Chapter 2 - What is a Man?

When not a hundred percent sure of the exact definition of a word, I first consult the dictionary. I then go back to its roots... to the moment the word was first used. I’ve learned not to accept anyone’s definition as the one and only. Neither should you.

Here’s what I found when looking up the word “Man”.

Man: a featherless male mammal of the species Homo Sapiens who walks on two feet.

Male comes from the root *men – to think.

Homo Sapiens is the Latin word for “wise man.”

If anyone ever tells you to be a man and doesn’t explain what they mean, you can now tell them you are a man because you are male, have no feathers, walk on the soles of your two feet, and can think. That should make them shut up. Or ask them to tell you what they mean, then watch them squirm like a slug under a mountain of salt. 

If they tell you to “be strong!” ask them if they mean strong like strongwoman Donna Moore who broke a world record lifting a 324 pound stone, or strong like your mother who withstood great physical pain when she delivered you. 

If they say, “don’t cry!” remind them that President Barack Obama cried seven times in public during the eight years he held the most powerful job in the world.

Other people try to define a man by the way he behaves – or should behave – towards women. That is as narrow and silly as a man judging a girl simply by her looks. A man has other relationships - with his friends, his family, his community, his country, with people in other countries, with Earth, and the Universe. A man’s job is to define for himself how he must relate to all these. 

A man must also define how he will relate to himself. Think of it this way. If you were the absolute King of yourself, what rules would you write to govern your kingdom? 

Would you, for example, consider your kingdom a dump-ground and then feed your mind and body with trash? 

I didn’t think so. 

Would you treat yourself and your subjects with kindness or with cruelty?

For thousands of years, wise philosophers, spiritual guides, writers and poets, have been working on coming up with a set of instructions for how to be a man, or, more precisely, how to be human. I’ve studied many of them and summarized them for you (you’re welcome):

The first, and perhaps the most important instruction of all, is:

Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t like them to do to you.

This is the Golden Rule, with a slight twist, which came to us 2400 years ago from the mouth of a wise man from China, named Confucius. I like to think of it as golden honey made by bees from the nectar and pollen of flowers.

Pretty simple rule, right? If followed by everyone, it would solve many of the world’s problems, such as bullying, harassment, disrespect, theft, murder, discrimination, racism, poking someone’s eye with a pencil, smashing someone’s thumb with a rock on purpose, smooshing worms on someone’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich before they eat it at recess, etc. (add anything you wouldn’t like someone to do to you).

This Golden Rule must also be extended to our planet and all living things. After all, you wouldn’t like it very much if a pack of wolves invaded your house, ate all your food, polluted your water, killed your dog, and once they were done trashing the entire place, left, or  - worse! - stayed forever. Humans do this all the time to other animals.

Those who do not follow the Golden Rule are locusts. Those who do are bees, who make honey.

What else will make you a man?

1. Protect the weak and care for those who depend on you. Think of them as flowers in your garden.

2. Be honest; both with others and yourself. Grownups tend to lie to themselves a lot.

3. Think for yourself but be brave enough to change your mind when confronted with a higher truth.

4. Don’t boast. Braggards are locusts, full of stinky hot air and bullpoop.

5. Talk less and listen more. A French philosopher, with a really funny name, once said that a wise man speaks only when has something important to say; a fool speaks because he has to say something all day long. If you have nothing constructive to say, or something that will brighten someone’s day, keep your mouth shut and your ears and mind wide open. There is always someone who knows something you don’t. Learn from them. 

6. Fight if necessary, but only in the name of justice. Make sure, though, that the people you are fighting for really want your type of justice. People with very good intentions often fight to bring others the ideas they think are best but end up destroying the other’s way of life in the process. Unless you’re asked, don’t go poking your nose into someone else’s hive. It’s none of your beesness.

7. If someone attacks your beehive, strike back! Just try your best to sting only the ones who were responsible.

8. Be trustworthy; if you offer to do something, do it!

9. Never forget a favor. Bees are grateful. In exchange for nectar, they pollinate flowers. Locust are just takers.

10. Have integrity; live your life according to what you believe is right unless it goes against the Golden Rule.

11. Keep your cool. Don’t overreact. Feel and express your emotions but don’t let them take over (more on this later).

12. Don’t overthink stuff. Get out of your head and back in touch with your feeling body and with nature, like Orrorin and his clan of hunter-gathers. Trust the ability nature has given you to understand and act without much thinking. Trust your gut, your instincts and intuition. A zebra doesn’t stop to think when sensing a lion is about to pounce. It either skedaddles or becomes the lion’s lunch.

13. Don’t whine when you fail. Pick yourself up and try again. If a flower doesn’t have nectar, try another.

14. Don’t complain when you don’t get what you want. Often, there is a pretty good reason why that happens.

15. Don’t shout. People who have to shout their opinions usually are not really convinced of their opinions. Instead of raising your voice, work on improving your arguments.

