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What it means to be a good man: Finding good principles

<leness as defined by Western society has been changing steadily over the recent centuries. Therefore, what makes a good man has also changed. The stress in masculinity no longer lies solely on the physicality of a man as a protector and a warrior; additionally, the value of a male now includes his mental and emotional acuity. Because of this shift men have enjoyed the privilege of engaging in a more holistic human experience—one in which we can cry, laugh, love, and be vulnerable. However, this shift away from the physical worker-warrior model is not always in line with our current biological urges, and some men struggle to make this transition. They are not weaker.  Rather, these men need guidance to be able to embrace the newfound benefits of modern manhood. One crucial way to rise above the incongruence between the natural and societal demands is through the growth and development of strong principles that can help guide us to goals beyond our own inclinations.

Young males are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD (11% of young males compared to 4% of young females as shown by the US Department of Health and Human Services). Furthermore, males are much more likely than females to be involved in gang-related activity and violent crimes.

Males are physical and there is no avoiding that truth. However, those who are unable to attain the academic rigor or the emotional complexity of males more suited for Western society are no less valuable and should not be treated as such (e.g. the “meathead”).

A good man is not defined by his achievements or societal demands; a good man is defined by the extent to which he lives in accordance with principles that facilitate a life of consciousness and other-centeredness, as opposed to a life of reactivity and impulsivity. Principles alone are neither good nor bad; they are beliefs that transcend the momentary decisions or emotions by guiding us towards actions that are in line with our core beliefs. 

A good man employs good principles in all that he does, no matter how insignificant. In doing so, he is preparing himself to have the character to achieve goals that would not be possible if he lived by compulsion and desire alone. Treating every decision and encounter as significant allows a man to prepare for the more crucial turning points in his life that may influence himself and others in a profound way.  

However, principles alone are not sufficient. Hitler had extremely passionate and transcending principles and was looking to better the world for certain lower Arian classes. However, fundamental to his principles was the persecution of others. On the other hand, Victor Frankl was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz through a combination of luck and unbending principles. Most of his decisions, whether it was choosing to shave or giving his bread ration away, revolved around growth and love for himself and others. In doing so, he did not let the inhumane and physical surroundings dictate his existence. As an alternative, he found a way to rise above the concentration camp and grow through the whole experience. In the end, he lost his family and his career, but he did not lose his sense of self or meaning, and he was able to continue living a life of service to the world.

These two very different men highlight the importance of equipping men with good principles based on love for others and the self.  There needs to be a move to help the modern man blossom and enjoy the contemporary potential for human flourishing (e.g., education, emotional complexity, decreased stress on physical survival, etc.), without denying the importance of the physical and old-fashioned masculinity. In order for these benefits to be enjoyed by all men, the instilment of loving and growth-oriented principles can provide scaffolding and serve as a guide during both the successful and adverse times in life. 

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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