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DNA of Masculinity – Reverence

As the year draws to a close, so does our look into the lessons that should be taught in liminal space. We’ve examined respect, how a man holds himself and others in regard; responsibility, how a man accepts and embraces accountability for his actions and their repurcussions; reach, how a man strives to better himself and the world around him; reflection, how a man doesn’t just look outward, but also turns the microscope inward to his heart, desires, and reasoning; relationship, how a man cannot go through life alone and must seek out other men to walk with him on his journey; and reason, how a man makes decisions after thought and reflection that can be explained. Now we arrive at the most important aspect of masculinity: reverence.

What is reverence?
Simply put, reverence is recognizing/acknowledging a higher power and giving deference to that power. You can be reverent to someone in authority, to a god, or anything else that is greater than you. In my work with fraternity men, I sometimes see the code/creed/obligations of the fraternity being revered. Reverence drives you to act outside of your own interests and desires and recognize the callings/commands/hopes of the higher power.

To speak from my own experience, reverence is acknowledging God as Lord. Once that happens in a person’s life, once it happened in my life, one establishes focus on how to interact with the world. In this relationship, all other aspects of masculinity are portrayed. In this relationship, I seek not my will or glory, but His. Knowing that I must answer to Him for all my actions causes me to consider them that much more carefully. I have a Father at my side all through life, a Friend I can call on in time of need. I seek to do my best, because to do anything less would be to dishonor Him. You can see how this reverence, this answering to God in my own life, doesn’t just draw on the other aspects of masculinity but it drives them to be more fully developed and evidenced in my life.

Why reverence?
In his third book on masculinity, Fight Like a Man, THE book to read on reverence in masculinity, Gordon Dalbey says that a man cannot know who he is until he knows Whose he is. This is all about reverence. Before you can know yourself, before you can act in the world with certainty, you must know to whom you are answering for those actions. And it cannot be you. In Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr (2004), speaking of promises/messages of male initiation, offers “five essential messages a man has to know experientially if he is to be rightly aligned with reality. … [They are:] 1. Life is hard. 2. You are not that important. 3. Your life is not about you. 4. You are not in control. 5. You are going to die” (pp. 32-33).If you analyze the middle three ritual messages, all three point to reverence, to recognizing a higher power that is more important, that your life is about, and that has control.

Knowing Whose you are has an additional affect. Yes, it gives you an authority to look and answer to. But, more than that, you can face internal struggles: “No man will entertain the unmanageable truth about himself until he knows his Father stands by him in it – not to shame him, but to deliver him from its deadly effects” (Dalbey, 2013, p. 207). Reverence is not merely a bowing down, and it’s not a crutch to lean against; it also serves to support us through struggles and trials in life.

How is reverence taught?
Like many of the previous components of the DNA of Masculinity, reverence can and should be taught through modelling. Reverence cannot be forced, however; a young male must choose Whose he will be. But, principles around reverence, how to relate to and respect a higher power, can be shown and, in some cases, taught. A child can grow up attending a church every week, but this is merely exposure to reverence. He must choose reverence; he must choose to bow his heart and will to something greater than himself. When this happens, then further instruction in how to live in this reverential relationship can occur. I wish I had a more steadfast answer than this. Ultimately, though, reverence is modeled to young men and they will adopt it as they are shown more of it in practice.

In bringing our discussion of the learning that happens in liminal space to a close, I must note that the lessons about the DNA of Masculinity do not stop once a young male has been initiated. Each of these aspects will be reinforced, strengthened, and refined as a man continues to exercise them. The way a man respects himself and others will not be the same at 60 as it was at 30. These lessons are merely those that, when learned, will differentiate the men from the boys, will demonstrate the mature masculine.

As we ring in the new year, we will investigate the final stage of initiation – reincorporation or reintegration. I thank you for following me on this journey through liminal space.

References
Dalbey, G. (2013). Fight like a man: A new manhood for a new warfare. Civitas Press: San Jose, CA.