16. The world owes you nothing - zero, zip, nada! Remember… you are lucky to be alive on this magical planet. Honor that gift by contributing to the unfolding story of the Universe. 

17. Have a vision, a plan, a purpose beyond yourself, then get to work. It’s not all about you. If you’re good at something or know something others don’t, share your gifts. Go pollinate! (I’ll explain how, later).

18. Measure yourself according to what you contribute to the world rather than by what you own. A locust wearing a golden chain and living in a mansion is still a locust.

That’s about it.

Now let’s talk about what makes a man unique.

Notice I didn’t say “special.” No one is born special.

When I was a young boy, my Mom told me I was special all the time. More than that… she told me I was a genius!

I don’t know where she got the idea, and never asked. I just believed her and enjoyed my unearned trophy that certified me as #1 Awesome Genius!

I think Mom started thinking that way when I started riding a horse and jumping over obstacles in competitions.

It all started one Christmas at my grandparents’ house. 

My two brothers, sister and I, arrived at their house with our parents in the early afternoon. Us three boys were formally dressed in tight-fitting suits and red bowties. When we walked in, we noticed there we no presents under the tree! The expression ‘WTF?’ was not in vogue at the time but we would’ve not used it anyway because Mom used to fill our mouths with soap or hot sauce if we dared use foul language. The three of us just exchanged puzzled looks as we sat for lunch for what seemed a lifetime. Once finished, we were instructed to sit on the carpet facing the large window of the living room looking out to the rear grounds of our grandparent’s estate. The drapes were drawn shut. With eyes closed, we waited for my grandfather to open them, and then, on the lawn, we saw three saddled horses munching grass in the waning light. Our Christmas presents! (I don’t remember what my sister got).

It wasn’t hard for me to guess which horse was mine. Not the tallest one, I was certain, because of how short I was. And it definitely couldn’t be the chubby chestnut pony with the bristly black mane. That one had to be for my middle brother. Mine had to be the light brown, mid-sized colt, with a white band running from his forehead all the way down to his nose. I was right, and named him ‘Little Gift,’ and started riding him every weekend until I got good at it and started competing in obstacle-jumping. But you don’t have to be a genius or very special to do that. You just need a horse and some practice.

Many kids are declared special for no other reason than being born. One, or both parents tell them they are beautiful, and supremely intelligent just because they know how to tie their shoes. Or that they are so gifted and talented that every one of their drawings is a masterpiece that belongs in a museum, and that they are destined to do great things. Even though the boy is no taller than a chair, his parents tell him that one day he will be famous if he just works hard at it.    

I’m sorry to disappoint you but that’s just not the case. It’s better for you to know this now while you’re only a bit taller than a chair than to find out when you grow up. 

Most of us will never be famous. 

My mother wasn’t telling me I was special and a genius and destined to great things because she was mean. She did it out of love. But I wish she would’ve just said she loved me for who I was and not for what she thought I might become. And guess what… I never became a genius (sorry Mom), nor have done great things. But that’s okay. I’m happy with my life and with who I am and would not trade it for anything in the world.

So, we’re not special.

We become special by doing something special. 

If you still have your favorite stuffed animal, you’ll know what I mean. It wasn’t special when it was collecting dust on a shelf in a toy store. It became special once it cuddled with you on your bed and comforted you through the night. You are special to your family because you love them, make them laugh, or help around the house.

What we are is unique…one of a kind, just like every star in the Universe and every snowflake is unique. There is no one like you in the entire world.

Think about that for a second. 

Think of all the lucky accidents that had to occur in the story of the Universe for you to be here, right now, reading this book, and imagining what heroic story you want to write for yourself.   

So what makes a man unique?

It helps to think of a man as a computer assembled by nature using a unique set of parts. The software written into the male computer was programmed during the 99% of the time we lived as hunter-gatherers, or, in our case, as male hunters, like Orrorin. That experience wrote the instructions which guide our behavior, even today.

For example, we men don’t talk much. There’s a good reason for that. Imagine you’re out on the savannah with your hunting buddies and one of them (the fool) just won’t shut up. You would never catch anything, and you, your buddies, and all the members of your clan would starve to death. Orrorin and his clan survived and passed-on those instructions to the next generation of hunters: Speak little, hunt more.

Our male brains are wired to transmit our emotions more quickly to our physical bodies. As a result, we are more impulsive. We act quickly to solve immediate problems. It would have been a bad idea for Orrorin and his hunting buddies to sit down and chat about how scared or unsafe they felt when encountering a Mammoth or Saber-toothed Tiger. We express our emotions by moving; we hit a desk when angry or run when stressed. That’s the reason men express love with less words and more physical action. It is also a good reason to get off the couch and away from screens and head outdoors into the Wild. That’s where you belong.

Men have fewer nerve endings for feeling pain and fewer pain receptors in their brains. That’s why we can stand more pain, although you wouldn’t think so when watching a grown man stub his toe on a chair and throwing himself on the floor screaming about how much it hurts. Wimp!

