Thursday, June 18, 2009

What Does It Really Mean to be a Man?

A Better Man

The editor sent me a link for A Better Man, a book that compiles the thoughts of many famous and not so famous men on what it means to be masculine. A lot of this is good stuff - and there are words of wisdom here that will appeal to men and boys at a variety of developmental stages and with a variety of beliefs.
What Does It Really Mean to be a Man?

This question is important to any healthy society. Very important. And if there’s a boy you love in your life—a son, a grandson, a nephew, a student, or a member of your church—it matters in a deeply personal way. (Believe me, as the mother of five sons, I know!) You want him to grow into a strong, kind, compassionate, responsible man…yet you can’t help but worry that too few voices are teaching him how.

The reality is that the wisdom that once helped boys find their way—the kind of wisdom that was handed down from man to boy during a game of catch or a day of fishing—has become lost amid all the noise of popular culture, lost amid the rush of lives too busy for family dinners. In its place are lessons learned from dubious “role models” in music videos and movies—lessons like “Look out for #1”…“Pursue money at all costs”…“Use and objectify women.”

A Better Man is my effort to share the kinds of stories boys want and need to hear: stories about right and wrong and courage and integrity and service. Filled with first-person narratives from some of America’s most respected and engaging men—from sports figures to civil rights activists to political leaders—the book is meant to help boys ages 12 to 19 (and beyond) reclaim the goodness and heroism they’re wired for.

Please share A Better Man with a boy you love, or with his parents or guardians. Even if he already has a strong male role model in his life—even if it’s you—the messages in this book simply cannot be reinforced too strongly. Each essay and interview sheds a little more light on the path that leads from boyhood to manhood, showing boys another way. A better way.

Kelly H. Johnson, Editor
Here are some excerpts:

Former President George Herbert Walker Bush
In a heartfelt comment, former President Bush offers his thoughts on his work with former President Clinton and the lesson young men might take away from their example.

“When, in life, you find yourself on opposite sides of an issue from another person or group of persons, I encourage you to engage in the kind of rigorous debate upon which our great country was founded. However, I hope also that you will be mindful never to let those differences become a chasm which you cannot cross for the sake of a greater good. Indeed, ‘a better man’ is one who understands that he can put aside differences without surrendering his beliefs.”

Ambassador Andrew J. Young, Jr. (Civil Rights Leader)
This excerpt is taken from an exquisite interview with Ambassador Young in which he explores the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and the importance of finding a purpose in life greater than oneself.

“I posed a question to the congregation earlier this afternoon. I asked them, ‘Was Martin Luther King a genius?’ Of course the answer to that was a unanimous yes. I followed that up with a second question: ‘Are you a genius? Are you a genius?’ Now the room got quieter; people were unsure of how to respond. But you see, if we say Martin Luther King was a genius without acknowledging that the same genius exists in ourselves, then we risk feeling relieved of the responsibility to pursue our own capacity for greatness.

“I don’t know how to say it any more plainly. You are not simply this flesh and blood! You are spiritual beings, and because of this, you will not achieve the happiness you desire by living selfishly. You cannot survive like that!

“Now, does this mean you cannot be successful? Of course not. We formed this business, GoodWorks International, because we felt called to help American businesses get into Africa, and we have been very successful. But before we began, I asked myself, Does this feed the hungry? Does this clothe the naked? Does this heal the sick?—and it does. Business does that. Jobs and work and wages and prosperity do all of those things. Nevertheless, I get criticized all the time for associating with Chevron and Wal-Mart. But to my way of thinking, it is very simple: If we want lights, we need oil. If we want to drive cars, we need oil. It is ultimately very hypocritical to want to live as we do and not want to associate with the companies that allow us to do it.

“So I say by all means, be successful. Be as successful as you possibly can! But find a way to serve God in your work at the same time, either directly or indirectly.”

Ray Allen (Shooting Guard, 2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics)
Here, Ray Allen talks about the true measure of a champion and sets forth his thoughts on why and how men must do a better job of respecting women.

“I want young men to see that life is not about the flash and flare. It’s about having an impact on everything around you from your family to your community to the earth. At the end of your days, that inevitable question will rise within you of how well your life was spent. How well did you leave this planet from the time that you were born to the time that you left?

“Ultimately, in my profession, we’re playing a sport, and that is what the focus is on. But we’re playing a sport that has seen great players before, has seen great players in our time, and will see great players when we’re gone. So we can’t reasonably be judged by our athleticism or by the numbers we put up or the Championships we win. What we will be judged by—and judge ourselves by—is how we dealt with our success. How did you come across? How did you make the people around you better? Ultimately, that is what I want kids to see—that this game, like anything else in life, is about the relationships you create. Because once you’re gone, that is what is left. That is what you take with you to sustain you, and that is how you ultimately will be judged. What did you do to make things better? That is the question your life has to answer.

“So, when it comes to women, I think every man in this world should take the time to make a woman feel better. The good men need to make up for the ones who aren’t doing the right thing. When you see a woman walking across the street—she could be a teacher on her way to work with 30 kids for eight hours, and if you compliment her or help her across the street, she’s going to go to school with that little bit of extra energy for those kids. Or it could be someone’s wife—someone raising children—and that is what society says is our foundation. We hear a lot of concern, ‘The children! The children!’ But children start with a man and a woman, and with a man taking care of a woman. That relationship is so critical, and we don’t teach that. We don’t take it seriously like we should. Ultimately, it will be our downfall.”

Tavis Smiley (National Television and Radio Commentator)
This answer was given in response to the following question: As someone who works in television and radio, I would be curious to know what advice you have for young men that might help them be more savvy consumers of [popular] media.

“I think the most important thing that I can share in that regard is how easy it is to be swayed by those images if one does not have a clear image of himself. And so I think that we have to start with two fundamental questions, which are: What is the image that I have of myself? and What is the image I have for myself? The answers to those questions will shift over time, obviously. But that being said, you must know and have thought about the answers to those questions in advance.

“There is an old adage, ‘It’s not what people call you; it’s what you answer to.’ I find myself consistently saying that to young black men and, in fact, it is something that I would say to any young man. It’s not what people call you; it’s what you answer to.”

Kenny Leon (Award-winning Broadway and Film Director)
In this excerpt, Kenny talks about the path to forgiveness that he forged during the early years of segregation and why he feels that the ability to forgive is “a necessity.”

“I was in 9th grade when the Civil Rights laws took effect. Here I was this poor, black kid from the country and I was bussed to one of the wealthiest white schools in the county. It was a tough time—a tough time—but I carried my grandmother’s lessons with me. I looked for ways to build bridges. I refused to indulge hatred. I told myself, ‘That person may think he hates me because I’m black or poor or whatever, but he really doesn’t. He just doesn’t know any better.’ So, I chose forgiveness. I chose it. After all, we’re all imperfect. We all make some terrible mistakes; there’s not one grown person on this planet who hasn’t done a few things they deeply regret. So, the ability to forgive is a necessity for each and every one of us.”

1 comment:

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