How it started
A few days ago I was discussing with my good friend Nathan (check out his
website) about what it means to be a Man. At
one point I recounted an experience I had when my eldest was born. When my
first child was born, it dawned on me how much she needed me. It was a complete
change of mentality on my part. My wife and I had been married for a few years,
and while I obviously felt a deep love and obligation to my wife, I knew that
she didn’t need me. If something were to happen to me, she would miss me,
but she would be able to go on. It was holding my daughter that I realized that
there was someone who needed me.
It was that understanding and acceptance of responsibility that really gave me
some maturity. I started to look at some of the more foolish risks I
had been taking, and re-evaluated some of my habits.
After telling Nate this story, he wisely noted that responsibility is a key aspect
of manhood. He noted that you could think of the word “responsibility” meaning
the “ability to respond”. I liked that a lot, but would like to give it my own
What is responsibility
The word responsibility is often couched as an obligation. “I’m responsible for
the servers at work”, “The commander is responsible for his unit”, or “I’m
responsible for my own actions”. While each of those imply certain duties and
obligations, one of them almost goes unnoticed. That is the obligation to
ensure you have the capacity to respond to those needs. In short we have
both the obligation to discharge those duties, and the obligation to ensure
we are able to discharge those duties.
Perhaps that seems like a distinction without a difference, but in my mind
it struck differently. One implies merely accomplishing an objective. The
other implies developing skills, taking care of our selves and doing all
that is necessary to ensure we have the ability to accomplish the objective.
As an example, that I hope illuminates the difference: Often we think of
things in a results oriented way. Did we achieve what we set out to do?
If person is in a car accident, do we immediately say they were driving
irresponsibly? Probably not. (Ok if you are the instructors that taught
my Drivers Ed class in high school, you might actually say “yes”.) First
we would want to get some additional information. How did the accident occur?
What is your past record as a driver? With this more detailed information we
would be more willing to draw conclusions on how responsible you were driving.
Now some people my balk at this as being “soft”. Surely if someone fails at
something they didn’t live up to their responsibilities. I would counter that
those people are twice wrong. First, failure is an inevitable part
of life. The idea that we would be successful in every thing we do either
indicates our complete detachment from reality or an absolute refusal to take
any risks. Neither are desirable traits.
Secondly, I believe this standard is much harder to live up to. There are a
lot of drivers who are reckless yet make it by daily without accident,
often due to the responsible drivers around them. In other words, just as
failure can happen to anyone, sometimes people succeed in spite of all that
they do to thwart it. I’ll grant that this is less common, but the point stands
that achievement, while useful evidence, cannot be the end all. What I’m
proposing is that rather than gauging responsibility off one data-point, we
look at the host of points that lead up to it.
Does that mean we can be more forgiving? Yes, it means we allow room for
failure, but it also means that we need to be more cognizant of our own
character and abilities. It puts the emphasis on consistency.
So Why do I care?
I care because I think it’s important for society to have men. And I mean
men who are men. Ones who are working to cultivate the skills, habits and
virtues needed to be responsible.
I know some people may take exception that I have focused my writing towards
manhood. It’s not as a way to indicate that women don’t have responsibilities,
I just think that young men, in particular, need to be told that they
have responsibilities, but more importantly, they need to be shown how
to become men who can fulfill them. And I think that duty falls to
other men, who can be role models and mentors.
I’m trying a slightly different format of writing. It’s mostly me exploring
thoughts. This often means that I might miss something, or be mistaken, or
end up changing my mind. But by writing, I’m hoping to work through some
deeper thoughts in my mind.