Real men don’t talk tough on the internet.
To my knowledge, my mother is not a man. But she’s a very strong woman.
My grandfathers were both World War II fighter pilots. My dad was a special forces soldier.
The phrases “be a man” and “toughen up” were introduced at an early age. My desire for validation, my need to adapt, were all viewed through a very male prism.
This approach brought a few obvious challenges. But what good, positive laws of living can be drawn from masculinity?
Most of these will apply to women as well.
I. Harness the power of mediocrity
The Naval Academy is quite competitive and for good reason. It’s prestigious. There’s no tuition. You’ll receive an excellent education and spending money. But you’ll be required to serve five years in the military after graduation.
What you do in the military will be determined almost entirely by your performance: your grades, extracurriculars, room inspections, and more.
Consequently, you’ll often find top graduates flying sleek, beautiful, high tech jets. While the slackers are at the bottom of ships, working on loud, hot engines for five years.
It’s a meritocracy at its purest.
But there’s another highly coveted placement.
My dad attended the Naval Academy and was a SEAL for 35 years after. He occasionally returned to “the academy” for recruiting trips. They offered 20 spots in SEAL training after interviewing more than a hundred candidates.
Eager, lone, nervous young men sat in front of the table of assessors. Most were are the crème de la crème of the student body: smart, ambitious, team-oriented, physically capable.
For these men, becoming a SEAL would be the fulfillment of a life’s dream.
In the host of questions they asked, one is particularly unique. With each lone candidate, they’d ask:
“Who in this candidate pool, are we most likely not to offer a position to, that we probably should?”
And quite interestingly, the vast majority of them would always name the same guy.
This invites the obvious question: what type of person was it?
It’s typically the guy who wasn’t the most athletic. He was often on a sports team but never got playing time. He never had the best grades, despite studying harder than everyone else.
He had a fighting spirit. He was humble and cared about others. Consequently, the other men wanted him on their team.
A real man isn’t afraid to live as an underdog. He has the courage to keep fighting. And in turn, others will fight alongside him.
Also: the selection board always chose this guy. He was the darkhorse. And he always got through SEAL training, while other capable men didn’t.
II Be honest to the person who counts
It was 15 years ago. I was in a room with a bunch of friends. We were sitting around poking fun at this guy Mark: the way he dressed, talked, acted around girls.
He made himself an easy target. He wasn’t in the room at the time. But we still roasted the hell out of him.
I left the party feeling sick to my stomach about it. The guy was our friend. We were talking about him like he was a dog.
It’s easy to get caught up in trash talking people. We’ll often agree with what is said. It can even feel cathartic to participate. But it’s dishonorable and does nothing to correct the problem. Even further, it’s weak.
True friendship comes with speaking the tough truths in private.
A man has the strength to say bad things to a friend’s face, when it’s needed, and the loyalty to say good things when he’s not around.
III Give respect even if it doesn’t serve you
There will come a day when your daughter, your sister, perhaps your own mother, brings home a man who is the worst version of yourself, the man you thought you’d never be.
Like Ebenezer Scrooge, you’ll be given a firsthand account of your former ways.
Our youthful urge to impress peers leads us to sexual conquests, to add notches to our bed post.
I’ve been that person. I thought I was impressing people. It only brought me regret.
Begin your journey by treating the women in your life with respect. A man knows that true power comes from restraint.
IV Know when it’s time to fight back
Masculinity was introduced to young boys, in its harshest iteration, through challenges to our imminent domain, with larger boys in front of us, hitting us, humiliating us in front of our peers, in front of girls we liked.
We were sold one of the most tainted parental advice of my generation, that we should “Tell the teacher.” That there’s never a reason to hit back.
There comes a point in life, where you can no longer expect others to solve a problem for you. If you can’t stand up for yourself, why should you expect others to?
A man should know when it’s time to hit back. There’s never a reason to fight — until there is.
V Have the audacity to be humble
We have all been, at one point, the youngest person on this planet. We were weak. We were feeble. Others had to teach us how to walk and feed us. Yet, in the beautiful, sad, poetic circularity of life, that will happen to us again in old age.
It is but one of our many shifts in power dynamics. So don’t ever forget that we’re equals in the eyes of nature. We share an extraordinarily special place in this unfathomably vast universe. We will all get our due. Don’t act like you have a greater claim to this existence than another.
A man should treat the janitor as he would the CEO. Prestige, power, and money are nothing in the shadow of our shared humanity.
VI Be kind to those you can’t see
There’s a crazy phenomenon I’ve discovered as an internet writer. I didn’t learn of it until I went to writer meetups.
Many of the nastiest, most aggressive writers on the internet, were complete and total paper dragons in person. As an outsider, you’d have never known that the standoffish, shy, nervous man in the corner, also slings profanity, threatens, and talks down to people all day on the internet.
It’s not surprising. But watching that cliché play out in front of you is fascinating.
Real men don’t talk tough on the internet. They communicate as they would when looking you in the eyes: like an adult. They have respect and empathy.
The internet could use more of the golden rule.
6 Laws of Manhood Recap:
- Have the courage to live as an underdog and keep fighting.
- Say the hard truth to a friend’s face, and good things when he’s not around.
- Treat women with the respect you’d give a family member.
- Know when its time to fight back. Bullies don’t go away on their own.
- Treat the janitor as you’d treat the CEO.
- Don’t be a Mr. Badass on the internet. It reeks of cowardice.