One of the things we are compelled to confront daily is the ever evolving role of men in our culture. As we try to come to grips with who we are and who we would like to be, we run into the expectations of others, and who they wish us to be, or in some cases, not be.
The men I work with are often confronting the questions that arise on this journey.
What does it mean to be a good man?
To be a good husband or partner?
How do I live my life as a man of courage and honor?
How do I model for my son, my daughter, and the sons and daughters of others what it is to be a man of grounded power and true strength?
As men come to grips with these questions, they often confront the paradox that is American culture. Much of what our society emphasizes as a measure of masculine success is primarily individual achievement. But sometimes individual success can bear little relationship to a sense of true purpose in life
Many men climb the ladder of success and, in the end, can’t help feeling that something is missing. Having achieved recognition for what they have done individually, they sometimes feel an empty place. They have a sense that although they have personally succeeded in their career, issues exist in their relationship with their children, their partners, and their role in their communities that leave them feeling unsettled.
As so often is the case, the past can often provide insight into what is needed in the present. One of the unique insights ancient warrior cultures possessed, was that individual accomplishment by a warrior meant nothing if it didn’t serve to better the lot of the community at large.
What is not often understood in our culture is that the code of the warrior was about service to others. The Japanese word “samurai”, in fact, does not mean warrior but, rather, “one who serves.”
A principle that guided men in these warrior communities was that it was in the service of the greater good and not individual glory, that a man could find true satisfaction and peace.
Known as the warrior’s “transpersonal commitment,” this was the recognition that we all must be committed to something greater than ourselves. A warrior’s code of honor was based on the recognition that service to others, the family, the clan, or the community he came from, was ultimately what gave his life and his sacrifice meaning.
In studies of men, this understanding of the role men play in serving the community and those who it is our charge to protect, most importantly the young and the helpless, is known as “generativity.” It begins to appear as we reach our 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.
Simply put, as we mature as men we often begin to recognize how important it is that we, in some way, try to make things better for those who will “follow on behind us.” It can come as a desire to embark on greater community service, re-evaluating the arc of our career, or a greater focus on nurturing our children.
In the end, one of the things that can give us the greatest sense of purpose as men, is when we take that step and realize that it is every bit as important to do “good,” in addition to doing “well.”
Ultimately, as we evolve as mature men, we come to realize that there are things in life that are worth defending. One of my favorite examples of this is found in the old 60’s western television series “The Rifleman.”
Set in the 1880’s in the fictional town of North Fork, New Mexico, it tells the story of a widowed rancher, Lucas McCain and the young son he raises, Mark. Lucas is a renown expert with his specially modified rifle, but he ultimately wishes to simply live his life and raise his son in peace.
Unfortunately, he is often called upon to battle those who would threaten community. The series was essentially a morality tale but it emphasized a truth I believe all of us as men know. Our communities, our families, and our society are best served when we commit ourselves to improving and protecting them.
Much as our warrior forefathers did, our sense of ourselves as men of true strength and power can only come when we serve others as well as ourselves. One of the roles we as men can and must play, is to be both guardians and nurturers.
So when I work with men who have that feeling of something missing, we often find together that he’s just looking for his North Fork. . . and when he finds it, he knows where he belongs, and he knows what’s worth defending.
Good luck in finding your North Fork and when you do, defend it well.
Photo credit: padams via Flickr