There are many traits that separate the men from the boys, the DNA of mature masculinity if you will. In liminal space
, a boy ought to learn these and begin to exemplify them before he is reintegrated into society and heralded as a man. While there are probably countless lessons and character possibilities, we are focusing on seven, the seven R’s of masculinity: respect
, responsibility, reach, reflection, relationship, rationality, and reverence. All of these contribute to the actions that typify a man and show that he has embraced the mature masculine. Continuing to examine these, we come to responsibility and will answer similar questions to those we answered surrounding respect.
What is responsibility?
Responsibility is, quite simply, owning your life, choices, and actions. At a higher level, it is also noticing how your choices and actions affect those around you and taking measures to positively impact them. We can divide it into personal responsibility and social responsibility.Just like respect ought to be turned inward, so also should responsibility. I should be willing to take the consequences of any action I take, not attempt to brush off the action on another or skirt around/avoid the consequences. You see, children (remember, manhood is the opposite of boyhood) try to get out of something, running away from damage they’ve caused or lying about who did what. The mature masculine doesn’t do this. He knows to say “I’m sorry, I did that…I won’t do it again.”
Social responsibility builds on the ideas of personal responsibility and of respect. When we respect others, we also begin to act in ways that look out for them. Social responsibility means that we examine how our actions are affecting those around us and seeking out ways to have a better impact on the world. It is social responsibility that drives us to do service, to give philanthropically, and even to raise and support our families emotionally and financially.
When I was first thinking about the process of becoming a man, I informally asked my older male friends when they knew they had become a man. Within each response was the concept of responsibility. Many mentioned when they first got their own apartment or moved away from their parents. Others talked about their first job out of college. Still others mentioned beginning a family. Each of these is something that generally requires a man to take responsibility for something (finances, work, others).In the cycle of transition from boy to man illustrated in “Iron John”, Robert Bly mentions the first two phases of male initiation as connection to and separation from the mother and the father. There is a level of assuming responsibility present in these steps – when a young male separates, through his becoming independent, he must develop responsibility.
Historically, too, there is a precedent set for responsibility being a trait of an initiated male. In ancient cultures, hunting was reserved only for those males who had been initiated into manhood. Moving forward chronologically, we find that societal respect for a man in America in the 18th through 20th centuries stemmed from his land-holding and work ethic (read demonstrated responsibility). Now, this idea of responsibility is reflected in men seeing one of their “rites of passage” as being financially independent/living on their own/providing for a family. You can see that its not just a cultural trend (which we try to stay away from here…if masculinity is defined by culture, then if culture changes, is that form of masculinity moot?); rather, it is a timeless pattern that has proven itself throughout generations.
How is responsibility taught?
We are fortunate with this trait because responsibility is something that can be taught over time. Even as boys are still developing, we can teach responsibility through small jobs, giving them pets, involving them in clubs and sports. Even if they don’t fully grasp responsibility, they are learning what it is like to have something expected of them. This will translate later into the responsibility of the mature masculine.In the same vein, parents must also hold their children accountable and allow them to make mistakes. Rather than attempting to defend a child who was in the wrong, or standing up for them in their place, parents ought to let the children work things out and take responsibility. Working in higher education, I receive many calls from parents who still want to solve their son or daughter’s problems. My response is almost always the same: “Your son/daughter needs to work this out…they need to learn how to solve this.” Essentially, I’m saying they need to learn responsibility.
The mature masculine is founded on respect for self and others. Respect lived out requires responsibility. As men with much physical, political, and societal power, especially, we are called to responsibility, because as Spiderman taught us “With great power comes great responsibility”. (You know I couldn’t leave that out.)
To a culture of men who own their actions, who care for themselves and others,