What is a real man? Right there, in that loaded question, all sorts of thoughts and feelings erupt. Ask men that question and you’ll get one answer, but ask women and you’ll get a very different answer.
I want to begin some discussions about men and women. How we communicate with each other. How are we the same? How are we different? But I feel like before I can approach any of this, I have to do some pondering on what it means to be a man. And that’s hard, because there are a lot of feelings on the issue of gender!
My Evolving Take on Us as Men
There are billions of men, with different cultures, attitudes, and experiences. They are not a homogeneous group, and to talk about them like they are is impossible. This daunting feeling almost prevented me from starting Of Life and Men in the first place.
I have to be OK with the fact that I am speaking for myself, like-minded people, and anyone willing to listen. My goal is not to summarize the thoughts and feelings of billions of people. I can provide insight into what I believe, how I am grappling with some of these big issues, and provide an opportunity for others to do the same.
As we approach discussions of the genders, there might not always be a right answer. My early thoughts on this are actually that men and women are more similar than we think. Much of what we want in life is similar. Look at any successful marriage. That’s a lot of shared goals and values. And while we may want lots of similar outcomes in life, we might not always express it in the same way, or process the intricacies of life in the same way.
Men Rock. Men Suck.
Words like “manly” and “masculine” illicit all sorts of responses. To some they evoke feelings of responsibility and strength, and to others they feel oppressive and misogynistic. Our preconceived notions about the sexes is largely based on our experiences, and in a way we all have our own reality. Sometimes these realities are based on facts, but many times they are based on years of experience that our brain generalizes into a belief. That’s not wrong, that’s simply how our mind makes sense of things.
If you’ve had good men in your life, you’re going to have a vastly different view of men than someone who has had terrible experiences. Our experience guides us, and unless we see something drastically different than our experience has shown, those ideas tend to persist. It’s difficult to consider an alternative point of view when it looks nothing like our own.
One thing I’ve already had to do is ask myself, what are my preconceived notions of what it means to be a man, and are those reasons valid? Where did they come from? Are they healthy?
Clarity Over Agreement
I think it’s worth noting how real feelings are. People with different beliefs than our own believe those things for a reason. That doesn’t mean all beliefs are equally valid, but it means people think they are true. And this is worth noting any time you begin a discussion that will likely lead to disagreement, because it changes your approach and response.
How do complex individuals with varying beliefs engage in a fruitful discussion? I think it starts with understanding where the other is coming from, and seeking clarity over agreement. Many times we don’t even understand why we disagree on something. In our social network culture, we’re really good at jumping straight to judgement. I’ve absolutely been guilty of this in the past. Listening intently for the sake of understanding someone is not an easy skill.
One of the people in my life that I enjoy talking to more than almost anyone else is amazing at this…and we agree on practically nothing. From his tone, to his ability to ask questions, it’s all about clarifying your beliefs, and understanding where they come from. We rarely convince each other of anything, but I always leave the conversation smiling. The conversation may be over, but the relationship continues.