Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Lost Art of Manliness

The Lost Art of Manliness

If it seems that political correctness has made real men something of an endangered species, it’s not as bad as you think. Real men have always been a rare commodity. For the majority of the male species, it is far easier to sit down, shut up, and do as we’re told. It has historically been the duty of only a precious few to act as bulwarks against the rising tide of male mediocrity. This is the order of things.

In Heaven’s name, be a man, sir! Your pitiful whining sickens me!
Alan Moore, The League of Extraordinary Gentleman

We looked up to manly men. They raised the bar, and gave us someone to emulate and in the process, improved our collective masculinity. In our heart of hearts, we all wanted to be Frank Sinatra or Clint Eastwood or David Hackworth. We wanted to be worthy of nicknames like Old Blood and Guts or The Chairman of the Board. And if we never quite cut the same swath, we took solace in the fact that we had at least fought the good fight.

Our heroes were larger-than-life, but at the same time, unflinchingly human. Audie Murphy was the most-decorated American soldier in history, but gambled away a fortune. Theodore Roosevelt ranks among the greatest of the U.S. Presidents, but believed in forced sterilization. Sean Connery, his mustache, and his Scottish burr all could have separate entries in the Encyclopedia of Manliness, but said it was okay to slap a woman, as long as you didn’t use a closed fist.

Somewhere along the way, it became unfitting to possess those qualities that, while they could make us terrible, could also make us great. Suddenly, we had to apologize, seemingly, merely for being men.

No, if there is mourning to be held, let it be for the slow, tortuous demise of the idea of manliness as a virtue. Yet before we sound the final death-knell, let us examine once more what exactly makes a real man. Let us do this in the hopes that more will take up the standard and keep the ideals alive.

Borrowing heavily from the leadership principles of the U.S. Army, an organization known for its manly men, you can say that a real man must Be, Know, and Do certain things to master the lost Art of Manliness.

He has an air of honest manliness, too, which in these days of fribbles and counter-coxcombs, I own I find refreshing.
Georgette Heyer, Bath Tangle

It’s all about character. By simply being true to those innate qualities that make up the best part of himself, a real man will stand out in a world of lesser men whose convictions change with the direction of popular opinion.

A real man must Be Confident. Nothing promotes loyalty in men and attraction in women more than a leader who is calm and self-assured. The goal isn’t false arrogance or foolhardiness. No, a real man exudes a confidence based on his own determination and abilities. Deep within himself, a real man knows that whatever situation may arise, a cool head and a steady hand is often all that is needed for him to come out on top.

When Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader of the Royal Air Force lost his legs in a crash in 1931, he knew that his life in the skies wasn’t over. He re-qualified as a combat pilot, and is credited with over 20 kills during World War II. When he was finally shot down and made a German prisoner-of-war, he made numerous escape attempts, until finally his captors had to take away his artificial legs to keep him in one place.

A real man must Be Courageous. There is no substitute for physical and moral courage. Manly courage means recognizing the situation and the difficulty, and when necessary, going forward anyway. He knows that as a man, he has duties and obligations that sometimes come before self.

Jackie Robinson had a well-earned reputation for not kowtowing under racial pressure. In college, and again in the Army, Robinson faced legal trouble for confronting racist antagonists. When he was chosen to be the first African-American to play Major League Baseball, Robinson, understanding what was at stake, agreed to have “the guts to not fight back.” He endured immeasurable abuse, but continued to carry himself with dignity and grace, and today, his number, 42, has been unanimously retired by baseball.

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects
Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough For Love (Lazarus Long)

It’s all about knowledge. A real man must acquire and use the knowledge necessary to master the world in which he lives. This knowledge can and should include a well-rounded formal education, but that is by no means the only path. Frequently, men must learn by doing–by rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty. Farmer or philosopher, poet or pugilist, men who are to truly be men seek out that knowledge which best affords them the opportunity to control their own destiny.

A real man must Know Himself. A man who has a keen sense of self-awareness, one who is sure of both his abilities and his liabilities, can be formidable, indeed. Because such a man lacks the uncertainty and crippling self-doubt that handicaps other men, he is able to surmount obstacles that otherwise thwart him.

