his family. Most men believe the home holds no magical powers within its interior decorations and actual creation. Also, most men know the "master" of home life is the woman. She is the nurturer/comforter/maker of everything that turns the house into home. Men may crave, even love, the property, but their interests lie mainly in its possession as something of entitled acquisition. Home base, no matter how humble, is just that-- a base of operations for a man. Men often view the home as real estate. Men berate other men in times of joy and in times of trouble. Without the privilege of fighting each other over opinions and gaffs, men display weakness to others, a sure sign that survival of the fittest is about to invade their space. In school, the boy who did not get jostled, kidded, and prodded became the loner who was left to prove his worthy admission into the masculine world. Finding it impossible to maintain close friendships without fights and arguments, men challenge other friends who break unspoken vows of "brotherhood." It is inevitable that these disagreements will occur. Early in life, boys learn to prove themselves on the playground. This challenge to leadership continues to the grave. Men understand that sacrificing their lives for another person is the highest honor and greatest gift. Nothing will change this view in the courageous man. Men hate to admit that the impossible may exist. They quest and stand for causes, even unpopular causes, if these causes are attacked in attempts to lower their standards of self worth. To fight when outnumbered and outgunned is an ultimate test of a man's courage. Since most men have tasted bitter defeat, they would rather feel justified by fighting against the odds and be beaten in body, not in mind. To a man, manhood must be honored with significant contribution.

Man's abiding happiness is not in getting anything but in giving himself up to what is greater than himself, to ideas which are larger than his individual life, the idea of his country, of humanity, of God.

By Rabindranath Tagore (
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