Rohr, R. (2004). Adam’s return: The five promises of male initiation. Crossroad Publishing Company.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Reason

I started this series almost a whole year ago. It’s been a long time in writing, both because I was juggling work and life and because I was doing my own inner reflection on each piece of the DNA of Masculinity. It’s not an easy task, trying to separate those qualities that separate the men from the boys. There are many things to be considered, many resources and philosophies to consult, and, as we will find in the final piece of DNA, it may sometimes yield a less-agreed-on result. A variety of works have been authored that seek to define what a man is. They generally fall into two camps: a man is someone who doesn’t act like a woman or a man is someone who doesn’t act like a boy (he is mature). It is this second definition that I focus on in Navigating the Wild, because many of the aspects I’ve found that define masculinity really define maturity, instead of separating genders. It is why I refer to the qualities of the initiated male as the mature masculine. In seeking this more direct definition, I’ve identified seven aspects or character traits of the mature masculine. The sixth aspect of the DNA of Masculinity is reason.

What is reason?
For the sake of this discussion, I am defining reason as the ability to make a sensible argument, to be rational in making decisions, and to be able to explain the “why” behind an action. Reason is that quality that allows us to piece through a decision and, using all of the information available and gathered, make what the choice we believe to be best. In the most academic of definitions, reason is the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic. This logic is rarely present in the immature male who acts on impulse, without reflecting on the outcomes and consequences of his actions. Note that reason is not a denial of emotions. In fact, the male who seeks to deny his emotions in making decisions or in acting in life is actually acting unreasonably, for he is denying a part of himself in the decision-making process.

Why is reason an essential part of the DNA of Masculinity?
All of the pieces contained in the DNA of Masculinity are useless if not supported by sound reasoning. Men cannot seek relationship with a reason for it. Men cannot look at their inner self, seek out their shadow, decode their life without some guiding questions or purpose. In order to reach, to strive for the highest and utmost, men need a reason lest they tire or fall short in their trying. To respect, both self and others, men must find reason for this and hold that reason close to their heart, in spite of difficulties. And, to seek out responsibility, to take responsibility for their actions, men must have some driving force behind them that propels them to this sense of responsibility. Reason makes all of these things possible. Without reason, many of our actions would become wandering, plodding about in darkness with no sense of direction. Reason gives purpose; in many regards, it is purpose. Sophocles said that “Reason is God’s greatest gift to man”; going a little further, Edward Counsel shares that “Reasons are the pillars of the mind.”

How is reason taught or shown?
One of the simplest ways to demonstrate and teach reason is to actually provide reasoning. The parent go-to of “because I said so” is one of the quickest ways to remove reason from the equation. Instead, decisions should be supported by a why – “No, you may not do ______, because it might ________.” In my work with college students, I often remind them that if I make a decision, they should always feel free to challenge it by asking why. If I cannot defend a decision with a sound reason, I have no business making that decision. In the same way, elders can model this same behavior. Moving from the elder to the male in liminal space, it is easy to inculcate reason into a young male by asking him to defend his actions. The more he is asked to give a reason for something, the more thoughtful and purposeful his actions will become. (I know that on its own, this may seem like reason could be taken advantage of. Of course, there are many negative actions that can be seemingly justified, but when combined with the other aspects of masculinity, reason must yield positive, respectful, and construct results.)

Reason must be taught to young males in their development. They must embrace it and make it the cornerstone of their decision-making. Mikhail Bulgokov said that “There is no greater misfortune in the world than the loss of reason.” The only misfortune greater would be never to have it at all.

To teaching our young men to think, act, and speak with reason,

MD

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Relationship

Before you really dive into this post, I want you to pause and write down the names of all of your friends you would call if you lost your job and needed help. Now, look at that list and cross off anyone to whom you haven’t spoken in 6 months. And, finally, cross out anyone who doesn’t know your story – your struggles, triumphs, and pain.

How many do you have left? How many are men? Did making that list stress you out a little? Did it inspire you or make you sad?

I begin with this, because while it is fairly easy to make the argument that relationship is one of the marks of the mature masculine, it is also, quite possibly, the hardest for men to achieve and stick with. Relationship not only encompasses a desire to have relationship with others (especially other men who will challenge, counsel, and console you) but also actually forming that relationship with at least one other man.

