In a previous post, I wrote about developing manly skills that are alternatives to the psuedo-manliness ideals of binge drinking, violence, philandering, and cluelessness so prevalent in our culture, saying that being in service to others is an important piece of being a true man. The article was well received, but I just got a comment on it from gggirlgeek that made me think:
“Is it unmanly to ask for or accept the help of others? Wouldn’t allowing your pride to get in the way of getting your needs met and staying safe be unmanly?”
The old stereotype of a man (a strong man, a manly man, whatever…) is typically one of extreme self-reliance, sucking it up and suffering in silence instead of asking for or accepting help, especially from a woman.
But the new breed of man doesn’t have to play by those rules.
In fact, I think we need to ditch that entire manliness rulebook and write our own, one that includes acknowledging our limits and weaknesses and lets us accept a hand from those with strengths that we don’t have. In my eyes, many of us men are guilty of using excessive pride to hide our needs, and that by suppressing what is true and real for us, we’re being less manly, not more so.
So I’d like to nominate accepting help from others as another manly skill necessary for the new man.
Why is it important for us to be able to accept help from friends and family?
Because it means that we can accept ourselves as who we are right now, not who we’d like to be or who anyone else wants us to be. Because it means acknowledging our limitations and our weaknesses. Because we aren’t an island unto ourselves.
We are connected by blood, by marriage, or by choice, to our community, and our community is best served by men who know their limitations and know how and where to look for help. It isn’t served by those who are only concerned by saving face – unless your idea of leading involves wandering around acting as if you know where you’re going because you’re too proud to ask for directions.
Let’s look at it this way: When the transmission in your car goes out, you probably don’t tear it down and fix it in your driveway. You probably go to your mechanic and ask them to repair it. You do so because they have the skills and tools necessary to do so in a reasonable amount of time, whereas for us to learn how, to obtain the tools, and to make the time to repair it wouldn’t be practical. We have people with the strengths we don’t have help us out.
So why don’t we take advantage of the experience and skills available right in our own social communities? Surely our father or mother or uncle or best friend can offer us the benefit of the wisdom they’ve gained in life?
For one thing, it seems as if when we pay for someone’s help, we’re OK with that, but not if it’s freely given. For another, we might have spent a good portion of our lives building up an image of ourself as being competent, and admitting we’re not capable of something (or not capable of doing something by ourselves) would run counter to that. And when we’re dealing with our wife, our girlfriend, or our peers, we’re afraid that we might not appear to them as we’d like.
But the truth is, we never appear to them as we would like to – our internal image of ourself is always at odds with our public persona (even the one we project to our intimate relations). We just need to get over that.
The other reason, the big elephant in the corner, is the idea that someone else – not your own mind – knows better than you do how to help you. As an example, how often does a person who drinks too much actually listen to their loved ones when they try to step in and help them? How about the second time that happens? The third?
Our pride (and addiction, which might just be wrapped up somehow in that pride) keeps us from letting them help us. And so we continue the behavior that is harmful to us, because we can’t admit that someone else knows better than we do.
In reaching for manhood, we ought to strive to be honest with ourselves, and then to also be as honest with others as we are with ourselves. I’m not saying we ought to spill our guts to every person we meet, but merely that we as men owe it to ourselves to distinguish between false pride – which holds us back and keeps us hidden from others – and true pride: having a sense of self-respect and personal worth, one which is not dependent on others.
Some skills might not seem so apparently manly, and this is one of them – being honest means being vulnerable, and vulnerability doesn’t seem manly at first thought. It also seems that the more subtle the manly skill, the more difficult it is to learn, and knowing when to accept help from others is indeed a subtle art.
Be manly. Learn to know when you do need help, and accept a helping hand, a sympathetic ear, or some tough love when you do.
What do you think?
Image: Josep Ma. Rosell at Flickr