On the surface it’s a pretty simple question, but if you pay attention you quickly notice that there’s more to it than just being an adult male human. You often hear people telling each to “man up” or “be a man,” but usually meaning something immature. So what does it really mean? That’s what this article is going to explore.
In my mind being a man comes down to seven characteristics; maturity, respect, intellect, compassion, morality, responsibility, and dignity.
Everyone expects adults to be more mature than children, but that standard isn’t really high enough to define the difference between a boy and a man. That would be why the term’s “frat boy,” not “frat man.”
When you think about frat boys you don’t exactly picture Nelson Mandela or Rev. Dr Martin Luther King Jr. More often you think of Harold and Kumar. Frat boys tend to drink to excess and aspire to promiscuity. They may be adults but they’re far from mature.
When you think of maturity you most likely think of men like my personal heroes, Theodore Roosevelt and Major Richard Winters. Both of these men were dignified, responsible, intelligent and altogether respectable, and hardly anyone would claim they’re not great men.
Of course maturity doesn’t mean becoming a perpetual stick in the mud. A mature man can have a lot of fun and a great sense of humour, it just has to mature with him. As a child our humour is crude and asinine, but as we mature it becomes witty and clever.
There is no better example of how respect differentiates men from other adult males than their early interactions with women they’ve just met. While many guys make it an attempt at sexual conquest, a man makes it the beginning of a relationship and try to connect on a human level.
Of course, the respect that personifies manliness, a man dresses respectfully, treats others with dignity, and generally values the order that respect creates. That said, respect doesn’t mean always agreeing with or liking people, just not being an inconsiderate jerk.
I’m certainly not saying that a man must be smart but there are certain intellectual traits that a man must possess. This actually seems to be the point on which society is in agreement. The most common dividing line between childhood and adulthood very closely lines up with the completion of our compulsory education, high school.
I however, would take it a step further. To truly be a man one must continue his education for the rest of his life. He goes to museums, reads books, watches documentaries, and discusses intellectual matters, anything that helps him learn.
Although it doesn’t have to be lofty academics. Any topic of interest is suitable, in fact the topic is largely irrelevant. What really matters is that he is always learning.
Now here’s a trait many associate with traditional femininity more than any idea of manliness, but any true man has it in spades. Consider Abraham Lincoln, regarded by many to be one of the greatest men in US history. What is he best known for? Freeing the African-American slaves, one of the most compassionate acts imaginable, and nobody would ever question his manhood. Personally I wouldn’t consider him to have been a great man, mostly because that wasn’t even a particularly revolutionary idea at the time, just lookup Samuel Adams, but that certainly doesn’t mean he wasn’t a compassionate man.
When you think of the kind of father you want to be, and hopefully had, you probably also think of a compassionate man. It is, after all, a crucial trait for a good father. How else could a man help his children through the hard times in their lives, or support them in developing the best possible lives for themselves.
Morality doesn’t necessarily mean adhering to traditional morality, although that is usually what I support. It does however universally mean following a predetermined code of conduct. Something that guides behaviour independent of penalty. A code of conduct that’s designed to make one’s behaviour appear moral cannot be reasonably considered morality. Rules of any sort are only used if they describe the desired behaviour, rather than the current behaviour. Just think about children making up the rules as they play a game, it’s extremely childish and ruins the game for anyone else trying to play.
When you think about what a real man is like, I’m sure you don’t imagine someone who never thinks things through and always shifts the blame onto others. A man always considers the consequences of his actions and is willing to accept the blame. That isn’t to say he’s always to blame and never takes credit, but rather that he accepts his fair share of both.
Responsibility also means accepting roles and taking on tasks out of nothing more than a recognition of their necessity. Although there is a huge difference between a role that’s necessary and a role that’s expected, even if they’re not mutually exclusive. So there’s nothing irresponsible about rejecting a role or task that’s expected of you, if it isn’t actually necessary.
What I mean by dignity isn’t much different than self-esteem, but the latter term has kind of been tainted by those “everyone’s a winner” philosophies. A man respects himself and tries to take everything in stride. He doesn’t start acting defeated when things go wrong. When it really comes down to it, dignity is the ability to respect oneself, so it’s the one thing that one can’t go on without. After all, why would you care about someone you see as worthless.
There are some roles that should only be taken on by a real man, like fatherhood.
I’ll likely write more articles about these characteristics in the future. Both about what they are and how you might be able to foster them in yourself.