By now, the story of Kurt Warner’s Hollywood-esque rise from an overnight grocery sacker working for minimum wage to a NFL Super Bowl champion with a bust in the Hall of Fame is familiar to most people. Although it’s hard to imagine now, there was a time that most people had never heard of him. After his breakout season, Sports Illustrated put him on its cover, asking “Who Is This Guy?” In reality, it seems that his seemingly-sudden ability to play at the highest levels came as a surprise of everyone–everyone, that is, except Kurt himself. “This is how I expect myself to play. If you look at the things I’ve done over the past few years…when there’s a play to be made, I expect myself to make it.”

A real man must Know How to Accomplish Things. To live a truly manly and independent life, a man must possess a wide variety of skills that can be called upon when necessary. When the chips are down, the wolves are at the door, and the Zombie Apocalypse has begun, others will turn to the nearest real man, because they know that his knowledge and skill may be the only thing standing between them and certain doom. They know that somewhere within his repertoire, a real man will have the maximum effective anti-Zombie solution at the ready.

Captain Sir Richard Burton is remembered as one of the explorers of the Victorian Era. He spoke twenty-nine languages, and used this skill to travel to areas in Africa and Asia never before seen by white Europeans. . A true Renaissance man, Burton could have been called, at various times of his life, an explorer, cartographer, soldier, spy, author, falconer, translator, diplomat, and master fencer. Among his accomplishments were visiting Mecca in disguise as an Arab, and bringing the first translation of the Kama Sutra to Europe. Known also as “Ruffian Dick” during his Army days, it was said he had fought more enemies in single combat than any other man of his era. At one point during his explorations, he was impaled through both cheeks by a spear, and escaped by riding away with the shaft still in his face.

Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It’s all about action. Even the best character, knowledge, and even intentions in the world do not matter if we refuse to do anything. Two of the defining characteristics of a real man are his ability to recognize a problem and his willingness to take action to solve it. Put another way, you could that say that what makes a real man is his inability to simply sit on the sidelines when something needs doing.

A real man Does the Right Thing. Faced with a choice between expediently violating his own personal ethos and facing hardship for adhering to his principles, a true man will typically view that as no choice at all. A real man decisively acts for those things he believes to be right, and damns the consequences to himself.

By her own recollections, the wife of Oskar Schindler says he did nothing remarkable with his life either before or after World War II. A deeply flawed man with an askew moral compass, Schindler originally was merely a wealthy industrialist member of the Nazi Party hoping to make war profits by manufacturing items for the German military. He had an attack of conscience when he saw firsthand the atrocities committed during a 1943 Nazi raid on a Krakow ghetto. At great risk to himself, Schindler began to protect the Jewish workers in his factory. Through a combination or bribes, false statements, guile, and his own considerable force of personality, he convinced the Nazi party that his workers were essential to the war effort and could not be sent to concentration camps. Over the span of six war years, 1939 to 1945, his actions directly resulted in the preservation of the lives of 1200 of his Jewish workers. Oskar Schindler bankrupted himself to achieve this, and died penniless. Today, he is the only former Nazi Party member who is buried in Israel.

A real man Does More with Less. With four pieces of clothing, a real man can dress for almost any occasion, and if he has WD-40 and duct tape, he can affect repairs on nearly anything. A master of re-purposing, lateral thinking, and possessing an uncanny ability to squeeze every possible bit of use from what he has on hand, a real man realizes that the only tools he every truly needs are his hands and his brain. Everything else is just bonus.

The Apollo missions were a perfect example of masculine teamwork. Brainy real men were expected to send other real men into space, and, hopefully, bring them home, using machines that had less computing power than the average smart phone. As might be expected, this did not always go smoothly. During the infamous Apollo 13 mission, en route to the moon, the spacecraft suffered a catastrophic malfunction when an oxygen tank exploded. The entire lunar mission was scrapped, and the only objective became a scramble to bring the astronauts home alive. With resupply impossible, the ground and flight crews worked together to formulate on-the-spot plans to handle this unforeseen circumstance. Rather than panic or give up, the two crews ingeniously cannibalized existing on-board items to jury-rig a field expedient apparatus suitable to remove carbon dioxide from the craft’s environment just long enough to return to Earth. Everyone on board survived.

Being, Knowing, and doing the right things at the right time isn’t always politically correct or diplomatically possible. Real men and their ideals and actions should lay sacrosanct outside the purview of milquetoast naysayers who quail at the sight of blood and turn up their noses at the exhilaration felt from a live lived near the bone. Manliness is a lost art that celebrates our ascension to our rightful place atop the food chain, and as such, is a philosophy worth adopting. Only by embracing the noblest parts of the savage and beautiful beast within us, can we be sure that manliness of men, by men, and for all men shall not perish from this earth.

