January 23, 2011

Being Manly and the Question of Substance

One must draw a line between mere affect and substance; between appearance and character; between form and content; between words and deeds. As I circle the internet, buzzard-like, I notice many of the former categories in this list masquerading as the latter categories. For some reason many people seem to confuse what is essentially empty for that which is substantially meaningful. All kinds of assumed contiguities are employed so that, for example, clothes can stand in for the man. We all know the axiom ‘the clothes don’t make the man’, but the axiom exists only because it is so widely and indiscriminately ignored. In much the same way, most people judge books by their covers. It has been the principle of bookselling since Gutenberg.

Judge thee not
I’m troubled by this, just as you would expect. When we strive to be the best we can be, are we really content with reducing our betterment to cosmetics? If you were to search the great ethereal sea for what people have to say about being manly, for example, you will find all manner of ill-considered talk of flatulence and fire, power tools and automobiles, firearms and fisticuffs, and generally the treatment of women as sexual objects. The more discerning empty rhetoric you’ll find will talk about manners and pocket squares, but only a very few make any attempt to draw a line between show and substance. In both extremes you learn only how little men know about what is really important: a man’s virtues.

Does he have courage, or know how to define it? Does he understand that which he fears and has he faced it? Does he know when to rush in, and when to hold hard? Can he balance the problems around him and see his way through with wisdom? Is he temperate, hard-working, resilient and just? Does he understand his place, in his family, his nation, his world, and can he execute his role as a worthy citizen? He must understand these things, not as words but from within, if he is to be these things. And for this there are no short cuts; no sound-bite routes to glory; no quick fixes. I may talk of form, of affect, of appearance, and of words; but I want to arrive at content, at substance, at character, and at deeds. Sometimes, the surfaces serve as entry points to, or as analogues for, the depths; we must remember that it is for this reason, and for this reason alone, that we concern ourselves with the surface at all.

Being manly, or indeed womanly, is not something that can be achieved through the mere push of a button. It’s hard, but worthy, work.


  1. Mr. Beatum,
    You sound quite agitated.

  2. Perhaps a trifle, my dear Winslow. But'twill pass.

  3. I sympathize, but most unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much for it. It is the way of the world.


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