“You’re a good man.”
Feels good just reading it, doesn’t it?
Men of every generation and walk of life have wanted to hear those words and live up to them. But what do they really mean?
When it comes to being a good man, the key word is “being”.
“No man is an island,” as the saying goes, and no man is truly the centre of the universe they inhabit, no matter how much they may believe it. Each of us is part of a community and, if we’re lucky, a family.
Our worth isn’t determined by what we earn, no matter how deeply we may have internalized that idea. Our worth can’t be measured by a paycheque, promotion, resume or job title.
Being a good man is also not about glory. You can climb Everest, earn honours, hoist the Cup or lead your team across the finish line. None of that will make you a good man. It’s not a label that you “win”, because the game in question is not a competition.
When we enter the arena in the game of life, there are no goals to score, only assists.
Be part of a community, help a neighbour or teach a child. Show up for a partner. Sit and listen, or sit and think, and challenge how you think. If you want to be a good man, start with that as your to-do list.
Start by thinking about the role you play in your networks, start by really looking at what impact you make, good or bad, for the people in your world.
Men are a million different things, and “masculinity” is actually an endless matrix of masculinities; an infinite number of ways to relate to our gender and just as many meanings that gender can take.
There is one thing that unites us, that all men have in common: we all have people who love us, or who have, and we all have people who depend on us and look to us to make their world bright and meaningful.
We also all have people we have hurt, who we have let down, or who we’ve harmed, in ways big or small, loud or sometimes unnoticed.
That’s worth saying again: Men do harm. We harm ourselves, we harm our friends, our children, other men, women, people who are gay or transgender, people who are Black or brown or Indigenous or immigrants and refugees, people who are “different” in all kinds of ways.
We do harm with our ideas and beliefs, by reinforcing systems and ways of thinking that divide and hold us back. We do harm with our actions, with violence: sexual violence, physical violence, violence against ourselves.
In the overwhelming majority of these cases, men are the perpetrators of this violence.
Acts of violence are acts of power and the old myths would have us believe that to be good men we have to be good at wielding power. Not wielding it for good, but being good at using it. In reality, power for good is truly building up relationships and each other.
None of us is an island, none of us is the king of the castle, and we are not entitled to power or violence against another person.
There is no “all for one”. There is no prize to earn, no race to win. To be a good man, we have to do good.
To be a man is many things. Most fundamentally, it means to be part of the world and part of the human community.
Want to be a good man? Look at your actions, your connections, and look in the mirror.