While schools teach many useful things, there are some things they regrettably do not. It is good to know science, history, and mathematics, and English is essential for those of us who live in the United States, but one of the most important things of all for any male to learn is left in the dust. One of the most important things to learn as a boy is how to be a man.
The first place that you learn what it means to be a man is your father, and you learn more by his example than by his words, though you DO still learn from his words. That puts children whose father never “grew up” mentally and emotionally at a serious disadvantage. If the person from whom you are learning to be an adult still acts like a child, then that is what you will learn.
That means that if you are a father, you need to be especially careful, because your children, and your sons in particular, are going to be watching you. They will learn from what you do, learning what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is not, so it is essential that you make sure that you behave the way you want them to learn to behave. It is also essential that you spend time with them, to give them the opportunity to learn from you.
So what happens to children who do not have a father from whom to learn? They must find someone else to teach them. Unfortunately, children have no way of knowing who is a good choice and who is a bad choice, so they will mostly simply find whoever is most convenient. That’s one reason that mentoring programs are such a great thing… they can provide a good example to learn from.
With all of the above said, what is it that distinguishes a man from a boy? What can you look at to say whether someone is a good man? Most importantly of all, for the males reading this, what can you look at inside yourself, and what can you learn, in order to be that good man? Here is a list of the core attributes of a man:
This is the core, the all encompassing attribute of what it means to be a man. It includes all of the other attributes, blended into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Honor means you tell the truth, even when it hurts. Honor means you take care of your responsibilities. Honor means you live up to any committment you make, even when it’s hard. Honor means taking care of those weaker than you. Honor means all of these things and more… and you know it when you see it, whether in a person you meet or in a character in a movie (think Leonidas in 300). Maintaining your honor is essential to being a man, but part of maintaining your honor is knowing which of its components is more important when they are in conflict.
Integrity is all about truth. That means being truthful everywhere and to everyone, including yourself. It means don’t pretend to be something or someone that you are not. It means accepting the truth of who you are, and if you don’t like it, accepting the responsibility of changing it, not just acting like it’s not even there. A man of integrity is true to himself, true to others, and true to his word. He doesn’t need to swear an oath or make a promise, because his yes means yes and his no means no.
Responsibility is another essential component. A man must take responsibility for his own choices, both to himself and to others. That means that you cannot blame others for things you do, or the way you are, because they can only influence you to the extent that you choose to allow them. If you accept responsibility for something, it is up to you to make sure it is done, and to accept the blame if it is not, regardless of why it is not. If you cannot be sure that you can do it, then do not say that you will.
A man gives respect to those around him until they show that they are not worthy of it. And even then, he gives them the opportunity to earn it back. All interactions with others should be done inside the framework of respect… even if someone has shown that their behavior is not worthy of respect, you can respect their knowledge and/or expertise in whatever areas they have it. Also keep in mind that regardless of whether someone is worthy of your respect or not, you should still treat them with respect… just be aware of it in your expectations of them and their behavior.
Responsibility is about following through on what you say you will do. Faithfulness is about following through on the things that you should be doing whether or not you have said you will. Faithfulness is about going the extra mile to do the right thing in the right way, even if it means going beyond what you said you would do. Faithfulness is what comes after responsibility… when you don’t just do things because you said you would and you feel like you’re stuck with it now, but instead do them because they are the right thing to do.
Compassion is one of the primary things that differentiates man from animal, and man from machine. When you feel that other people are individuals, with their own worth, and their own value, worthy of your help, your work, and your consideration on their own merit, then you have compassion. Compassion isn’t feeling sorry for people, it’s feeling that they are worthy of your time and effort, and then giving it to them. You shouldn’t just feel compassion for those in worse situations than you, you should feel it for everyone. Everyone should be worthy of your time and effort when they need help with something.
Strength is another part of being a man that is commonly misunderstood. Strength isn’t about not admitting your weaknesses (or mistakes), it’s not about not having or showing emotions, and it’s not about how much weight you can lift. Strength is about following through on all of the things above. Strength is doing what you should be doing, regardless of how hard it is or how you feel about it. It actually shows far more strength to admit your weaknesses and mistakes, and then do something about them (I cannot emphasize that enough… admitting weaknesses and mistakes may be hard, but the real sign of strength is that you then do something to fix, or compensate for, them), than it does to try to hide them or pretend they don’t exist.
That’s what it takes to be a man instead of an adult boy. Every male has it in them to do the things listed above, and every male will fail at each of them at some point. The difference is that for a man, the failure is the exception, not the rule, and when they fail at one of them, they pick themselves back up and get back to it.