Photo from UK Ministry of Defence
A discussion about Rites of Manhood on the Sons of Adam podcast concluded with a challenge to come up with a list of defining traits for mature manhood. What I expected to take an hour or two of thinking took much longer.
At first it seemed straightforward to try to make a list of manly traits. As I tried to do that I realized that I had to decide what I was listing. Traits that are consistent with manhood include traits that are simply part of being an adult whether male or female (like taking responsibility) while other traits that are consistent with manhood are traits that are natural to males whether they have achieved manhood or not (such as a proclivity for physical exertion).
Others may choose differently than I did but I chose to approach this from the perspective of what traits I would seek to instill in boys in order for them to achieve manhood. This means that my list more closely aligns with a list of traits that are consistent with being an adult than with a list of masculine tendencies. I did try to define how each of these traits is important as it relates to being genuinely manly.
The order of the traits listed is simply the order in which they coalesced in my thinking.
A man must be in control of himself, he must demonstrate that he is not subject to the whims of himself, his society, or his surroundings. He acts with integrity to his word and has a willingness to set aside his momentary urges or the fads of those around him in order to pursue things he considers more valuable than whatever those urges may be driving towards.
A man must have connected personally to a moral code and follow that code without needing to seek assurances from others. This is closely aligned with self mastery. Having truly internalized a moral code makes it possible for him to refrain from bending to the whims of peer pressure. If his moral code is internalized he will be firm when his own beliefs stand in contrast to the pressure being brought to bear on him. This is true whether the pressure comes from his personal associates or from society at large. The key here is that it must be his own morality, something he believes for himself rather than simply a morality that he is instructed to follow.
A male can never be more than an adolescent unless he truly respects others (their opinions, their rights, their property, and their agency). Without that respect he will be unable to interact with others equally because he will be blinded to their perspectives, deaf to their insights and dismissive of their rights and decisions.
A man is a steward rather than consumer of resources. Without respect for the value of resources he is never more than a consumer in life. With a healthy respect for the value of resources he becomes a steward who is careful of what he has rather than careless. As a steward he can guard and improve property rather than simply using and discarding it. Of course, some things can only be consumed but a steward avoids the excesses of consumption that come with a lack of respect for the inherent value of such resources. Instead the steward directs the use of resources to serve some purpose which he deems worthy of their use and his efforts.
A man has the intellectual fortitude to seek solutions when he encounters a problem rather than accepting the problem as a barrier to his goals.
A man doesn’t rely on others to provide for his wants and needs. Instead, where such needs are not already provided, he seeks out ways to meet those needs through his own efforts. This is not to say that there are never times when a man may need help in meeting those needs, but even when he is in need of assistance he wouldn’t simply seek a handout or wish for someone else to shoulder the burden in his place.
A man doesn’t hang back when he sees something that calls for action. He is able to take instructions when someone is in charge but he is also willing to be in charge or work independently when nobody else is directing that some necessary action be taken. The connection between self reliance and practivity is comparable to the relationship between internalized morality and self mastery. The key is that a man doesn’t wait in hopes that someone else will notice the situation and lead out in addressing it.
The combination of an internalized morality, inherent respect for people, and being proactive demands that a man will look beyond himself and be protective of others – especially those who are weak or vulnerable in some way. When he sees those who need help his instinct will always be to render whatever assistance he can with whatever resources he has. The only thing that may hold him back is if the assistance he could render puts other vulnerable people at risk.