I am, by all accounts a ‘Mans Man’ (what ever that really means). I grew up poor and tough, learned to fight, served in the military and in the end spent most of my life teaching others how to successfully defend themselves. I have a half ‘Manly Beard’ too — which really isn’t my fault, I blame genetics. But one thing that irks me to no end, is this constant Rah, Rah, ‘Navy Seal’ type motivational stuff meant to inspire us to be Real Men, that gets thrown around all the time on the net, in popular podcasts and motivational videos on YouTube. It’s sad too, as so many men buy into this stuff as well.
Tough & Rugged: It’s More Than Being a Lion
We are constantly told that a real man is tough, rugged, and a man that other men fear. A real man is fearless, a Lion, (be) unstoppable. I get all of this. As a boy growing up in an impoverished neighbourhood without a Dad, I dreamed of having the mythological powers and prowess of the hero’s I had read about. If I was as tough and strong like Samson, if I was fearless like Thor, if I was a boy other boys feared — I would have the respect I so desperately felt I needed in order to survive. I got some of that on my path to climbing out of poverty, by fighting back, by buying into being a Lion, but it also turned on me.
The more fearless I became, the less I felt about anything. The more tough I became, the less empathy I felt. Rather than a tempered use of my aggressive energy, aggression became the only way I knew how to solve a problem, honestly any problem. I realized then, that this ‘Manly Stuff,’ needs to be, tempered and balanced out. It wasn’t a coincidence then that Thor, that hero I admired so much from my childhood, was as Shannon French points out in her book, The Code of the Warrior, not only fearless, but unable to tell a lie. He was in other words, unfailingly honest.
Thor not being able to lie, meant that he had a moral compass that would steer his actions. In other words, while he may have seemed fearless, it was only to the degree to which what he engaged in was the right thing to do. Sure I get it he was a mythological figure, and not a real person, but the point is still valid, considering that for a very long time in history, boys and men would take their direction inspired by those mythological hero’s. For example, Alexander The Great would keep copies of Homer’s epic poem the Iliad with him at all times.
When Your Son Questions Masculinity
I was reminded recently when my teenage son asked me why most of the boys in the sport’s A teams at school, were always such jerks?
I recall feeling the same when I was his age. I couldn’t stand them either, but I would be lying if I didn’t envy them as well to some degree. No one pushed them around and all the girls admired them. However as much as we admire strong character traits in other men, when they seem to be overly developed, many men, myself included find it unappealing.
This in itself is interesting.
Much of this Manly Motivational stuff out there is often describing the overly developed aspects of the Alpha masculine traits. It’s as if we are afraid to admit to our sensitivity, warmth, and creativity. In fact, many men, even if they are in touch with their more softer side, hardly talk about it, in fear of reprisal from other men.
In a way, and sadly, many men fear these softer qualities inside themselves. This fear then makes them lash out at other men who are not afraid to show their softer side — as a way to compensate, or show the rest of the world their overly developed hard, Alpha masculine traits. Because you know, it’s a Guy thing.
But is it really?
I think we have been sold a bullshit lie. You don’t become a man, by displaying overly developed Alpha masculine traits. In my experience, and someone who has taught men how to fight, I can tell you, every man I met like that, was really afraid of himself. I can speak from first hand experience, because there was a time when I force myself to act like the Alpha in every experience in life.
Far from feeling grounded however, balanced, or fearless, it was the most volatile, unbalanced time of my life. It took me such a long time to figure out, that this approach to being a man, was a really bad idea for me. Now in my 40’s, the lessons I have learned, and what I strive to pass onto my sons is this:
A real man, is a man, that is able to hold both his strong, and soft character traits in constant balance. He is a man, that never allows anger to supersede empathy. Living this way in balance between the Yang and the Yin, one acquires equanimity. In other words, mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situations.
And this is crucial, this doesn’t mean becoming complacent, or weak, rather, you replace the ideal of fearlessness, with courage. As most of us have often heard, to be courageous is not to be fearless, but rather to act in spite of fear being present.
You see, while all the guys I know want to be a Lion, I want to be an Owl.
Wise, even tempered, prepared to protect itself, or hunt to live if needed, but for the rest of the time, looks calmly across the world knowing, I sit here unsettled.