Self Improvement

Manly Skill: Service to Others

manly skillOne of the symptoms of the sorry state of modern manhood is the crafting of pseudo-manliness articles, which tend to revolve around the stereotype of the foolish and shallow man who acts macho and virile, while completely disregarding some of the higher virtues of manliness.

In order to balance out those articles, I’d like to begin offering some alternatives – true manly skills, ones that fly in the face of the examples of binge drinking, violence, philandering, and cluelessness often seen in mainstream media.

For my first pick, I’d like to offer up this manly skill: Being of service to others.

I recently made a long journey while in a cast and on crutches, and I completely underestimated what it would take to do so (or I overestimated my abilities!), so I spent some time during the trip feeling frustrated and cynical about the state of our society. I also indulged in a little self-pity, as I really struggled with doing some of the most simple things for myself.

But while I was traveling, I had the opportunity to be of service to several other people who had it much rougher than I did – an elderly lady traveling alone (dependent on her walker), and a man who was not only missing half his leg and couldn’t get around very well but was also down on his luck financially. And in doing what I could for them, I realized how rare it is that people help others they don’t know, and I gained a bigger sense of empathy with those who struggle every day with taking care of the basics due to their physical infirmities.

When I returned to my small town (pop. 11,000) from the big city and shared my experience, several people commented that it’s a ‘big city’ thing, and that small town America is much friendlier and helpful. While I see some truth to that (in that people living in large cities may not feel as connected to their fellow man, or may be wary of strangers), I know that there are people everywhere who are willing to be of service to their brothers and sisters, so I can’t put it down to just the size of the population.

Perhaps it’s the modern malady of being very self-centered, or perhaps it comes from too many fearful stories about strangers in the media, or quite possibly it’s related to people living extremely busy lives, with no time for others. But whatever it is, I think it’s high time that we focus some of our attention on what we can do for others.

I was a Boy Scout as a kid, so I learned the message of ‘help other people at all times’ and saw many examples of that put into practice. But as I got older, I became more self-centered and selfish with my time and energy, and was probably not that helpful of a guy during those years. I ignored the homeless and the infirm, and wasn’t about to take time from my day in order to be of service to someone less fortunate than I.

Once I had kids, I learned early on that a big part of being a father is being helpful – helpful to my kids, helpful to my spouse, and helpful to my relatives. It’s not easy to put yourself second (or third), and I can honestly say that there have been times when I’ve felt a little resentful about it. Those moments don’t last long, thankfully.

Due to the experiences I’ve since had as an adult, I’m now the easy mark for panhandlers and the homeless – in large part because I know that “There but for grace go I.” At several points in my life, I saw that if I didn’t change my ways, my future would turn out to be the same as theirs, and I would wish for some compassionate help from those around me. So I give what I have, whether it’s money or conversation or attention, to those in need.

What I’ve learned from my personal journey of being in need is that as a guy, it takes a lot of strength to ask for help, and most of us aren’t willing to do so unless absolutely necessary. We’d rather suffer through doing it by our self (or doing without) than risk being seen as ‘not capable’.

And I realized that it’s not just men who feel that way – it’s humbling to have to ask for help, and that’s not a comfortable place for most people to be in. So sometimes, in order to help someone, you have to offer before they ask you, which means seeing their need and acting on it.

I’d like to nominate being of service to others as a manly skill in need of a major comeback in our culture. Not only does it help make the world a friendlier place, but it shows our children that we can make a difference in someone else’s life through our actions.

Over my years of being involved in community organizations and volunteer-based campaigns, I often heard that it’s easier to get people to give money than to get them to give of their time. So if what you’ve got is more money than time, then by all means use donations to be of service to others. But if you’re willing and able, give a little of your time to serve your fellow humans. It comes back to you in spades.

