“Be a man,” heard round the world by every boy who has ever lived. “Don’t cry, stand up for yourself, don’t be a burden.” This is the core message told to most boys. Yet, now we have another wrinkle in the complex notion of masculinity; don’t be toxic. “Thanks.” You’re thinking to yourself. “What brilliant input.” Many men have a whole lot of knowledge of how “bad” men can be, how “toxic” masculinity is so damaging, but there’s little in the way of “healthy” masculinity. Here’s a few cracks at what it means to be a good dude, i.e., “a healthily masculine man.”
1. Be a Defender
There’s a reason we love superheroes. They stand up for what’s right and put their own lives on the line to protect the helpless. Real life “superhero” men do the same thing. In whatever way your personality defends, whether it be through a warm presence, wise knowledge/input, or coaching/teaching skills, use your masculinity to help others. This is always healthy. “Toxic” masculinity comes from when you use your talents for yourself at the expense of others. It’s important to provide for yourself; it’s damaging to provide for yourself while damaging others. Both defend others and yourself, but never be the aggressor.
2. Be an Observer
It’s quite amazing the impact one genuine instance of noticing a quality in others boosts their self-worth. Similar to being a defender, being an observer is about serving others but it’s all in using your eyes and attention with others. Sometimes it’s hard to say “I’m proud of you” or “you’re very important to me.” Those are aspirational things and well worth telling those you care about, but if you find that hard to do, a good place to start is to compliment positive actions you see. “I appreciate how you did the dishes when you were asked to,” “I noticed you took out the trash on time; thank you for that,” “That thought you just shared was really sharp; keep it up.” Boys, girls, women, heck, even other men kill for these words coming from men. Be an observer.
2. Be a Confidante
Empathy and words around feelings are a struggle for men. That’s mostly to do with fathers not knowing how to talk about feelings because they were too focused on paying the bills and maintaining a roof for their families. And yet, here’s a little hack into simple yet effective empathy; “That sucks.” Oh the wonders it is to hear those two words when you’re having a hard time. “That sucks” accomplishes listening, empathy, and your heart all in two words. When you’re not quite sure what word to say to an irritated child or frustrated wife or whiny coworker, saying “that sucks” is code for “that seems like a hard thing to experience. It’s valid and I’m here to listen.
Overall, it’s still a whirlwind at times to determine how to be a healthy man, but above are three steps to make sure you’re on the right track.