“How do you feel about yourself as a man in the world today?”
I have been in hundreds of men’s groups and men’s weekend events, sitting in a sacred circle, asking this tough question. My answer and your answer are a good indicator, akin to taking your masculine temperature, of how things are going. Note to women: the majority of men do not feel very good about themselves as a man in the world today. If we men are honest, we fall short. If we did not fall short somewhere, our lives would not be very interesting. We men like projects. We like to have a goal toward which we can march . We men may be confused by our dual and seemingly incompatible roles of being strong and being sensitive at the same time. We are challenged by the demands of family and work, and very often mired in self doubt and fear. Are we living up to our own expectations? Can we?
I offer 5 questions I ask myself. These are on my wall and I see them every day. I find it helps me to get a bearing on my life path. There are no right or wrong answers. Like meditation, all there is to do is observe what comes up. If something is triggered, then you may chose to take some actions to rectify that which is at issue. These are questions I struggle with and thought, what the hell, why not share these with the world? That is a big “gulp” moment, but such is the life of an author. Remain vulnerable and humble and grateful. On to the questions.
Am I an honest man?
“If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything” – Mark Twain
Let’s jump beyond the obvious forms of dishonesty such as an affair or material theft. The real question for me is, do I tell the truth? When it comes to telling the truth, I admit that I am a liar to myself. I tend to tell myself things are better than they really are. I tend to be dishonest when it comes to assessing and taking action to resolve problems that come up in my life. Rather than address key challenges head on, I push them to the side until they reach crisis mode. This is a subtle, yet pernicious form of lying.
Here is the ridiculous thing I observe about lying to myself. For a long time, I actually thought I was fooling everyone around me! I have come to realize everyone close to me can see when I lie to myself. My internal lying shows up in the way that I appear ungrounded. I don’t carry a certain weight. That makes me a lightweight. I am not a solid man. I am inauthentic. I appear to be a bit of a con artist. I suffer from imposter syndrome. This all leads to a lack of trust in myself, which bleeds out to everyone in my life. Are you honest?
Am I trustable?
“Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Clearly, if I cannot be honest with myself, how can anybody trust me? In social situations, I am trustable. I can show up on time. I can share my honest opinions. I can do what I say I will do. However, when the going gets tough, those close to me do not feel confident that I can truly, no bullshit, be counted on. In our men’s group, we often discussed the scenario of being in a war during a firefight with two men, literally back to back, with life on the line. Can you trust your brother to have your back? Can you trust yourself to have your brother’s back? This is a serious question. Are you the man who will stand in the fire and endure the heat, or will you throw in your cards and walk away?
There is a great scene of Al Pacino in The Scent of a Woman (video link below) in which he expands upon this. “When the shit hits the fan, some guys run and some guys stay.” When you made the commitment to love her till death do you part, was that a conditional promise in your mind, based on your wife being a certain way? What if things change, as they often do? How much can your woman share of herself and trust that you will stick around? Are you trustable?
Am I taking full responsibility for my life?
“If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.” — Richard Bach
Do you realize all your emotions, thoughts and feelings are your own? When your woman says that thing (and we all have that thing, don’t we?) that sets you off, are you willing to sit with the feelings, and accept them as your own? Are you going to deal with the issue internally rather than blaming someone else? During men’s group sessions, men often rail against their wives or girlfriends or partners. A man may say, “She told me __________, and that really pissed me off. And then she did this ______________ and I was even more livid!” At this point, I tell the man to stay with the feelings, and forget about her. She is not the issue. She is the catalyst (and a wonderful teacher), but all the feelings are our own to manage and process. This is a tough lesson, and it usually takes hold for just a few minutes, for ours is a culture of blame. Do you blame someone else for your feelings and emotions? Are you still blaming your parents? I ask myself, am I a responsible adult male who accepts that all the stuff that gets stirred up within is my own? In fact, it is the source of my greatest moments of awakening. Am I truly responsible?
Am I a solid provider?
“What does a man do Walter? A man provides for his family.
And a man, a man provides. And he does it even when he’s not appreciated, or respected, or even loved. He simply bears up and he does it. Because he’s a man.” — Gus Fring, Breaking Bad.
This is a tough question for most men that I know. It is the toughest question for me. I have earned great sums of money in my life, but I have also spent great sums of money. I am not a solid provider. The answer to this question is also a strong indicator of your capacity to be a good husband and a good father? Are you? When your child asks for financial assistance, are you there for him or her? If your good friend in Madagascar needs your presence, can you drop everything, jump on a plan, and spend some time with him in his dire moment of need? When you retire, will you and your partner be set for life? Does your partner live with financial stress? Does she live with the burden of your shortcomings? Are you solid like a brick house? Or are you financially shaky like a house of cards?
In most relationships, providing is the man’s job. Chris Rock presents a great comedy skit about this exact scenario. He shares how nobody seems to appreciate the man for providing. “Nobody ever says, Thanks Daddy for knocking out the rent!” (Video link below). It is a great 3 minutes of comedy and truth. It is our job to provide. Are you doing your job? Are you a solid provider?
Am I a man of knowledge?
“A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war: wide-awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. Going to knowledge or going to war in any other manner is a mistake, and whoever makes it might never live to regret it” — Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge
I have observed that the greatest men in my life, and the greatest men I have admired through their words, all have a powerful unquenchable desire to learn more about themselves and about all human beings. Naturally as a writer, most of my heroes are authors. These men like Thoreau and Whitman lived with a few seminal questions: What does it mean to be a human being? What exactly is this experience on Earth? Why am I here? Who am I? What is a right and honorable way to live?
I have found meditation, group workshops, writing, reading, interaction with the feminine, and my close male relationships are all sources of greater awareness and self-knowledge. Women can tell the difference between a man of depth and a man just piddling about in life. What is your big picture path? Do you have one? When you come to the end of your days, will you look back and marvel at how far you have come, or will you instead wonder where the time went? Are you a man of knowledge?
These are my questions. I share them with you. I invite you to live within the question. How do you fare? As I ask these questions, I am guided to keep striving forward, making tweaks in my life as I see necessary. I once heard Werner Erhard call this trim tabbing, making small adjustments, or iterations in life, and over time, great things are accomplished. I hope you experienced some value from these questions, and find some areas that you might trim tab as well. Finally, I invite you to be gentle with yourself. These questions are not designed to make you feel bad or shameful or guilty. If you find an area that resonates as an area for improvement, it is a time to be grateful for such a huge opportunity in your life. You would not be reading this article unless you wanted some little piece of wisdom. Reading an article on this website is a good sign that you are on your way, as we all are, to being good and honorable men!