Commentary on “What is a Man (Again)”

I was pleasantly surprised to hear JP and Bryce discuss my list of the Traits of Manhood on The Sons of Adam. Between their discussion of my list and their discussion of Bryce’s list the week before I am formulating three new posts that I hope to get feedback on as I further my definition of manhood. For today I’d like to share some of the thoughts I had as I listened to their podcast. (I had no forewarning that they were discussing my list and no preconceived notions of how it would be interpreted.) This post will touch only on those traits where I had thoughts in response to the podcast and will go in the order that those thoughts came.

Bryce Asks: Is “self mastery” another way of saying you have a lot of willpower?

No, it’s the difference between roping a wild horse and taming it. If you rope a wild horse you can force it into a trailer but the horse won’t be working with you. If you tame the horse it will generally stay put when you approach and heed commands that it has been taught to understand. Bryce talks about willpower being a depletable resource and I think he’s right. Self mastery is less depletable. A wild horse will fight against the rope and sometimes break it an run away. A tame horse won’t fight the rope most of the time and even on those occasions when the rope breaks the horse will usually not run away because the horse is less inclined to run away even without the rope.

JP’s comments line up very well with my thoughts on the question. Willpower is making yourself do something despite discomfort. Self mastery is training yourself and putting supports in place to accomplish something that doesn’t come naturally to you.

Bryce comments that it’s sad that an internalized morality should need to be put on the list but that it’s necessary in our day

I would contend that regardless of how well society does in any given age at supporting morality publicly having internalized a personal moral code sets a man apart from those who are no more than boys. It may be hard to tell the difference from outside when the social supports are in place but there is a world of difference between the effect of internalized morality and externalized morality.

As an LDS missionary a young man has strict rules about his schedule of eating, sleeping, studying, and working. He also has at least one companion and countless other missionaries and church members who know those rules and expect him to follow them. While they are on the mission it would be more difficult to recognize which of two missionaries is more mature based on following those rules. It is easier to see who is more mature by how they regulate themselves after the mission when those expectations are no longer supported and enforced by those around them. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the missionary who internalizes those rules by recognizing their inherent value and choosing to adopt them for himself is more reliable and trustworthy in following those rules than the one who only follows them because that is what he is expected to do rather than because that is what he expects of himself independent of anyone else.

On the question of the difference between self mastery and internalized morality

I thought that both Bryce and JP were right on the mark. Even an bad person can have self mastery – they just have no personal morality to direct that self mastery in positive ways. I think both of them would agree with me in saying (although neither of them touched on the idea) that having an internalized morality is of little value in a person who lacks any substantial self mastery to live true to that internalized moral code.

Discussing problem solving

As I listened to JP and Bryce discuss problem solving I realized that some people might hear that term and think of creativity and innovation when they hear “problem solving.” For myself, I was trying to convey an idea of being proactive and not accepting the mentality of being a victim of circumstance.

JPs comment on self reliance

I also really liked JPs statement that self reliance is an efforts-based principle rather than a results-based principle. Self reliance in that sense is again a matter of proactivity and a mindset of anti-dependence rather than being relegated to those who have achieved self-sufficience in some economic or material way.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.

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