The Measure of a Man

“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in combat.” — Navy SEALs

Somethin’ a little different for ya, this week.

I don’t usually go for “macho” stuff, but I recently bought The Ultimate Man’s Survival Guide by Frank Miniter, ‘cuz I thought there might be some helpful — or at least interesting — tips in there. He writes about survival skills, first-aid, firearms, hunting, fishing, athletic advice, hand-to-hand combat, cigars, alcohol, romance, some philosophy, et al. I’ve only read the Introduction, so far, but I found a passage I thought I’d share. Following an anecdote about when he actually ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, Miniter asks the question, “So how do we become men when there’s no test to pass?”. Of course, he answers his own question, which I reproduce for you here….

Despite the lack of a rite of passage, being a man is something we try to achieve, at least the best of us. And there’s more to being a man than climbing the Matterhorn, shooting 100 on the sporting clays range, or dropping a bully with a right hook. There’s being a father, a husband, a good brother, and citizen. Being a man is being a mensch. Being a man means doing the right thing regardless of who’s looking; it means biting the bullet and taking the hit (in life) even when you’re not going to profit — especially when you’re not going to profit.

Being a man means suffering in silence, knowing how to keep your mouth shut, but still not being afraid to speak up. It means being the white knight, Robin Hood, George Washington, and Roland all rolled into one. It means speaking softly, yet carrying a big stick. It means knowing how to say you’re sorry, and mean it. It means keeping your own counsel and knowing when to seek advice — very tricky life stuff. It means understanding the words “Duty. Honor. Country.” It means having the know-how to solve a crisis. It means not panicking in an emergency. It means being a hero when no one is looking. It means knowing how to survive, lead, and show others the way.

Being a man means standing your ground when you must, but not seeking glory by harming or dominating others — a man is never a bully. The underlying reason Ahab in Moby Dick is a monster, not a man, is because he holds his wrath higher than the lives of his crew.

Being a man means finding the correct path even if you don’t have a guide. Hamlet doesn’t become a man until he dies, because, left fatherless, he is forced to take the steps to manhood alone and so attempts immature machinations before standing up boldly for justice and then dying as a man of courage and honor. Characters such as Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye are tragic because they’re rudderless in adolescence and so, like Hamlet, tread a dark path to manhood. Others, such as Harvey in Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, become men because a man takes the time to show them the way.

Being a man means having the moxie to choose your own destiny. Gus in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove is a man because he controls his emotions and makes the decision to go up against a group of outlaws alone in order to free the damsel-in-distress. Then he affirms his manhood by not wallowing in his heroism or making the event about himself. In fact, Westerns have retained their popularity because cowboys are our white knights, men who stoically follow a masculine code of honor. Many of John Wayne’s characters were men who lived by a tough, manly code, a set of rules often not taught to youth these days. Today, the American male has no code. We have laws, but legalism is a poor substitute for a code of honor, because legality doesn’t always parallel morality.

The ultimate man, as reconstructed in this book, is that “one thing” Curly referred to as the meaning of life in City Slickers. He is virtue and action forged into something we can comprehend without advanced degrees in a dozen fields. He is an evolving concept characterizing right and wrong in a heroic, comprehensible figure; he is someone to look to and question as we encounter worldly problems.

He is fundamental because, despite the absence of clear rites of passage, every male must learn how to be a man as best he can; after all, such knowledge isn’t written in our genetic codes. Training shapes a soldier, a poet, and a boxer, not just courage, intellect, and brawn. Indeed, the American who wouldn’t be a man and run with the bulls failed himself because of his ignorance. Knowledge instills confidence. Through understanding comes self-reliance. That American’s fate in Pamplona could have been mine, but because I understood what was happening, I steadied myself with the knowledge of what had to be done to survive. That’s what this book is about….”

I might quibble a bit here and there or want to add qualifiers, but all in all, great advice.

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