You’ve probably heard your Mom say men can’t find things. She’s half-right. While we might not be able to find the cereal box even though it’s right in front of our nose, we can certainly spot the big things, like Mammoths and Saber-toothed Tigers. Our software was written out in the wild, hunting on the wide expanse of the savannah. We look at the big picture. We see the forest, not the trees.

You’ve also heard your Mom say that men don’t ask for directions when they are lost. She’s right. We like to figure things out for ourselves. We are scouts and explorers, navigators and adventurers. We wade across churning rivers, slash our way through steamy jungles, and climb mountains to look far and wide to map out the road ahead. We are visionaries.    

We are also less empathetic, less sensitive to other people’s feelings, pain, or suffering. Think back to our past as hunters. If one of our hunting buddies fell and got hurt, we just didn’t have the time to sit by his side to comfort him. We picked him up, brushed him off, maybe gave him a pat on the back, and we both kept running after our next meal. We had to. Those waiting for us back at our camp depended on us to bring food. We bond with our buddies by challenging them.

We don’t avoid pain and danger, but actually go out and look for it. Exposing ourselves to danger made us develop the skills we need to survive. You won’t get them by playing video games.

We’ve been programmed to be territorial, just like our past relatives, the chimpanzees. In 1954, a famous social psychologist convinced twenty-two sets of parents to let him take their 12 year-old boys off their hands for three weeks and took them to a remote place. For the first five days, each group of boys thought it was alone, yet, they set about marking territory and creating tribal identities by coming up with rules like, perhaps, “no farting” or “no girls! They came up with songs, rituals, and flags. One boy in each group was chosen as the leader. Once they became aware of the presence of the other group, tribal behavior increased dramatically. They destroyed each other’s flags, raided and vandalized each other’s camps, called each other nasty names, and made weapons. We are warriors because when living as hunter-gatherers we had to defend our clan.

We are also protectors. When we see someone of our clan or family in danger, we run to their rescue, even if it means we will die in the process. Sometimes, we even sacrifice ourselves for an ideal – the ideas we believe can improve human lives. There have been brave men - like Greek philosopher Socrates, Italian cosmologist Giordano Bruno, and English statesman Thomas Moore - who chose to die, rather than renounce their ideals and live. These men are some of the great Warrior Bees in the human story.  

But much as there are great things about the male software, it also has its bugs and glitches like any computer program, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t constantly work on making it better. After all, we are Homo Sapiens, or wise men.

There is, for example, no reason why we can’t train ourselves to better express our emotions besides shouting, hitting desks, slamming doors, or punching people in the nose.

Although we are less empathetic, I don’t see why we can’t develop rational compassion which means using our brains to understand someone else’s suffering, and then using our warrior skills, strength, and courage to help out.

Instead of looking at Earth like some giant supermarket for us to plunder, or a dump-ground for our waste, let’s consider our planet for what it is: a living space that creates and sustains life, and use our heads for something more than wearing a flipped baseball cap, and make sure we keep it that way. Unless, of course, you rather live on Mercury. I hear it’s pretty nice up there… 800 degrees during the day; minus 300 at night. Lots of rocks.

Knowing we are territorial, the next time we come across another group of people who look different and speak a different language, instead of destroying their flags, raiding and vandalizing their camp, and calling them nasty names, we can choose to see them as part of the human family, learn from one another, and work together to make the world a better place. 

When I say making the world a better place, what I really mean is fixing what humans have messed up with their dumb stories. I mean playing by the rules that the Universe and our planet wrote from the very beginning. 

What are those rules? 

1. Constant change. Like seasons or the oceans’ tides, everything in our universe is constantly changing. If you don’t like change, find another universe.

2. Nothing lasts forever; neither a sand castle or an ice cream cone. Neither empires, fame, or fortune.  Many people suffer a lot because they don’t accept this rule. 

3. There are no rights in the Universe. Birds don’t fly because they have a right to fly but because they have wings. Rights are ideas we humans invented once someone started going against the Golden Rule. What exists are capabilities. Birds fly because they are capable of flying.

4. There is no such thing as equality. Everything is unique.

5. There is no such thing as happiness in the Universe. That’s another human idea that drives many people nuts trying to find it. The word “happy” didn’t exist until 600 years ago. What exists is pleasure, which means the satisfaction of our senses – of touch, smell, taste, and sight – and the satisfaction of our basic needs – shelter and food.

6. Balance.

7. Zero waste. Go out into the wild and try to find garbage that is not man-made.

8. Resistance. Think of Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth. It was formed fifty million years ago when one giant, floating chunk of land crashed against another and started pushing against it. The same rule applies to heroes. To achieve anything, be prepared to meet great resistance. 

9. Rule of opposites. For there to be light, there must be darkness. For there to be beauty, ugliness must also be present. For there to be joy, suffering must also be there. You cannot have one without the other.

The world needs better stories that are in harmony with the laws of our Universe.

It needs new heroes. 

It needs you! 

But what exactly is a hero?

(Chapter 3)

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