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What it means to me to be a good man: Seeking a definition of inclusion

<r me, this is a question that cannot possibly have a single answer. Yet, it is interesting how quickly “right” answers come to mind. A good man provides for his family; a good man is strong; a good man treats women well; a good man always stands by his friends…It is a well-hashed checklist of traits that our culture has passed on to men as their yardsticks of masculinity, of virility, and of manhood.

Certainly, there are good and admirable attributes in all of those prepackaged maxims of manhood. Yet, it seems, these maxims also have a way of keeping people out. If a man doesn’t have a family, can he be a true man? What if he isn’t strong, or something keeps him from providing, or he simply doesn’t want to? Can he nonetheless be a good man?

I think that most of us would not quickly jump up and condemn those who do not conform as somehow less than men. Yet, there is and undeniable air of legitimacy, of actualization, afforded to those men who have achieved markers on that hallowed checklist. Thus, while “Mr. Mom” may be a wonderful homemaker, and a great person, would most of us really be quick to describe him as a good man?

Clearly, then, there are problems with our default definitions of a “good man.” Their perfection, it seems, can only be achieved through excluding others, by defining yourself against others who have not men certain standards.

But what if we turned it around? What if we tried to define a good man through inclusion? How would it change our default answers to the question: What does it mean to be a good man?

Perhaps, one place to start would be by making the category of “man” a more inclusive one. A man, not narrowing it down to “good man” yet, might be anyone who wants to be. It could also recognize those who only sometimes want to be, or those who usually want to be. And it could accept them without any other questions.

The inclusion would be more than simply a label, it would mean that you can accept him as he is, and afford him the same respect and dignity that you would had he been easily incorporated into a more culturally expected rubric of masculine success.

What if a good man, then, was one who was able to achieve this genuine inclusion of other men? What if, rather than subscribing to traditional definitions—definitions that are important and meaningful to many men—he could recognize that there are other men who find other things meaningful, and that those differences don’t make them less good as men.

So, I don’t think that being a good man means that you have to repudiate those things that have been handed down as the indices of what makes a “good man.” But I do think that it does involve expanding your definition to recognize that those things are not meaningful for all good men. To me, it seems, the answer is not one rooted in actions of exclusion, but rather actions of inclusion.

* This essay is part of an ongoing series established by Chase Kimball. If you would like to have your own reflections published, please consider responding to the question “What does it mean to you to be a good man?”in an essay of 400-800 words and e-mailing it to [email protected].

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