In liminal space, boys are taught what it means to be men. While some aspects of this training will be unique to a particular culture or family, in my research in masculinity throughout varying cultures and times, I have uncovered seven core characteristics that make up the DNA of masculinity: respect, responsibility, reach, reflection, relationship, rationality, and reverence.
As has been noted before, I choose to focus on character traits as markers of the mature masculine rather than physical characteristics, abilities, and interests. The major underlying philosophy of Navigating the Wild is that the opposite of man is boy, not woman. Thus, one might be a man by all physical traits or by pursuing interests defined by society as “male”, but without embracing these character traits, he is no more a man than a three-year-old. With this in mind, let’s delve into the first of seven: respect.
What is respect?
Respect is reflected in the mature masculine in two ways – inward respect and outward respect.
Outward respect is perceiving those around you as having value, even those you may not like. Respect comes from being able to see the world through different lenses and allowing oneself to be open to new ideas. Respect involves setting aside one’s selfishness, arrogance, and me-first attitude, and adopting a sense of care for those around you. A man shows respect to others by listening, by acting with chivalry, by not taking advantage of others, and by “in humility count[ing] others more significant than [himself]”. Respect extends to the environment and to all the world around us; we treat things with care, for no other reason than the fact that we recognize our power in the world and the role we have to treat it and all things in it with respect.
Inward respect is about self-awareness and self-respect. A man with inward respect will conduct himself with dignity and honor; he knows his place and owns it with pride. He understands those actions and behaviors that bring a negative reputation on him and strives consciously to avoid those. He cares for himself; yes, there is a portion of self-respect that deals with appearance. You’ve heard the phrase “no self-respecting man would…”? Those attitudes and actions that might fill the blank are exactly those that the mature masculine eschews.
Think about how a boy behaves. Much of his attitude is focused on himself. His version of respect is one that is demanded, not given. (Think Cartman’s “Respect mah authoritah!”) When a man crosses into the mature masculine, he sets aside all boyish behaviors. This means that at his core, man must set aside selfishness and arrogant pride. As a part of the education in liminal space, a man must realize who he is and his role in the world.
I believe that of the seven aspects of the masculine DNA, respect serves as the foundation; everything is build on respect for others and for self. A man cannot accept responsibility, reach for new heights, reflect on his own actions, seek positive relationships, act rationally, or revere/recognize a higher power until he has learned to respect self and others. A male that does not respect will not act with care and consideration and will not seek to be more than he already is to himself or anyone else.
Respect can never be forced. As a boy grows and matures, he must learn to see the world through different lenses; taking him to museums, reading from different perspectives, making a broad spectrum of friends, and exposing him to new cultures all will help provide a variety of lenses to view the world. It is hard to respect that which we do not understand, especially when our understanding is so limited. As we gain understanding, our willingness to respect even those things we don’t understand increases. Finally, this must be emulated. No boy will learn respect for others if he does not receive it and is not shown it in action by his elders and mentors.
Inwardly, a boy learns self-respect by recognizing what he is good at and what he is not good at. Learning limits and discovering those areas he excels allows him to form a sense of self that is aware of all aspects. For some, this may come easier than for others. Just as respect for others comes from experiencing and witnessing, so self-respect is learned as much through watching and seeing what a life could be. If an elder respects his body, his mind, his reputation, the boy watching will learn that self-respect and will emulate it as he moves into the mature masculine.Respect is the foundation of the mature masculine. Respect for others, for their attitudes, abilities, points of view, lifestyles. All other aspects of the mature masculine follow from this.
To building a society where men respect women, their elders, youths, and the very fiber of their being,
For more reading on respect, I highly encourage visiting the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.