Why Every Man Needs a Challenge

Bellows_George_Dempsey_and_Firpo_1924

“Dempsey and Firpo” by George Bellows, 1924. This painting hangs above my desk.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from author and Navy SEAL Eric Greitens.

My boxing coach Earl used to say, “You can’t get better fighting someone who’s worse than you.” That was cold comfort after my training partner, Derrick, had cracked me in the mouth with a jab. But I knew that Earl was right. Training with someone who was better than me made me better.

In 1950, the Associated Press polled the leading sports editors in America to find out what they considered the greatest sports moment in the first half of the twentieth century. It was from the fight in the painting above — that very moment — that they selected over all others.

Though largely forgotten today, the punch in that painting was thrown in 1923, in an era when boxing was the dominant sport of the day. A crowd of 80,000 had come to New York’s Polo Grounds to witness the contest for the Heavyweight Championship of the world.

See the man falling through the ropes? That’s Jack Dempsey. He won.

Jack Dempsey was boxing’s superstar. The “Manassa Mauler” earned his nickname with crushing punches. That evening, Dempsey was fighting the towering Luis Ángel Firpo, “the Wild Bull of the Pampas,” the first Argentinian to ever contend for the world Heavyweight Championship.

Toward the close of the first round, Firpo managed to pin Dempsey against the ropes. With a combination of vicious punches, Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring. As Dempsey landed, he cracked the back of his head against a reporter’s typewriter and opened a serious gash.

The ringside reporters shoved Dempsey back into the ring in time to beat the count. As Dempsey got his legs under him, Firpo quickly pounced to deliver another barrage of punches. Still wobbly, Dempsey was just able to fend Firpo off when the bell sounded to end the round.

Dempsey had suffered the most dramatic knockdown of his career. Yet he came out of his corner furious to start the second round. In fifty-seven seconds, he knocked Firpo out with a blow to the jaw.

Sportswriter Allen Barra narrates what happened next: “And then, in a moment of almost heartbreaking pathos, the tiger of just seconds before turned into a lamb, stooping down to help up his bloody, beaten foe as the more than 80,000 in attendance at the Polo Grounds roared their approval.”

Before that night, Dempsey had been one of the sport’s least popular champions. More often than not, crowds cheered for him to be knocked out. But that changed when the crowd saw him pushed to the limit of his ability, humbled, and still triumphant. It was Dempsey who defeated Firpo — but it was Firpo who made Dempsey an unforgettable champion.

Dempsey became a legend not despite Firpo, but because of Firpo — just as Ali was great because of Frazier, Shakespeare was great because of Marlowe, and Raphael and Michelangelo pushed each other to new heights.

We don’t know what greatness we’re capable of until we’re tested.

There’s a simple way to think about applying this in your own life. Here’s a formula I recently shared with a group of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, all of whom were making the transition to civilian life:

The magnitude of the challenge × your intensity = your rate of growth

It’s an idea, of course, not a mathematical formula.

But you do need big challenges in your life, and you need to bring intensity to those challenges if you aim to grow.

When I came home from Iraq and started working with veterans who felt stuck, I’d often ask, “What’s your challenge right now?”

I’d often ask them to think back on their military training. It was the hardest thing that most of them had done up to that point in their life, and almost all of them brought intensity to it. And then I asked them to remember how much they changed then, how much they grew.

When many veterans came home from war, they found that they were given many things: free tickets, gift baskets, blankets. What they needed, however, was a challenge. These were men and women of incredible ability, some of whom had done work overseas that was more difficult than anything their peers had ever done. And yet, home from war, people were no longer willing to challenge them, and, without a challenge, these veterans started to drift.

Recognize the paradox here. Life was — by almost any measure — easier at home. There are no bombs, no bullets flying. People had more material comforts. Their friends and their family were closer — and yet it was here, at home, that they were struggling.

When people feel stuck it’s often not because things are too hard, but because their goals are too small. Why work your heart out for a goal that’s small?

In that boxing match in 1923, Dempsey’s opponent was clear: Firpo. In most of our lives things aren’t as clear cut as in a boxing match; we may well be striving for a cause, for our family, for our team. But we can always ask ourselves, “What’s my challenge right now?”

Pick a big challenge. Maybe, even, pick the right and honorable fight — you’ll be stronger and better on the other side.