One 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