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Monday, December 26, 2011

True and False Manliness

My wife gave me a book for Christmas that I have been wanting to get. It is "The Book of Man" by William J. Bennett. He is the man who published "The Book of Virtues" several years ago. This book is a collection of writings through the ages by all different kinds of people on the subject of manhood. This is an excellent article from that book that I think is worth sharing. It is something that is desperately needed by our young people who are rearing children in these confusing times. Please take the time to read it. You will be glad you did. Share it with someone else that it might help. Thanks for being here. - Bro. Mike

James Freeman Clarke was a nineteenth-century American preacher and author. He was a staunch abolitionist and fought against many of the social problems of his day. Back then too, boys had difficulty understanding manliness, so Clarke thought it expedient to describe his view of proper and improper manliness. This excellent essay clearly demarcates true manliness from false manliness.

Manliness means perfect manhood, as womanliness implies perfect womanhood. Manliness is the character of a man as he ought to be, as he was meant to be. It expresses the qualities which go to make a perfect man, - truth, courage, conscience, freedom, energy, self-possession, self-control. But it does not exclude gentleness, tenderness, compassion, modesty. A man is not less manly, but more so, because he is gentle. In fact, our word "gentleman" shows that a typical man must also be a gentle man.

By manly qualities the world is carried forward. The manly spirit shows itself in enterprise, the love of meeting difficulties and overcoming them, - the resolution which will not yield, which patiently perseveres, and does not admit the possibility of defeat. It enjoys hard toil, rejoices in stern labor, is ready to make sacrifice, to suffer and bear disaster patiently. It is generous, giving itself to a good cause not its own; it is public-spirited, devoting itself to the general good with no expectation of reward. It is ready to defend unpopular truth, to stand by those who are wronged, to uphold the weak. Having resolved, it does not go back, but holds on, through good report and evil, sure that the right must win at last. And so it causes truth to prevail, and keeps up the standard of a noble purpose in the world.

But as most good things have their counterfeits, so there is false manliness which imitates these great qualities, though at heart it is without them. Instead of strength of will, it is only willful; in place of courage, it has audacity. True manliness does what it believes right; false manliness, does what it chooses to do. Freedom, to one, means following his own convictions of truth; to the other it means thinking as he pleases, and doing as he likes. The one is reverent, the other rude; one is courteous, the other overbearing; one is brave, the other foolhardy; one is modest, the other self-asserting. False manliness is cynical, contemptuous, and tyrannical to inferiors. The true man has respect for all men, is tender to the sufferer, is modest and kind. The good type uses its strength to maintain good customs, to improve the social condition, to defend order. The other imagines it to be manly to defy law, to be independent of the opinions of the wise, to sneer at moral obligation, to consider itself superior to established principles of mankind.

A false notion of manliness leads boys astray. All boys wish to be manly; but they often try to become so by copying the vices of men rather than their virtues. They see men drinking, smoking, swearing; so these poor little fellows sedulously imitate such bad habits, thinking they are making themselves more like men. They mistake rudeness for strength, disrespect to parents for independence. They read wretched stories about boy brigands and boy detectives, and fancy themselves heroes when they break the laws, and become troublesome and mischievous. Out of such false influences the criminal classes are recruited. Many a little boy who only wishes to be manly, becomes corrupted and debased by the bad apples around him and the bad literature which he reads. The cure for this is to give him good books that show him truly noble examples from life and history, and make him understand how infinitely above this mock-manliness is the true courage which ennobles human nature.

In a recent awful disaster, amid the blackness and darkness and tempest, the implacable sea and the pitiless storm,-when men's hearts were failing them from terror, and women and children had no support but faith in a Divine Providence and a coming immortality,-the dreadful scene was illuminated by the courage and manly devotion of those who risked their own lives to save the lives of others. Such heroism is like a sunbeam breaking through the tempest. It shows us the real worth there is in man. No matter how selfish mankind may seem, whenever hours like these come, which try men's souls, they show that the age of chivalry has not gone; that though "The knights are dust, and their good swords rust," there are as high-hearted heroes now as ever. Firemen rush into a flaming house to save women and children. Sailors take their lives in their hands to rescue their fellow-men from a wreck. They save them at this great risk, not because they are friends or relatives, but because they are fellow-men.

Courage is an element of manliness. It is more than readiness to encounter danger and death, for we are not often called to meet such perils. It is every-day courage which is most needed,-that which shrinks from no duty because it is difficult; which makes one ready to say what he believes, when his opinions are unpopular; which does not allow him to postpone a duty, but makes him ready to encounter it at once; a courage which is not afraid of ridicule when one believes himself right; which not the slave of custom, the fool of fashion. Such courage as this, in man or woman or child, is true manliness. It is infinitely becoming in all persons. It does not seek display, it is often the courage of silence no less than speech; it is modest courage, unpretending though resolute. It holds fast to its convictions and principles, whether men hear or whether they forbear.

True manliness differs also from the false in its attitude to woman. Its knightly feeling makes it wish to defend her rights, to maintain her claims, to be her protector and advocate. False manliness wishes to show its superiority by treating women as inferiors. It flatters them, but it does not respect them. It fears their competition on equal levels, and wishes to keep them confined, not within walls, as in the Mohammedan regions, but behind the more subtle barriers of opinion, prejudice, and supposed feminine aptitudes. True manliness holds out the hand to woman, and says, "Do whatever you are able to do; whatever God meant you to do. Neither you nor I can tell what that is till all artificial barriers are removed, and you have full opportunity to try." Manly strength respects womanly purity, sympathy, and grace of heart. And this is the real chivalry of the present hour.

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  1. Great article, thanks for sharing.

  2. Hey Michael, Appreciate you reading the blog. That book has a lot of good stuff in it.