A Man for Others

Good morning. From a busy weekend with lots of activity on campus, two things stand out: First, was the rugby team’s come-from-3 tries-down victory over a talented Crescent squad on Saturday, and the other was the sensational performance Friday night by the Jazz Ensemble. Congratulations to both groups.


I occasionally get emails in response to my Monday morning rants, and I want to share three notes this morning. First, in response to a recent chat about chirping, I received this:

“While I liked your piece, I’m not finished thinking about the topic. Light-hearted “trash-talk” on the court or the fairways is something all guys do and most guys enjoy. Don’t you? For one thing, it raises the stakes of the game – makes a game more than a game. For another thing, the psychological benefit is practicing and honing your wit (think Cyrano de Bergerac) and demonstrating that old adage about ‘rapier-like wit’ — that the word is more powerful that the sword. It allows for some give and take that trains one for the more serious give and take of life. The problem is that without boundaries the “trash talk” becomes quickly offensive and/or degenerates into mockery. (I noticed that your friend Coach K doesn’t seem to try to suppress the Duke Crazies, since their taunting is definitely a home court advantage.) So does one try to guide boys away from the trash talk or implore them to do it with kindness? Tough call.”

An old boy on the same subject writes: “Your words hit home to me because UCC was actually tough for me in many ways, and that made me tougher. Many of my major shortcomings, I think, arise from my reaction to the tough environment I found at UCC. Chirping existed in the 80’s!”

And finally, in response to the story about the head steward who lost his position and his university placement because of that impulsive, go-with-the-crowd decision, I received this note: “I liked your story a lot. But you make it sound like you would have done something different – like you would have been some sort of superman and stood up to the crowd. You forget. I knew you in high school.. The word “gutless” comes quickly to mind… Hope to see you this summer. Love, Mom.”

I guess that’s an example of tough love. Anyway…


Having recently celebrated my 50th birthday, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Barbie also hit the half century mark this spring. Clearly, she has weathered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune far better than I have! This milestone in the life of the world’s most popular doll has sparked some interesting debates. Mattel Inc., which originally modeled Barbie after the German comic book character, Lilly, designed Barbie to promote “feminist” values; that is, Barbie was a career woman long before working outside the home was a social norm.

Barbie’s fans believe that this iconic toy teaches young girls that they can be whatever they want to be. (Oprah might say, “You go, girl!”) Her critics, on the other hand, believe Barbie is really all about body image, perfectionism, and paraphernalia. (“Sure, you can be whatever you want to be – as long as you maintain your impossibly perfect proportions!”) Is Barbie cool, independent, and smart? Or is she obsessed with her sculpted plastic figure and quietly neurotic about food? And how many pairs of shoes does one doll, even a Teutonic goddess, really need?

Questions about gender issues are not restricted to toys — or to girls. Some of you may remember when former NFL star, Joe Ehrman, came to UCC last year to speak to us about what he calls, “The Three Myths of Masculinity.”

First, starting in primary school, there is an exaggerated importance attached to athletics. “You can see boys as young as eight marginalizing their less athletic peers.”
Second, starting in adolescence, there is the tendency to objectify women. (See Barbie’s critics for details.)
Third, in adulthood there is the tendency to overvalue financial success as a barometer of manhood. (Given the volatile nature of today’s economy, this leaves all of us a bit vulnerable.)

Contemporary culture wants us to believe in the holy trinity of appearance, money, and athleticism. But something in our collective gut tells us that this message doesn’t ring true, even as we are bombarded with commercials that suggest we’ll be happy if only our abs are their tightest, our teeth are their whitest, and our underarms are their driest.

Ehrman challenges us not only to avoid these myths but to become, what he calls, “Men for Others.” In a world where there is so much focus on materialism, hedonism, and perhaps even careerism, Joe asks us to look at our own lives, to look beneath the shallow surface of grades, money, and physical appearance to see what really matters.

Ehrman believes that, if you really want to find truth, all you need to do is go to a hospital waiting room. That’s one place where you find out what’s really important. If you have ever spent any time in a waiting room, you know that nobody there is ever saying to himself, “Oh, if only I had spent a little more time on the bow-flex machine, then things would have been ok.” There are just two fundamental truths found in the waiting room: The first is that absolutely everything is about relationships. I think you can see this truth clearly in schools like ours: it’s the relationships you have with your friends and teachers, coaches, directors, and advisors that shape you. They make the weather for you. In later life, the relationship questions will be about the kind of husband, father, or friend you will be, and what can be more important than your answer to those questions?

The second truth of the waiting room is what Ehrman called “the transcendent cause.” Every one of us needs a life task, something bigger than ourselves, something that we can dedicate ourselves too. Life has to be about more than a pay-check; it must be more than just a celebration of nerve endings. Part of this flows from a fundamental notion of “making a difference.” Each one of us has a deep felt need to have some sort of impact. I don’t think that, on our death bed, it will be enough for us to say to ourselves that our stock portfolio went up 3.65%. As important as professional or financial success is, that won’t answer that deep-in-the gut need to both make sense of things and to feel you have made some sort of contribution.

So, my 3 take-aways for today are these:

First, don’t buy into the 3 myths of masculinity: manhood isn’t defined by athletic ability, by objectifying women, or by financial standing.

Second, remember the 2 truths of the waiting room: It’s about relationship and about finding your life task.

And third, if you take care of one and two, you will become, what Ehrman calls, “A Man for Others.” Which brings me back to Barbie. Many of you have already seen the Susan Boyle youtube. But in case you haven’t, Susan is a Scottish woman who would not be described as glamorous. She participated recently in the “Britain’s Got Talent” tv show. And I’d like to end today, by showing you the first 4 minutes of that clip. While at first blush you may be tempted to condemn Simon Cowell and the other sceptics in the London audience, the more you see this piece, the more you’ll realize that we are all guilty of buying into what Joe Ehrman might call, “The Myth of Womanhood.”


2 thoughts on “A Man for Others

  1. That Susan Boyle video is amazing. A perfect example of why judging people from the outside is a big mistake. I don’t think anyone expected Susan Boyle to make that crowded auditorium roar with applause, but she did. And rightly so!

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