What Makes A Man?

MAN: an adult male person, as distinguished from a boy or a woman. A male having qualities considered typical of men or appropriately masculine. A male human endowed with qualities, such as strength, considered characteristic of manhood.

(Definitions provided by www.dictionary.com)

I was a little surprised to find more than 26 definitions for the word “man” when I looked it up on dictionary.com. I knew there was more than one definition, but 26? I read through them all and realized just how versatile the word “man” is. For my purposes though I was looking for an abstract meaning; I was looking for something beyond “adult male human”. I know plenty of males who are legally adults that I don’t consider men. They are either too immature, to selfish, too unmotivated… too something or not enough of something. Such thoughts gave me pause. What exactly is the “something” that makes a man? 

As with everything, my perception of what is a “man” is entirely personal. For some people in the world a man IS any male 18 years of age or older. I would argue that some males are men far before they turn 18. I know several people who insist on calling their son or other young male relative “little man” instead of “boy”. This, apparently, is to avoid potentially insulting males of African heritage who might take offense at being called “boy”. While I can understand the insult given in calling an adult American-African “boy”, I can’t see any way how calling any male child a boy is insulting. It’s probably one of those things I’ll never understand.

So as I pondered what actually made the difference in my mind between men and boys (besides the price of their toys) I came to the realization that it essentially boiled down to the individual demonstrating certain personality traits or behavioral characteristics. Then I was faced with the task of how to delineate which of those personality traits / behavioral characteristics were more or less important. The conclusion I came to is that they are all important when considering the totality of a person and whether or not he is a boy or a man… or simply an old adolescent.

Those character traits as I can best list them are:

Patience:
Quiet, steady perseverance; even-tempered care; diligence.
Why would patience be required of a man? For many reasons. I believe that one of the most important is so that circumstances and other people don’t take control of him. Think about it… when we get angry we usually accomplish nothing. Further, if we are angry enough to become irrational in our decision making, then not only are not we not accomplishing anything, but we’re probably harming our position. And why are we angry? I’ve tried to tell my youngest son: if you let someone anger you then, to some extent, you’ve allowed them to control you. Who among us wants to be controlled? Not me. I’d much prefer to take a few deep breaths, consider the available options and make the best decision I can. Doing so requires patience.

Another need for patience is that it supports being tenacious (see below). “If at first you don’t succeed” and all that. It take patience to accept a lack of success. It takes patience to learn from failures and incorporate those lessons learned into our future plans. It takes patience to learn from our mistakes and develop our behavior accordingly.

I tend to equate impatience with selfishness, childishness and (sometimes) rudeness. Therefore, I consider patience a requirement of any man.

Compassion:
The humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it.
Cruelty just isn’t something I can respect. Living your life everyday and not having compassion for the condition of others strikes me as the beginnings of being cruel. In order to make rational decisions and act in an honorable fashion a man has to understand what it is that another person is going through; what they’re experiencing; how it affects them. For me a lack of compassion equates to a lack of care or concern – without which there can be no level of moral behavior. So, said a different way, a person with zero compassion would be close to being a sociopath. I can’t respect a sociopath so, in my world, a man must have compassion.

Sacrifice:
Something of value given away or up in order to gain something more important or to benefit another person.
It’s funny that I was just watching a movie with my youngest son and one of the quotes from the movie was, “A strong man stands up for himself; a stronger man stands up for others.” If a man has compassion and has the ability to do something to help someone else – even if it costs him something – he will. That sacrifice he makes shows that he has the courage and willingness to take action even if it isn’t in his own best interest. That ability to make a sacrifice… that is one of the things necessary to be a man. After all, it’s going to be necessary in his life if he’s ever to be a decent husband and father.

Tenacious:
Stubbornly unyielding; “dogged persistence”; “dour determination”.
“Just don’t quit,” is a statement I made to my oldest son many times. A man doesn’t fail at something and then just quit. He learns from his mistakes, adjusts his plan, tries a new course of action, and measures his success afterward. An adolescent may just whine and complain when things don’t go his way. Typically, the whining and complaining is accompanied by an immediate cessation of all efforts toward whatever the goal may be. Usually this person will also blame his failure on someone else and come up with many reasons why he shouldn’t try again. Just don’t quit.

Autonomous:
Self-governing; independent; subject to its own laws only.
In today’s world it’s near impossible to be 100% independent. However, a person’s ability to look in the mirror and be content with what they see; who they are; what they do each day; what their dreams are… that ability can’t be accomplished if one’s sense of self is dependent on someone else’s opinion. The necessary autonomy is a self-assured feeling in one’s beliefs and values; one’s sense of right and wrong; one’s commitment to do the right thing. Those who are autonomous know it and don’t have to prove it. They prove it in how they live their life and conduct themselves. Those who aren’t autonomous may spend lots of time bragging about how independent they are in an effort to get someone else’s approval – a ready indicator that they aren’t as autonomous as they would lead you to believe.

Honor:
Honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions.
This is a biggy and not always easy to define – but we all know it when we see it; or when we don’t. A man can’t be a man and have no honor. Entire cultures have developed behavior protocols based on proving honor, making up for doing something dishonorable – or giving their lives which they no longer conside worth living if their honor has been tarnished. I can’t say I’d go to that extreme but living in an honorable fashion is, and should be, important. If you have no honor it’s difficult to be trustworthy; honest; loyal and more. I remember the quote, “Loyalty above all else, except honor.” Honor seems to be the over-arching standard by which all other behavior is measured. If a man’s honor is questioned then virtually everything else he does or is will also be questioned. That’s why it’s so important in so many cultures. Who are you if you have no honor?

So, we have this list of characteristics. I’m sure other people would add some more. I wouldn’t argue with them. Everyone’s values are different. But if I can get my own son’s to act with these personality traits – to incorporate these behavioral characteristics – then I’ll feel like I’ve done okay raising them. I can for sure and certain say I’ve succeeded with one. The other is looking pretty good…

BE SAFE!

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