Here are a few ideas for being of service to others:

  • Hold open a door for someone older/sicker/less physically capable than yourself. This is easy and often needed, as our modern buildings often have those evil self-closing doors which can really be tough for those on crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, or even just pushing a stroller.
  • Offer to carry someone’s groceries or laundry, or pull over and offer a ride to someone. You may just make someone’s day, and people really aren’t as scary as the news or movies make them out to be. And on that day that you need a lift, you’ll understand.
  • Get to know your elderly neighbors and see what their needs are. Taking an extra hour out of your week to rake their lawn, mow the grass, shovel the snow, or till a garden bed can make a huge difference to them.
  • Call an elderly or shut-in neighbor before you go run your errands, and offer to take care of theirs at the same time.
  • Make a meal for a neighbor or community member who is dealing with financial, physical, or emotional stress. The act of feeding someone who needs it is a virtuous deed, and there are plenty of people who need it on a daily basis.
  • Volunteer at a Meals on Wheels service, grocery delivery service, or soup kitchen, sharing that experience with your children, either by taking them with you, or telling your story to them afterward.
  • Join up with others taking time to change the world at It Starts with Us. Nate’s community takes on challenges that only take 15 minutes to perform, and because it’s up to you how to how to do that, it becomes highly personal and engaging.

What are your favorite ways to be of service to others?

Image: Alex E. Proimos at Flickr

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

9 thoughts on “Manly Skill: Service to Others

  • In the journal I am keeping for our baby I wrote a few pages recently on the #1 lesson I want our child to carry in their life, “add value to whatever you do.” I added whether that was a simple disposition to a stranger, helping someone, or a lifetime achievement with a non-profit or development it did not matter, just to add value to this world.
    .-= kia´s last blog ..mamavation monday 5 april 2010 =-.

    • Derek Markham

      That’s a great way to put it, adding value. My wife has also kept journals for our kids during her pregnancies – it’s a neat thing for them to hear or read as they get older.

  • I grew up outside San Francisco, and I have to say that it’s not just the reasons you state above that make it hard to be generous in a big urban area. The biggest problem with being generous in such an area is choosing. WHICH beggar gets my money, my time, etc? How do I tell the scam artists from the people really in need? How do I condone giving to one, or two, or three, and not all? How could I afford to give to all of them?

    Instead, I volunteered at soup kitchens and shelters. I gave my time, and money, to charities that I researched and trusted to discern and do the right thing. And it still hurt to walk past the beggars on the street with change in my pocket.

    Now that I live in a smaller town, it’s a little easier. I still donate time, talent, and treasure to charities, but I can and do go above and beyond that. This is part of why I foster. It’s part of why I ran a gaming center (that lost money) to give teenagers a safe place to relax in the afternoons.

    The best way I’ve learned to pass this on to my kids, as with everything else, is to set an example. If you get out there and volunteer, your kids see it in you and will do the same. I’ve been amazed at my older children and how generous they have grown to become, and how embarassed they have been when their friends aren’t.

    My whole family lives by my mother’s adage: “Either you can afford to be generous or you can’t afford not to be” …
    .-= goofdad´s last blog ..My poor truck =-.

    • Derek Markham

      You have a great point about not being able to afford to give to them all. Kudos to you for being a foster parent and setting such a great example!

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  • Great article! I too can relate, I feel that I am a fairly compassionate person, however, moving to a city after growing up in a small town can really harden you. I really like your ideas about assisting the elderly, especially helping your elderly neighbors. I think we have begun to forget about them in our increasingly individualistic society. They deserve our respect and our care as our elders, and not everyone has a family to give them the care they need. You have inspired me- thanks!

  • gggirlgeek

    How about the other side of this story: Is it unmanly to ask for or accept the help of others? You said yourself that it takes a lot of strength to ask for help. Wouldn’t allowing your pride to get in the way of getting your needs met and staying safe be unmanly? If being manly can be defined as having the strength to do what’s difficult, isn’t it easier to save face and suck it up than ask for help?

    I’d love to see an article about this. I came across this article looking for a way to talk to a friend of mine about accepting help when it’s offered. It is really upsetting to watch a friend suffer because he refuses to use the resources you can offer due to his pride. I don’t call that manly. I call that stupid and weak. (Do I sound a little angry? Maybe.)

    • Derek Markham

      Great thought! I’ll try to address this in a future post – cheers!


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