A myth is thrust upon us and perpetuated by the same false pretenses it seeks to convey: strength is something masculine, physical and unyielding. Our egos love this idea of a self serving false bravado and it has embraced us like shining armor, giving us a sense of superiority.
When strength is something you exert over others rather than over ourselves, it’s a shadow application of a significant core virtue. Strength in its purest form should be inspirational, not intimidating. It should build people up rather than tear others down. It shouldn’t seek to be noticed for publicity.
The kind of strength I admire in other great men is true strength. Here are 4 conditions of authentic manly strength.
I start with giving in because the connotation immediately suggests weakness. How can yielding be a sign of strength? Allow me to clarify for just a moment. Giving in is not yielding to anything patently wrong, or giving in to something you oppose. It does not mean out of weakness or lack of mental or physical fitness you fail to resist.
Giving in is making the decision not to fight every battle in an effort to be heard or come out on top. Giving in is the ability admit when you are wrong, to discontinue your assertion or pride in light of better facts. Giving in removes the ego driven, emotional component of debate. It is the difference between arguing to prove you are right and discussing to discover what is right. So many times we are drawn into ad hominem battles we think are creating an image of power, strength and superiority. Yet to the observer, the opposite is true.
One thing that liberates us, that frees us from the uncomfortable position of omnisciences, it’s not knowing. Its allowing our cup to be empty and unlearning all we have assumed. The Dalai Lama said,
When you speak you are only repeating what you already know, when you listen you may learn something new.
We love to hear ourselves regurgitate trite knowledge we already possess. You’ll hear the outspoken prideful man filling the space that otherwise may have been filled with new perspectives or new ideas. Unless you are giving a class, your default activity should be to listen to seek to understand. on an emotional and empathetic level as well as to be edified and perhaps become enlightened by another point of view.
Authentic Manly Strength is an internal condition. It can’t be derived from pomp or circumstance. An inverse relationship exists between what you actually are and how hard you try to present an image of what you are. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said,
What you are shouts so loudly in my ears I cannot hear what you say.
When you have a strong internal frame of reference, one built on self esteem derived from virtue, you exude strength of character. It is pride, that false sense of inflated self worth that drives us to a potentially destructive level defined by competition rather than collaboration. Humility allows us to contribute without screaming, “Look what I did!”. It allows us to let others shine, creating in them the same profoundly desirable characteristics, born from positive experiences, needed to develop from example not explanation.
Washing someone’s feet signified servant leadership, and it was something Jesus did for each of his disciples. Serving could be the bedrock we raise our behavior on. Serving, unfortunately, is perceived as a subservient role in our present day. People now seek to be served rather than to serve. I think of serving as the highest calling one can have. You are empowered to elevate your fellow man and what could possibly be a greater display of strength than the willingness to help another? Mother Teresa said,
Not all of us can do great things but all of us can do small things with great love.
When Jesus washed his disciples feet, it may seem like a small thing out of context, but we then need to realize that he knew the next day would be his last. He would be betrayed and denied by some of these very men. So ask yourself, “what would be on my ‘bucket list’ if tomorrow was my last day on earth?” Would it be self-serving or serving others?
It’s taken me decades to come to these epiphanies on what is, to me, authentic manly strength. I was never explicitly taught erroneous expectations of what strength is, but rather must have come by them through inference.
I have, through challenging my beliefs daily, by questioning them like an attorney in a courtroom questions a suspect, taken an introspective look at the things I now contemplatively decided are the qualities I seek for my life to represent.
These are the qualities I have come by as an individual and I challenge you also to continuously question, “What do I believe? Why do I believe it? And who do my beliefs serve, myself or my brothers?” Those are the interrogatory statements that ultimately define if you are truly living by your belief system or a belief system inured in you against your will and without your knowledge. Let no thought pass through your mind without examination.