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What Does it Mean to Be a Man?

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NPR has special series called Men in America (#menpr) that has done a pretty good job of generating discussion around manliness in the modern era, but has fallen short of providing any concrete definition of what a “man” actually is. I understand that generating conversation is far more important to a social media-based culture and news source, than simply stating an opinion. I also understand that it is the job of fathers and uncles and other good men to provide examples, and point to examples, of manliness, but with over 30% of the American population being raised in fatherless homes and a serious lack of manliness on display in our culture, that is obviously not happening.

There is a hunger developing in America and abroad to see true manliness on display. Many young men — and many older men as well — long to know what it means to “ be a man“; to have a set of principles, and better yet, footsteps, to guide them to an authentic life…the life they sense they are called to live. The life of a man.

This is the goal of Wolf & Iron. Every article on this site has some element of manliness, but to help all those #menpr guys, I’ll try a more straightforward approach. As always, feedback is welcome!

What is Manliness?

Imagine a young boy asking this question: “ What is manliness?” or maybe “ What does it mean to ‘be a man’?” How would you answer? A boy needs this answer boiled down, straightforward, and it needs to settle in him because your answer will be a foundation from which his character grows. If the foundation is too narrow, his worldview and character may be also. If the foundation is too broad, it may never settle right. And, as men of any age, if you are asking this question, it is the boy inside who wants to know. I don’t mean to get all psychological on you, it’s just how our hearts and minds are wired. We need to know this answer because everything else in us needs this underpinning.

This is how I describe manliness:

Manliness is Virtue in Masculine Poise

I realize this might not make sense to an immature mind, but since most of my readers are adults, I think it is fitting.

Manliness is Virtues, First and Foremost

Orison Swett Marden“There can be no failure to a man who has not lost his courage, his character, his self-respect, or his self-confidence. He is still a King.” – Orison Swett Marden, Inspirational Author, 1850-1924

Virtue (Latin virtūs) –

  1. Manliness, manhood, virility
  2. Courage, resoluteness
  3. Virtue, goodness
  4. Character
  5. Excellence

Being a man is an inward possession with an outward expression. In short, it is Character. Character is built upon a set of Virtues that when applied will make any person a better human being, be they a male or female: Honesty, Integrity, Courage, Diligence, Discretion, Selflessness, Sincerity, Patience, Prudence, etc. The virtues work together to balance themselves and the character of a man. Too much Idealism can make a high-minded and out-of-touch man, but balanced with Simplicity and Acceptance a harmony can be achieved, and Peace, another virtue, becomes a part of his Character.

You see, the question is how to ‘ be‘ a man. Not how to ‘act’ like a man or ‘look’ like a man. It is, how to become one. It is Esse Quam Videri. Therefore, it must be an internal change. However, virtues are for everyone, male and female, and to look at them alone raises the question of how one can be a ‘man’ specifically, rather than just being a good person.

What is Masculine Poise?

Poise isn’t a word we often use, and it certainly doesn’t sound like it would befit a man. Ballerinas have poise, right? Sure, but so do Archers. Let’s take a look at the definition.

Poised

  1. Assured; C omposed.
  2. Held balanced or steady in readiness.
  3. Self-possessed; D ignified; E xhibiting composure.
  4. Balanced and prepared for action.
  5. In full control of your faculties.

There is a strength required to be poised; to be ready and sure. There is an underlying reliance on something deeper than “what others might think” which gives a man confidence and drives him forward. It is an attractive quality that is sorely missed today, as most guys wet their finger and put it in the air to see which way the socially acceptable and comfortable breeze is blowing, rather than charting the virtuous course and aligning himself with the bright stars of the past; men who have lived so manfully, that, though they are gone, still flare on like a beacon on that distant shoreline, calling all who would come.

Can women be poised and virtuous? Absolutely! And, women can be ‘manly’ in many respects. In fact, some women are more ‘manly’ than many men. However, all things being equal, a woman can never be more manly than a man. Having masculine poise is something that we simply understand as being human. When we see a dog, we may not immediately know if it is a male or female so we make a judgment based on its appearance and behavior: collar color, docility, etc. But for other dogs, they know right away. The same is true for what it means to be ‘masculine’ vs. ‘feminine’; it is something we understand instinctively. To be masculine means to carry a certain strength that can only be exuded by a man; a confidence and peace that is nuanced into male form.

Final Thoughts

Frederick_Douglass“A man’s character always takes its hue, more or less, from the form and color of things about him.” – Frederick Douglass, Social-Reformer, 1818-1895

I love that quote from Frederick Douglass; that we take our character from the things we choose to have about ourselves. Values can be taught, but character is a choice. Being a man is also a choice. There are a lot of things that make us feel happy and sometimes we mistake happiness as ‘manliness’ just because we are men; they are not the same thing. The feeling of being a man stems more from pride than bliss. It often means making decisions that you know are right, but don’t lead to happiness.

Learning the Virtues of Manliness

Some of you might be stumbling upon this notion for the first time, having never given any serious thoughts to the virtues that a man should possess. I can’t remember where I read it, but in the Middle Ages, children were taught virtues before any other education was started. How could you expect a child to be diligent in his studies if he had not been taught the virtue of Diligence? How could a child be expected to respect his teachers if he had not be taught the virtue of Respect? You get the idea.

So how does one become virtuous in the modern age? The first step is Wisdom. To become wise you have to humble yourself, and I believe that means acknowledging God as your creator. Wisdom begins there, and becoming a good man begins there.

Please share any thoughts you have in the comments below.

– Yarbrough

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