“Always polish your shoes if you want to be a real man. And polish the soles while you’re at it, because when you walk up a flight of stairs people following behind you can see them. … Oh, and never wear a moustache. They’re not manly.”
We all know the rules. We learn them at our fathers’ knees and we carry them with us for the rest of our lives. Those above are just two of mine. I’ve blogged about my father before, about his strange ideas regarding masculinity. It’s no secret that he and I never really got on. In fact on one occasion we actually came to blows. I spent most of my childhood as a human ping-pong ball with my parents, on two different continents, holding the bats. My father, being the better ‘player’ generally always won each contest, the prize being to cart me back to South Africa where he’d set up home, and where I mostly failed to fit in. But I’m not condemning him. He did what seemed right to him at the time, and towards the end of his life we were reconciled. What interests me now is how he came up with all that stuff about shoes and moustaches.
You sometimes hear the phrase “Learn to be a Man”. Most of us – most of us men, that is – have heard it, if not from our dads then from teachers and other mentors as we were growing up. We take it for granted that we know what it means, and it never fails to make us a bit nervous. Somewhere deep inside we shrink from the awesome responsibility that the words imply. How can we possibly match up?
But does the phrase really mean anything?
Yes. It means: ‘Learn to live by a set of rules that someone has made up for you, ignoring your inner wisdom’. The ideas that are handed down to us look convincingly like fundamental truths, especially when dished out by men who seem to embody those traditional ‘manly’ virtues of toughness, bravery and bloody-mindedness, (that being the dubious ‘virtue’ of always being right). Being brave and tough are not bad things in themselves of course, but making those attributes goals in themselves, or ideals to be aspired to leads to all kinds of confusion. These notions of what it means to be a man appeal to our egos, and when the ego gets involved, we can no longer hear the message from our spiritual intelligence, or Universal Mind as I refer to it.
The man who becomes confrontational, aggressive or violent over some minor incident, is really at war with himself and the ‘teachings’ he has absorbed throughout his life. While he’s waging this inner battle to ‘prove’ his manhood, he’s getting further and further away from wisdom and his true nature, which is peaceful, tolerant and happy. And when – inevitably, because we’ve all been there – his violent outburst doesn’t ‘work’, doesn’t prove anything, he retires, licking his wounds, and resolves to be tougher, braver, more ‘in the right’, next time. He waits for another opportunity to ‘Be a Man’.
Here’s the problem: even if you accepted those expectations placed upon you in childhood you could never really live up to them, because you can never fully know what the rules are. They differ from one father figure to another according to the rules they themselves learned at their father’s knee. But wisdom is universal, it belongs to each and every one of us, including that guy with the explosive temper you would cross the street to avoid.
Doctor Mark Howard of the Three Principles Institute made the point in a recent interview that “You weren’t born with anger. You had to learn it.” Mark spent years working with a men’s group that he founded himself, dealing with this and many other issues, and he came to the conclusion that Mind does not care what gender we are. There is very little sense in being a ‘man’s man’ but that doesn’t rule out being assertive when you need to be, and getting what you want out of life. You just don’t do it by destroying another person, physically, mentally or emotionally. Mark’s first rule of being a man is the same as his rule for being a woman: listen to others and listen to your inner wisdom.
As for me, well, I do polish my shoes, but only the uppers, not the soles. And my moustache is coming along nicely.