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What does it mean to be a man?

I have recently run into another issue that I think is worth mentioning:

Conceptions of masculinity… or maybe should say “misconceptions.”

Over a century ago, a guy named Carl Jung talked a lot about the psychological and sociological applications of “archetypes”… by which he meant that we each have models in our heads of how certain things are supposed to be.

Psychologically, if the concept is connected to us in any way, our perception of our identity can be strongly linked to that archetype… and sometimes we don’t even know it.

They are kind of like metaphors for certain important ideas, and how we perceive those ideas. I particularly like his ideas for the typical human archetypes for masculinity.

There are the technical terms… now to the application.

I have recently run into a number of different men who, when we talked, I realized that they had at least one of the following mindsets:

  1. a very limited understanding of masculinity…
  2. a perception of masculinity that does not include them…
  3. a strong desire to connect with masculinity they cannot find it in their own identity.

So, I asked each of them to describe masculinity…

“Tall, dominant, confident, strong, muscular”… stuff like that, were exclusively the answers.

Only those indicate a very one-dimensional perspective:  Physical presence, big muscles, good looking..

What made that definition additionally impactful, and I think, may have contributed to some of their confusion was that they didn’t see themselves as tall, dominant, confident, strong, etc.  So, they didnt see themselves as Manly. (if we think a chair has four legs and we don’t have four legs, then we must not think we are a chair!)

It seems that most men in our culture have a one-dimensional view of masculinity and I think we need a better integrated, well rounded (and at least 4 dimensional) perspective.

The four types of masculinity

I think we may find some wisdom in the ideas of Jung, the theist psychologist I mentioned earlier… Jung believed that there were actually four archetypes of masculinity; and in fact, each of these overlap in sophisticated ways:

  1. The Warrior (athlete, soldier).This is the one we tend to think of first. These men are those who consider themselves men because of their physical presence, their prowess with physical things, their strength, their option to kill. In today’s world, these would be our sports stars, Navy Seals, body builders, Olympians, etc.
  2. The Wizard (professor, rabbi, guru).This is the man who sees himself as a man because of his knowledge. He carries the secrets, the wisdom, the information, that others need. Modern day teachers, trainers, computer experts, etc. fill this role.
  3. The Lover (poet, romantic)This man connects to masculinity via his ability to engage in other’s lives emotionally. He may incite passions in women via seduction, or a crowd via the stage. Modern day movie stars, politicians, inspirational speakers, celebrities, and often preachers fit this archetype.
  4. The King (leader, manager, captain).This man is a man because of his ability to lead others. Other men are drawn to them and their ideas. This man connects to masculinity by guiding, bossing, and/or direct others.

Obviously the lines between these is blurred, and most men, once aware, can connect somewhat to all four, but most of us see ourselves as primarily representing one or two. One aspect of this that can be most helpful is that this means we don’t all need to be primarily only one of them!

We don’t have to all be primarily warriors… and we don’t all have to see ourselves as warriors in order to be MEN!  We shouldnt be!

Also, our views on them and on ourselves change (hopefully) as we grow, age, and mature. I also think that the more developed a man’s image of his own masculinity is, the more integrated all four become in his life! In the best case, we could see ourselves integrating all four into our lives.

I also think scripture gives us plenty of examples of all four in the men we find there, eg.:

Moses – wizard king

David – lover warrior king

Daniel – wizard lover king

Elijah – wizard warrior

Peter – warrior king

Jesus – I see examples of all four integrated pretty strongly in Him… especially a lot of wizard king

What is vital for any male is that he is able to identify himself with some picture of masculinity… that he can say

“ ______________________ is what it means to be a man… and I am ____________________.”

When we can’t we usually end up looking to prove it in ugly, self serving ways that hurt others, or we look for it in another person via idolization, codependency, or maybe even homosexuality.

So, maybe the most important application answers these questions: how do we know what is manly about us?

How do we know when we are men, not boys?   Answer: when someone tells us.

As more time passes, I have become convinced that we do not know that we are a man until someone who we think of as a man tells us that we are.

Have you come to believe that you are a man?   Have you told anyone that they are?