How to be a moral man in amoral times
By all criteria, 2018 is shaping up to be the Year of Every Man for Himself. More than ever, the modern man is hard-pressed to maintain and abide by a consistent and enduring set of core values. It seems that a steady moral compass just isn’t a must-have anymore. The question is: Can we put the “kind” back in mankind?
Judging by today’s work environment, one wouldn’t think so. Tough economic times have produced a ruthless, cutthroat job space in which layoffs occur at a moment’s notice and men can be found climbing over each other’s backs just to maintain whatever tenuous job security they think they might have. Brutal competition has made many among us mean and mistrustful, to the point where lending a helping hand to one’s fellow man is a rare and often thankless act. Morality ought to be a priority, not a liability, but there’s little room for ethics among men when one’s livelihood is at stake.
Meanwhile, a cursory glance at the news of the day, day after day, will give us a sense of our devolution among men in the realm of politics. Divisiveness has reached a critical mass among our leaders and our constituents, with our presidents and prime ministers making the male gender look like a blustering, posturing bunch of cavemen. Our so-called elected officials have taken machismo to a new level, to the detriment of nations, citizens, and mankind.
And what of the “family man” that once served as the protector, provider, and peacemaker of the household? In recent years, it appears that Father Knows Best has been replaced with Father Knows Nothing and the traditional patriarch is now supplanted by the deadbeat dad, the father figure who can’t figure out how to be a father. Sadly, the ethics of fatherhood are lost to a bygone era, a quaint notion drowned amidst a sea of societal decadence in the form of divorce, abuse, and abandonment.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Lest we languish in a miasma of hopelessness, let us take comfort in the fact that men can survive and thrive in changing and challenging times. Personal growth, more than any macho ambition or territorial chest-beating, is truly what “being a man” is all about. In order to evolve and reach our full potential, we must reimagine what it means to be a man, to approach manhood in a modern context. This is not “sensitivity training” or any sort of makeover, but a new understanding that there’s more to manliness than meets the eye.
For one thing, let’s start by ridding ourselves of the notion that nice guys finish last. This is a change that must happen from the bottom up, not the top down, since our political and business leaders aren’t likely to be the first movers in this paradigm shift. Men at all levels and strata of society need to view business and workplace activity as a collaboration rather than a competition. Workplace politics are no less ugly than politics on the world stage, and when dog-eat-dog maneuvering and man-to-man combat become “business as usual” we cannot be our best selves. Decency in business dealings should be the norm, not a “weak” or “feminine” quality, and when men truly have each others’ backs in the boardroom, both the organization and the workers benefit.
Manhood in amoral times also means standing up for what’s right, even to the point of choosing social justice over personal gain. Genuine masculinity is driven by personal sacrifice when the situation calls for it, not flashy cars or “winning” an argument (whatever that even means). Taking a stand for the downtrodden and marginalized, defending the bullied and advocating for victims of all genders, is never easy but must be viewed as part and parcel of manhood. Real men are ever ready to take a modern moral stance in a world that often wallows in misogyny, bigotry, and repression. Indeed, if the proverbial glass ceiling is to be shattered, real men must stand up and help bring it down.
Collaboration must also be understood as a manly trait. The romantic ideal of the loner, the cowboy or unconventional cop who saves everyone yet needs no one, is more movie trope than reality. To move forward in a meaningful way, men must admit that they need each other—and just as importantly, they have to know that they can count on each other. Moral progress can only be made by men when they appreciate the value of working together and supporting each other. It’s time to stop viewing success as a zero-sum game and start aligning our goals and efforts so that everyone can benefit.
At their core, modern men of morals are ready, willing, and able to accept change. This capacity is required for success in business, in romance, and in simply getting through the day-to-day grind of our rapidly changing world. Old standards of manhood meant changing one’s environment though brute force, but this simply will not do in the new millennium. Sure, men must innovate, but they must also navigate, and adaptation will continue to be an indispensable skill in a time when flux is the natural state. Transitioning from boy to man is itself a process of change, and maturing from caveman to real man is a journey that must be made despite its challenges.
Remodeling the modern man, at its deepest level, involves getting in touch with oneself. That’s right, gentlemen—you’re going to have to address the dreaded “f”-word: feelings. Repressing or denying one’s innermost fears and longings may have been a sign of manhood once, but the new road to manliness must necessarily pass through the byways of introspection and self-actualisation. Outer strength and a veneer of confidence are a mere hollow shell when inner centeredness is lacking, and self-knowledge will surely be a sine qua non of self-preservation for men throughout the twenty-first century.
In the end, becoming a man means becoming fully human. Undoubtedly there are differences between the genders, and there is room in our culture for men and women to express themselves in unique ways. This, however, doesn’t mean that men have to view themselves as alone in their struggles or separate in their personal journeys. All of us, regardless of gender or orientation, are equally responsible for creating and fostering a world in which nice, decent, law-abiding fellows finish first, or at least have the opportunity to do so. We must make it acceptable, and even “cool,” to be ethical in a world that views manhood as savagery and success and self-service.
Rethinking manhood involves a restructured vision that veers away from shouting and fisticuffs, and toward excellence in character.
When celebrating the goodness of men in general is considered normal, natural, and reasonable, then we’ll know we’re on the right track.
You can and must make this happen, gentlemen. For once and for all, let’s let the good guys finish first, the nice guys have their day, and the decent guys be the standard bearers of success. And for the moral men out there, know that you are understood and appreciated, and your time will come sooner rather than later. At long last it’s true: Finally, working together on this, we can let the best man win.