Becoming a man is a lifelong pursuit. The attempt to attain a state of manliness is in itself one of the most manly virtues. Men who strive to better the “whole man” rather than focusing on a particular area (such as leadership, sports, fatherhood, hunting etc.) will enjoy the rewards reserved for those of meritable character; a clear conscious (which is key to making wise decisions), the respect of honorable men and women, self-confidence, strong friendships, and an overall sense of purpose. These are just to name a few. However, due to the denigration of men and the perversion of what true masculinity ought to be in the last many decades we men find ourselves sorely lacking in direction. Cheer up gents! While not exhaustive by any means, these five steps will get you on the right path.
Step 1 – Seek Wisdom
What is Wisdom?
In order to seek wisdom we should know what wisdom is and what wisdom is not. First off, wisdom is not an exclusively manly trait, but without it you cannot be a man. As an example, say you have someone who is very knowledgeable about many topics (survival, car repair, literature etc.) yet does not exercise any of these in a practical manner. Would this person be considered wise? Of course not. On the other hand, suppose you have an aged guru, white haired, long bearded, sitting upon a mountain top. Those who make the great journey to approach the master teacher ask of him the meaning life and in response he utters a nonsensical statement that leaves the hearing disappointed and wanting. Thankfully this is also not wisdom.
Wisdom is the ability to rightly discern the practical application of knowledge. In other words, it is helpful and it is active.
While some men may be wise in a few areas of particular skill (which is generally their profession and a hobby or two), fewer men seek wisdom in the greater areas of life. There are two distinct categories of applicable wisdom, and while both are important, one is greater than the other. As Charles Dickens so plainly states in his novel Hard Times:
There is a wisdom of the head, and a wisdom of the heart.
Wisdom of the heart is vital to a man. Whether leading others, raising your children, dealing with relational conflicts, or sorting out the truth in a situation vs. reacting to feelings, heart wisdom is key.
Heart Wisdom vs. Head Wisdom
A good friend of mine frequently mentions a man he knew growing up. He was an older German fellow that had an almost scary knowledge of “everything”. If you wanted to know how to fix your car, he was the man. If you wanted to slaughter a hog, yep, he knew that too. Firearms, tools, history…you get the idea…Everything! Not only did he have the knowledge but he had the expertise. He could fix the engine and gut the pig (likely before noon). He had a tremendous about of Head Wisdom. However, the man was a terrible racist. As long as you were not a Jew or black he would gladly share his knowledge. Likely though it meant dealing with a good amount of prejudice comments all the while. He was severely lacking in Heart Wisdom.
Heart Wisdom is the substance of great men. When we imagine a good and wise grandfather instructing his grandson on how to bait a hook, there is something deeper than the how-to’s being shared. It’s there in between the instruction and comments. He bestows something other than knowledge. When a president leads a nation through a crisis, if his words are directed by the heart before the technical details of the problem, he is seen as having wisdom. This is the kind of wisdom men should seek.
Where is Wisdom found?
In general wisdom is found in any situation where knowledge and experience can be gained. However, learning only through experience is a rough path. Only a fool would choose not to learn from the lives of others. There is also a caveat to wisdom gained through experience alone. Because wisdom builds upon itself, without the proper foundation a man can only grow so wise.
The greatest foundation for wisdom is found in the Bible and begins with a proper understanding of who you are as a creation and how we relate to God and essentially everything in the universe (So yeah it’s pretty important). Here are just a few quotes from respectable men who believed the same.
A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education. – Theodore Roosevelt
Here is my Creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His Providence. That He ought to be worshipped. – Benjamin Franklin
Hold fast to the Bible. To the influence of this Book we are indebted for all the progress made in true civilization and to this we must look as our guide in the future. – Ulysses S. Grant
I read novels but I also read the Bible. And study it, you know? And the more I learn, the more excited I get. – Jonny Cash
Perhaps the respectability of Johnny Cash is something to be debated but many men can relate more to where he is coming from than the others. Obviously there are more modern men who believe this as well.
If you don’t know where you stand on the issue of Christianity or the Bible, you ought to. Regardless of your personal beliefs, the fact is that there has been nothing more influential on the world in which we live. So much history has been shaped by Christianity, you owe it to yourself to have a knowledgeable understanding on the matter. If you are looking for immediate, practical wisdom, open the book of Proverbs. You may be surprised at how many wise sayings we throw around these days are actually biblical.
Other Sources of Wisdom
It likely needn’t be said that studying the lives of renown men and women is a great way to gain insight. The best sources for are autobiographies or biographies written as close to the person’s life as possible. For example, a modern book on George Washington may be an easier read, and good for an overview of the man and his life, but it would pale in comparison to reading his diaries, and for a simple reason; wisdom is best imparted rather than inferred. Try to find material covering, in greater detail, a specific, challenging time rather than a general overview. Letters & diaries are more personal and will provide a better look into the “why” behind the decisions that were made.
Here is a short list of lives you may want to delve into as you pursue wisdom:
- Any of the Founding Fathers of the United States – Particularly, George Washington (note his humility), Ben Franklin (practical virtues), James Madison (rights of the people)
- Henry David Thoreau – Wonderful writer and wonderful beard. Loved nature and simplicity.
- Teddy Roosevelt – A strong principled belief in the what type of man a man ought to be. He has an incredible life story.
- Jack London – Led a life similar to that of Roosevelt in terms of adventure and love for all things manly. Best known for this writings such as Call of the Wild
And a few great authors that speak to men particularly:
- John Eldridge – Tops my list for good reason. Every man should read Wild at Heart.
- Art of Manliness Books – Brett McKay and his wife Kate have written some excellent books. In particular Manvotionals.
- John Crotts – A great Christian writer. Particularly great stuff for fathers.
Who would you add to the list?