Man up. Grow a pair. HTFU. These are terms I’ve heard many times throughout my life. Lately I’ve been asking myself what does it mean to be a man in today’s world? Is it something I become? Something I learn? Is it a status or a feeling? Perhaps its a title that’s bestowed upon me by others or alternatively a self proclaimed state of being? Is it something I can slip in and out of or is it a case of once a man, always a man?
Men have been asking themselves these questions since the dawn of time and throughout history, many cultures, societies, philosophers, leaders and thinkers have put forth their own answers for us to ponder. Different cultures pinpoint the moment you become a man in a variety of ways. Some rely on ceremony or sacred knowledge, others on feats of daring, strength or the risking of one’s life.
The ideals and virtues of men have changed throughout the ages and since we first began walking on two legs and hurling spears at things, the standards of masculinity we hold ourselves to have been in constant evolution. As our modern day lives become easier, less violent and more comfortable a majority of men won’t have to fulfil the ancestral vocations of protector against wild animals, maker of tools, killer of animals (and potentially other men) and provider of meat.
We were once forced by necessity to develop finely tuned bodies, a proficiency in hunting and tracking, a prowess with a variety of weapons along with overcoming fears of serious injury or even death in the act of hunting and fending off wild, dangerous and delicious animals.
For hundreds of thousands of years men have learned, grown and depended heavily on each other, to gain the necessary skills to protect and provide for their families and community. In today’s world we don’t have to hunt and collaborate with other men to find food and resources. Today we drive to the supermarket and peacefully wander the isles. No threat, no thought and no challenge.
Many of us find ourselves drawn to the lingering legacies of our ancestral past, like the appreciation of fine weapons, the mastery of a craft, interest in technology, stories of war, hunting, bushcraft and controlled violence like mixed martial arts or contact sports. These are all dignified pursuits that have interested men for centuries, but within the confines of our increasingly homogenous, stifling and politically correct society, many of us are reluctant to satiate these ancient undertakings (at least publicly) for fear of being labeled as bigoted, aggressive, macho or a toxic male.
We are asked to continually suppress the ties to our evolutionary pasts and squeeze ourselves into perceived modern norms without the right tools or guidance to reconcile these primeval drives and it’s leaving us lost, lonely, depressed and suicidal.
In almost every country the majority of suicides are men. In Australia 80% of all suicides are men. We have fewer social connections than women (Denney et al., 2009), die younger and are more likely to suffer a substance abuse problem or turn to alcoholism, porn, gambling and other self destructive behaviours to deal with our problems.
A carefree lifestyle of comfort and excess (from an evolutionary and historical viewpoint) has never been so accessible as it is today. We live longer, have access to more information, food, medicine and technology than ever before and when compared to our ancestors, live a life of luxury. We have the highest standard of living human beings have ever known (particularly in the western world)… so why do many of us feel lost, unhappy and rudderless on this sea of opportunity and opulence?
The prospect of naturally and meaningfully bonding with other men has been slowly eroding since the industrial revolution and many of us find ourselves being around other men by default (sports groups, school associations, work, etc). Whilst important, these interactions promote us to put on our ‘capability masks’ and many of the relationships created in these environments become purely transactional (what you can bring to the group as opposed to enjoying each other’s company because you like each other).
If these are the only types of relationships we cultivate, it leaves no space to bond with a group of naturally close-knit men to openly and honestly connect about the truly important aspects of our lives.
It gives us an easier opportunity to walk away when things get tough. We aren’t forced to work through issues or problems in a collaborative approach like we did when we lived in communities or villages. Today if someone says something we don’t like we can block them or delete their contact or worse still get into an online argument or flame war, then walk away. No wonder we’ve forgotten how to talk to each other.
I think many of us are looking for men we can respect, admire and value as role models. I think many of us are feeling empty and adrift after a lifetime of TV sitcoms, media personalities, sports stars and celebrities being the standard to which men are held.
We may not like to admit it, but many of us feel stranded and alone with no one to really talk with even though we have more opportunity to communicate and connect than ever before.Where did it all go wrong?
Over the next few months I’m going to be focusing on a series of masculine virtues and traits that I think are important for me and other men to explore. Through this sequence of articles I hope to explore not only my own positive masculinity, but how we approach being men in today’s society and I hope to take you along with me on the journey.
I’m going to explore virtues like competence, reliability, confidence and integrity (to name just a few) in an attempt to conceive a sense of self that’s tied to who I am, not what I do. By exploring the traditions, teachings, values and virtues that have guided men throughout the eons I’m confident I can come up with a blueprint of sorts (even a very basic one!) to create a more positive future for myself and the other men that may be reading this.
Buckle up, it’s going to be a fun ride!