In 2017, the rate of suicide for men in the United States was almost four times the rate of suicide for women. More and more men are killing themselves. But why?The reasons, of course, are varied, but I think one factor is the fact that many men struggle with what it means to be a man.
Because, men, we have a problem. We have a problem with what society expects of us, and how we see our value to society. We have a problem with violence, anger, and radicalization; w. With loneliness, depression, and suicide. This isn’t an indictment of you or your worth as an individual, it’s me being frank about the problems we’re all facing. I wanted to talk to you, to us, about what it means to be a man.
So let’s talk about what it means to be a man.
People tend to associate men with strength, and while it’s often intended to mean physical strength, I think real strength is shown through kindness. It takes an incredibly strong person to be kind. There is a certain strength in being tender. When I think of what it means to be a good man, I think of Mister Rogers. Strength through kindness and charity. He’s a great example of challenging wrong ideas, like racism, with kindness.
A man could say that they’re a decent person, but what defines a man is what they do, not what they say. A man isn’t a collection of job titles, or salary, or success. A man is what a man does. A man is only as good or as kind as their behaviors.
What really defines a man isn’t what they do when they’re right, it’s what they do when they’re wrong. Successes and failures define a man, but you learn a lot more about a man when they deal with failure. When things go wrong — or when they’re in the wrong — their actions define them as a man.
I think the best recent example may be the very public discussion about Jay-Z’s infidelity and how it impacted his marriage. Not only was his infidelity and working to heal that betrayal the central theme of the 4:44 album, Jay-Z was also very open and candid about how therapy helped him to become a better man.
Helping people defines a man. Nothing illustrated that more to me than the so-called ‘Spider-Man of Paris’ climbing a four-story building to save a child. Obviously, not every bit of help a man will do in his life is so dramatic, but a man helps out where he can. Sometimes it’s being a sounding board for your friends, a supportive partner, or helping those who are truly in need.
A man rises to challenges, even if those challenges scare them. Sometimes those challenges are becoming more mature; sometimes they’re about making life decisions, like deciding to have a child. That’s not to say that a man will always get it right, or always overcome whatever is put in front of them — but a man tries.
I tend to be guilty of a behavior a lot of men are guilty of: I want to solve all the problems, and I won’t ask for help. I want to be strong for everyone. I want to shoulder every burden; to solve every problem; to provide and care for my friends and family. I know I’m not alone. It’s an admirable goal, but it’s a heavy burden. If we truly want to be better men, we have to learn to ask for help.
One of my favorite things about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is how candid he has been his and his family’s struggles with depression, and how often he encourages men to seek help. I’m also encouraged that this has become a trend, with athletes like Kevin Love, Brandon Marshall, and Michael Phelps vocally supporting men getting the help they need. My hope is that someday men feel as comfortable about therapy as they are comfortable asking a buddy to help them move.
What I hope that men take away from this is that being a man isn’t about anything other than your behaviors. Maybe you noticed that nothing that I think defines a man couldn’t also be true for a woman. That’s the point. A man isn’t defined by a body part or a profession or sexual orientation or material wealth.
There’s no one answer as to what it means to be a man. Each of us has our own path, our own callings, and our own values. A man is a lot of things, but what defines a man is what they do. Being a man means holding values in living to those values. Being a man means being decent, kind, and helping where you can. So, go ahead: Be a man.
Image Credit // Header Image via Sexual + Being, All images via Sexual + Being