In Search of a Better Man
It’s a relaxing day around the cabin. This weekend marked my 40th birthday and so we celebrated. To the best of my knowledge a good time was had by all. Other than clean up from the party, today we’ve simply rested, read books and otherwise taken a day off.
We need those every now and then.
For some reason in American culture at least we make a pretty big deal when someone hits 40. The age of youth is over. Yadda, yadda, yadda. So last summer when I crossed the 39 mark I realized this day would be here before I knew it. I also knew that I still wasn’t the man I really wanted to be. Another way of putting it, there are parts of me that I want to improve. There are elements of my personality that I want to better understand. I’ve always appreciated the great figures of history that were well rounded. Physically fit, personally disciplined, strong work ethic, well educated, thoughtful and had established clear paths and values. The men of the world who had their stuff together.
I want to be that kind of man. I want my students to have that kind of man as a professor. I want my family to have that kind of man in their family. Get the idea? And so over the past year I began the work to start confronting those aspects of my life.
But, as an observer of culture, it’s painfully obvious that these are not the men or characteristics idolized today. In fact, you might say that pop culture idolizes the exact opposite kind of man. Admittedly, I realized that I’m starting to resent the pop culture “man”. It would be easy to go into stereotypes here. I’m not going to do that. Too much time and too much picking who and what. Just use your imagination and throw rocks or applause later.
So, I’ve mostly stopped paying attention to pop culture. (It’s required as part of the cabin gig) Partially, I get that’s because I’m aging out of their target audience. But secondly, I’m opting myself out for better role models. We all seem to be a little too comfortable with grouping ourselves with like minded people and letting ourselves be constantly reassured that we’re right and everyone else is wrong. Likewise, we’re also losing our ability as a culture to discern things for ourselves. When people stop questioning the people feeding them information, that’s just a recipe for a whole lot of bad on the horizon. In fact it sounds like a modern day Pied Piper. So I’ve been putting all the regular cultural standards of moral and ethical behavior under a microscope. In plain terms, just because a church declares something evil or good doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Likewise, just because Oprah or Sean Hannity or your Facebook friends declare something bad or good, doesn’t mean it is. I have a brain, I’ll weigh it for myself.
So for my 39th birthday I started the process of getting physically fit. For my 40th, I’m searching out the men of history I admire and reading what they have to say on the subject of being a good man.
Which is why I got excited when the mail lady delivered a package yesterday with two books about one of my favorite men, Theodore Roosevelt. Everybody has their favorite dead president and he’s mine. At 42 years of age he assumed the role of President after the assassination of McKinley. He’s a guy who led by example. He overcame great adversity and epitomizes servant leadership. His courage was unmatched. He’s a boss I could respect and a President I would vote for. He’s the kind of guy the world could really use about now. So I’m going spend as much time as I can with his autobiography over the coming days. In the meantime. I’ll leave you with his words from the foreword of his autobiography because I’ve rambled long enough for one post.
” NATURALLY, there are chapters of my autobiography which cannot now be written.
It seems to me that, for the nation as for the individual, what is most important is to insist on the vital need of combining certain sets of qualities, which separately are common enough, and, alas, useless enough. Practical efficiency is common, and lofty idealism not uncommon; it is the combination which is necessary, and the combination is rare. Love of peace is common among weak, short-sighted, timid, and lazy persons; and on the other hand courage is found among many men of evil temper and bad character. Neither quality shall by itself avail. Justice among the nations of mankind, and the uplifting of humanity, can be brought about only by those strong and daring men who with wisdom love peace, but who love righteousness more than peace. Facing the immense complexity of modern social and industrial conditions, there is need to use freely and unhesitatingly the collective power of all of us; and yet no exercise of collective power will ever avail if the average individual does not keep his or her sense of personal duty, initiative, and responsibility. There is need to develop all the virtues that have the state for their sphere of action; but these virtues are as dust in a windy street unless back of them lie the strong and tender virtues of a family life based on the love of the one man for the one woman and on their joyous and fearless acceptance of their common obligation to the children that are theirs. There must be the keenest sense of duty, and with it must go the joy of living; there must be shame at the thought of shirking the hard work of the world, and at the same time delight in the many-sided beauty of life. With soul of flame and temper of steel we must act as our coolest judgment bids us. We must exercise the largest charity towards the wrong-doer that is compatible with relentless war against the wrong-doing. We must be just to others, generous to others, and yet we must realize that it is a shameful and a wicked thing not to withstand oppression with high heart and ready hand. With gentleness and tenderness there must go dauntless bravery and grim acceptance of labor and hardship and peril. All for each, and each for all, is a good motto; but only on condition that each works with might and main to so maintain himself as not to be a burden to others.
We of the great modern democracies must strive unceasingly to make our several countries lands in which a poor man who works hard can live comfortably and honestly, and in which a rich man cannot live dishonestly nor in slothful avoidance of duty; and yet we must judge rich man and poor man alike by a standard which rests on conduct and not on caste, and we must frown with the same stern severity on the mean and vicious envy which hates and would plunder a man because he is well off and on the brutal and selfish arrogance which looks down on and exploits the man with whom life has gone hard.”