There’s this common hallmark of guys that consider themselves “masculine” or “macho” (and I hasten to point out – common, but not universal), which I strongly dislike. It’s when guys concern themselves at all with how masculine another guy is.

I’m going to put this out into the world as a personal principle: a vital component of “manliness” is that you are only concerned with the concept as it relates to you.

I actually enjoy and find nobility in a lot of the tropes of my gender. I like fixing things. I like standing in the way of danger. I like protecting, I like providing. Many of these things are “old fashioned,” but I temper them with an important, even vital, caveat: I do not use these values as a place from which I subject others to judgement.

Once at a wedding, my father picked up a piece of quiche to eat, and someone said (probably tongue-in-cheek), “real men don’t eat quiche.” My father’s instant response was telling: “Real men eat whatever the f^%@ they want.”

Growing up, my father was about as much of a “man’s man” as you could imagine. Except for the fact that he bore no judgement on others who didn’t act as he did. If someone acted immorally, he had plenty of judgement on that, but he didn’t consider it a moral failing to not know how to fix your own lawnmower. It was important to him that he be able to do it – he absolutely would consider it a moral failing in himself. But his standards for himself (and me, his flesh and blood) were different than his standards for others.

It wasn’t because he thought of himself as better. It was because he knew people were different, and it’s not the mark of honor or nobility to judge others.

He once told me as a young man about the “Sheep/Wolves/Sheepdogs” theory of humanity. The theory goes: people are in one of those categories. If you generally need protecting and watching over, you’re a sheep. If you protect others, you’re a sheepdog. If you prey on others, you’re a wolf.

I won’t debate the flaws and merits of that worldview here (maybe in another post), but my father had an extremely salient point about it: if you judge others for being sheep, then you are a wolf. No questions beyond that point. Whatever else you do, if you are protecting or serving others but simultaneously condemning them for their need to be protected, then you aren’t a noble person. You’re a protection racket in the making.

Your own ideals of manliness – or of femininity, or of nobility, or of any other ideal to strive for – must be your own. You must live your ideal and be the example. If others wish to follow, they will – and if they ask for your advice on how to do so, feel free to answer. Pass the lessons on to those who are close to you, especially your kin. But do not hold the hearts and souls of others in judgement on that scale. It was custom-made for you, and only for you will it be accurate.

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