What is relationship?
It would be easy for me to just say that relationship is a friendship, but it goes so much deeper than that. Certainly, sharing interests and enjoying company is important, but that’s just touching the surface of relationship. When I think about relationship, I always recall my old pastor’s depiction of various relationships. He use the illustration of a house, specifically three parts, the porch, the living room, and the kitchen.

The porch: Remember when houses had porches? And people would sit out on them and greet neighbors as they walked by? The porch relationship is just that. It is one in which you engage with people on a basic level, nothing too controversial or too deep. This is the relationship you have at work, when you discuss sports around the break room or with a friend at the store when you discuss upcoming home improvement projects. It’s nothing special, but it’s the building block of all our relationships. Most people will stay on your porch; some will be invited into the living room.

The living room: This relationship builds on the porch. In addition to all of those conversations, you’ve invited someone a little more into your life. The people in your living room get to see a little bit of who you are: what you enjoy, what your family is like, and how you live. They get to understand you a little more, beyond the polite banter. Your life is more open to them. Fewer people will be allowed in the living room, but even fewer still, if at all, will be given access to the kitchen.

The kitchen: How do you know when you’ve really been accepted by a friend? For most of us, it’s when we feel comfortable enough to walk into their kitchen and, without asking, grab a cold one from the fridge. But, how many people do you feel close enough that you can do this with? The friends you have a kitchen relationship with  are let into the deepest parts of your life. They know your fears, your struggles, and your triumphs. You trust them and live your life, your full life, with and in front of them.

The desire for and establishment of the kitchen relationship is the relationship that is at the heart of the mature masculine. This relationship is rare and oh, so precious.

Why is relationship so hard?
My mother is a shining example of relationship. Yours might be too. In fact, we can probably think of many women who have deep, caring relationships with other women. But for men to have those kinds of relationships, the kitchen relationships described above, is a more difficult matter. Why? In his book, “The Friendless American Male”, David Smith lists several male barriers to true relationship:

– Aversion to showing emotions
– Inability to fellowship (to share and enjoy the company of other men without needing anything else)
– Inadequate role models
– Inordinately competitive natures
– Inability to ask for help, and
– Incorrect priorities

All of these go counter to both our nature and nurture as men, but we must overcome them.

Why is relationship essential?
It’s natural to say that relationship is essential because it makes us better. This is true. Relationship also can counteract something that is plaguing the American male: loneliness. David Smith shares that “Anthropologist Robert Brain says that unlike any other culture, our acute loneliness must be seriously considered in any search for solution to nagging contemporary societal problems. Loneliness, and a lack of commitment to others, are factors in our high suicide, divorce, alcoholism, drug, murder, rape, and abortion rates.” The New York Time reported last year that the suicide rate for men in the 50s increased 50% between 1999 and 2010. The chief cause? Loneliness.

How can you cultivate relationship?
Two things you can do to cultivate relationship and then model it for those young males around you. Both involve being willing to listen, to be vulnerable, and to share, all things that don’t necessarily come naturally to us in the presence of other men.

1) Seek out at least one male mentor who will speak into your life. Find an elder male whom you trust and with whom you can build a relationship. Invite him into your life (after you establish a friendship) and ask him for advice and counsel.

2) Don’t wait for another young man to reach out to you like above. Find a younger male, in your church, on a team that you coach or play on, and reach out to him. Share the potential you see in him and develop that relationship. As you do this, encourage him to do the same.

Man was not created to live alone, but so often we allow our competitiveness or lack of trust alienate us from true companionship with other men, men who can challenge and live alongside us in our journey. You can’t make it through the wild alone.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Reflection

When was the last time you sat still and thought about your life and your role in the world around you? Or the last time you took a walk and contemplated who you are and how you became that way? In our crazy, always-on lives, reflection gets lost. But, reflection is a key component of the mature masculine. It is in this time of contemplation that we look deeper into our lives and become more acquainted with who we are and why we are that man.

What is reflection?
Reflection is the practice of looking inward, at your thoughts, actions, and beliefs, and using what is found inside to understand you. It allows for you to answer why you do certain things, why you behave as you do, and what you must do to be a better person. The immature male merely acts, no thought follows these actions, no reflection shows him his inner self. The mature masculine seeks to understand itself, but more than that, seeks to act on what it learns through this process.

