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The Carletonian

What it means to me to be a good man: The first one standing

<ned 21.  Thanks. Hooray for me, right? About time to break out the brews and start legally increasing my BAC! Unfortunately, I was fated to be born on the day before finals at a certain Liberal Arts Institution.  So instead of a party I got clapped on the back and told that I was “a real man now.” That got me thinking, and suddenly and irreversibly my man-child world of video gaming, anime, and sleeping in until 10:00 a.m. came crashing down.  I realized that I was now expected to be focused, driven, world-beating, and employed, with, Heaven forbid, responsibilities. Then I had another thought: wasn’t that supposed to have happened three years ago when I turned 18 and could be drafted and buy cigarettes? Or even five years ago, when the great State of Illinois finally trusted me behind the wheel of a car?  At each milestone, I remember half-expecting an internal switch to flip and a rush of maturity to flow through me: apparently that’s not how it works. So just when does manhood begin and how in the Sam Hill am I supposed to become a good one if I’ve been oblivious of the signs this whole time?

It has been noted by many others that the term ‘man’ invokes numerous power and gender norms and they’ve all done a much better job than I could at discussing the issues norms raise, so my approach will be somewhat different.  Naturally, I can speak only from my perspective: that of a nerdy, suburban, white male with glasses. But I think that most of what I believe constitutes a “good man” is fairly universal.  

A good man, to me, does his best each and every day.  A good man accepts personal imperfection and limitations whilst working towards self-improvement. He also cares about the people and world around himself and takes the initiative to make the necessary changes when others can’t, won’t, or couldn’t be bothered. 

Everyone has something about them that is special: some have more gifts, others less, but everyone has something. And not doing one’s best to use the gifts that were bestowed upon them is a travesty.  Too many ‘men’ give up when faced with challenges they aren’t suited for or decline to put in the effort at all, precipitating failure.  We aren’t all mathletes, MJ, or Monet, but putting in the time and effort means that, at the end of the day, a man can be proud of whatever he’s done, regardless of the outcome. 

To do this means that a good man should tolerate, even embrace, imperfection – particularly in oneself.  I’ll freely admit that this is one of the hardest things for me to do.  When I start doing something new I feel like I should acquire the knowledge or skills immediately. When I’m in my major classes I feel like I should understand everything easily and intuitively, and when I don’t, I feel a lesser man as a result.  While I don’t believe that this desire is entirely negative (in fact, the desire not to fail can be a great motivator), this trait can also lead to self doubt, stressing out and mental breakdown.  So I try to live with my imperfections, redirecting my energy towards getting better at one of the many areas I’m not accomplished in.   Some long shots may be worth abandoning (such as my dream of World Cup glory) but if I only stick to what I’m good at it would be limiting in the extreme (particularly if you’re only good at three things like me– see first paragraph.) And really, what’s the point of going to college and not branching out?

A good man cares about the world around him.  That doesn’t mean that he needs to be Joe Environmental Activist but it means that he is conscious of the needs of others and looks to give back whenever he can. A good man never lets an opportunity to do good slip away, whether it’s participating in a blood drive, volunteering, or supporting a friend in need.  A good man, then, is someone who can be depended upon and looked to for help.  In this role he’ll accept a lot of challenges but have plenty of opportunity to improve not just the lives of others but his own life as well.   Often this involves doing things that may be unpopular or undesirable, but a good man takes this in stride.

So, a good man always tries his best, but accepts imperfection in his life while striving to improve on his shortcomings.  He cuts in line when it’s time to help out and steps up when the going gets tough to do what’s right.

Just my two cents.

-Marc Boyce is third-year student.

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

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