Part 1: It’s a Trick Question
What does it mean to be a man? It’s kind of a trick question.
It’s a trick question because the idea of “manhood” or “masculinity” means two different things, often at the same time. When a person says “manhood is…” they are either saying “most men are…” or “if you are a man, you should be…” Often, they mean both of these at once.
The trick here is that there’s actually no logical relationship between saying that most men are a certain way and saying that you should be that way too just because you’re a man.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “if everybody else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” We all know that just because other people do something, that doesn’t mean it will be good for us.
It’s a trick question, but it’s a trick question that we’re expected to answer every day in how we act, how we treat other men, how we treat women, how we speak, what we say and don’t say, what we wear and don’t wear.
And the costs of making these decisions in a way that other people don’t see as “like a man” can be significant. People usually have some idea of how they’re supposed to respond to men who act the way people expect men to act. If you act differently from this, people may not know how to respond, and sometimes when people don’t know how to respond, they respond with fear or hostility.
At worst, masculinity can be a game in which no one has told you the rules, but the prize if you win is status, recognition, power, and sex. Sometimes the rules of this game can include proving you’re better than other guys by hurting them, physically, emotionally, or mentally. The rules can include treating women in harmful or disrespectful ways. The penalty for losing this game can be severe: ostracism, verbal harassment, even physical violence. It’s a game that you don’t really want to win but can’t afford to lose.
At best, masculinity can be a blueprint for how to live a virtuous life that benefits other living things, based on the model of men you admire. It can be a guide on the journey of discovering who you are and how to express the gifts that you genuinely have to give.
The world we live in is usually somewhere in between the best and the worst. Sometimes we need to play by someone else’s rules in order to survive, physically or emotionally. That’s ok, as long as it doesn’t jeopardize other people’s physical or emotional survival. But finding your own masculinity will make it a lot easier to decide when you NEED to play by other people’s rules, and when you don’t, and what to do instead.
To find this kind of masculinity, you need to ask the right question. The real question is,
What does manhood mean to you?
If you can answer this question, if you can create an outer identity that matches your inner identity, then the benefits are huge.
Some people may still be unsure how to respond to you. Some people may still be afraid and react to their fear with hostility toward you, but you won’t have to play their game. If you know what’s truly important to you, you know the goal and the rules of your own game. The prize of this game is that you know who you are and what you have to offer, and everyone who bothers to get to know you benefits from having you in their life.
The bonds you can create by giving your true gifts and doing what you can to help others are far more rewarding than those that you create by impressing people with your abilities or intimidating them with your social or physical strength.
One goal of the Journey to Manhood is to move from trying to impress people with what you can do to expressing who you are by giving your gifts to anyone willing to receive them.
But in order to find an outer identity that expresses your inner identity, it’s helpful to look at the various outer expressions, the various maps and stories of masculinity that are out there. These can become the palette of paints you use to express your self and your gifts.
So next we’re going to give you a key for interpreting these maps and stories.