Why reflection?
Without reflection, growth will be stifled; without understanding what influences you and your past, you cannot move forward. Every person has wounds in their past; areas of hurt that have been done to or by them. And, these psychological wounds, like physical ones, if not addressed can cause further harm well beyond the initial hurt. Reflection allows for these wounds to be brought to the open and dealt with. Reflection allows for a deeper understanding of who and why you are. This is essential to move into the mature masculine.

How is reflection taught?
The simplest way to teach reflection is to encourage journaling and discussion from an early age. Keeping notes on the activities of a day and how it made one feel is a perfect starting point. From there, moving into autobiographical writing, reflecting on one’s experiences that have impacted their personhood, will lead to a continued life of reflection. Encourage young males to process events in their lives; use the “what, so what, now what” line of questioning, coupled with the ever-important “why”. Lastly, like so many of these markers of the mature masculine, reflection must be modeled. The mature male can explain his past in more than just a story; he can delve into the story behind the story.

To continue in the mature masculine is to understand our story and continue seeking this understand through reflection. When you look in a mirror, you see your reflection, but what is behind the man staring back at you? Reflection provides the deeper answers to who we are.

To understanding ourselves and our past, and shaping our future with that knowledge,

MD

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Reach

In the quest for the mature masculine, how do you know if you have reached it? One method of knowing is to look for certain traits that appear in the mature male but not in boys. These traits make up the DNA of mature masculinity and are generally taught and enforced/reinforced during a boys time in liminal space. We have already examined two of them – respect and responsibility – now we look at a third: reach.

What is reach?
Reach could encompass many things. It could describe a man’s relationship to those around him – reaching out to gain and give help. It could describe a man desiring things well outside his grasp – a reacher would seek things he cannot afford or feasibly gain. But, for our purposes here, reach encompasses the spirit of man that seeks to constantly better himself and better the world around him. A man that reaches is never satisfied with where he is (this doesn’t mean he’s not content) and knows that he ought never stop improving.In work, this is the man who doesn’t settle for status quo, who always challenges and pushes things to be better.

This is the man who, while a promotion would be desirable, is more focused on making himself and all he touches better. At home, this is a man who takes the pride in his house and family that he looks for new ways to provide for and help them. This is the man who conducts home, self, or other improvement projects rather than serves as an armchair football coach. In the world, this is the man who is involved in the community and in his children’s schools, hoping that by some contribution he might be able to make things better for those around him. Lastly, this is the man who is never satisfied with his relationship with his God and Creator. He is constantly thirsting that he might know his God more; this is the man exemplified by Paul writing in Philippians 3:10:

“[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death”

Why reach?

First and foremost, reach is a part of the mature masculine because the mature man knows that he is never done learning and growing. Imagine, if you will, a man who, after he has been initiated into masculinity, just stops trying; if this happens, the initiation has failed him. The mature masculine is won once, but maintained by exhibiting this and other characteristics of it. Thus, a man must constantly strive to be better, and the mature man will, knowing what is at stake in his life and the world.

How is reach taught?

The teaching must begin in childhood. Much has been said about encouraging children to do their best. We must also encourage them to be better. In the beginning, we must provide and model reach for them, continuing to read and exercise and practice and get better ourselves at those things we have in our lives. As young boys grow, we must provide ways for them to get better, subsidizing their reach until they are able to begin reaching themselves. This will occur naturally, as the boy finds his passions, but he must also be taught that reach is a matter for the whole of life. Again, modelling is key here. Pity the young boy who does not have someone sharing and showing a desire to get better and make better.

Reach is what enabled man to fly. It’s what led to the discovery of new medicines and medical techniques. Reach in a man pushes him; no longer is extrinsic motivation needed; the desire to get better comes from the mature masculine inside. There is no need for a partner to push him; he feels and acts on his internal reach on his own. The mature masculine calls us to constantly be better – reach is the internal characteristic that drives us there.

To making ourselves better men and making the community around us better by our actions,

MD

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2013 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Responsibility

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.

Why responsibility?

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,

MD
 
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Posted by on June 21, 2013 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Respect

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.

Why respect?
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.

How is respect taught?
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,

MD

For more reading on respect, I highly encourage visiting the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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