I recently viewed a presentation by Joe Ehrmann on “What it Means to be a Man.” He is a former NFL defensive lineman for the (then) Baltimore Colts. It was a very powerful message that more people, particularly men, need to hear. With the recent release of the latest Ironman movie, it is time to debunk a few myths about our society’s portrayal of what it means to be a “real man”. These myths are extremely destructive on not only men, but their families and loved ones.
“Come on, be a man!”
This is a message that all boys will hear starting when they enter preschool or elementary school. Think about the context that it is said in. What does that phrase mean? It means that at all costs, don’t be a sissy! Don’t share what you are feeling! Be tough, or don’t be accepted on the play ground. Here are the three myths that Joe Ehrmann mentions in his presentation:
Myth #1 – To be a man is to be masculine, tough, and athletic
The first myth that Joe Ehrmann describes is that a man needs to be athletic or have a specific skill to have any worth on the playground, with his peers, or to be a man at all. This drifts into adulthood as well. You have to be tough, masculine, and better than other people to have worth or to be elevated as a man.
Myth #2 – Masculinity is based on the amount of sex you can have
The second myth is based on sexual conquest. This fallacy is perpetuated viciously in our media and culture today. If a man can have a certain number of “trophies” or “victories” regarding sex, then he can prove that he truly is a man.
Myth #3 – A true man has an extremely high net worth
The last myth that is mentioned is that men tend to equate their self worth with their net worth. If a man can just make enough money, drive a nice enough car, or have the best material things, then he is vindicated in being a man.
The problem with these myths is that we as men hear these messages so often that we tend to believe them! Ehrmann describes a pattern that he has noticed in men that fall into these traps. These myths lead to a condition known as alexithymia, or an inability to put emotions and feelings into words. It is essentially an empathy deficit disorder. So, in turn, this leads to a hardened shell, an inability to connect with those most important to us, and symptoms of depression, anxiety, or isolation. Men can never be tough enough, have enough sex, or accumulate enough wealth to feel fulfilled. So, they turn to violence, substance abuse, or isolation. It is a vicious cycle.
So, how should men measure themselves and their “manhood?” Ehrmann suggests two things:
Truth #1 – Life is about relationships
True fulfillment comes from the ability to love and be loved. A man can truly feel like a man when he fulfills honorably his role of being a husband, a father, a son, a friend, or a partner. A man will look back on his life and will find joy and happiness if he has learned how to care for others and receive love and support from others.
Truth #2 – A man must have a noble cause
A man wants to feel that he has left the world a better place because of his efforts. He wants to leave a legacy. Unfortunately, if he falls into the myths described, his legacy will not be the type of legacy that he wants to leave. If a man finds a noble cause, he will look back at a fulfilled life that makes him feel like a true man.
As I watched the new Ironman movie, it was fascinating. Even Ironman, who has the intellect of a genius, a particular skill in weapons and fighting, all the amount of women he could want, and an unlimited amount of self-worth, was suffering from anxiety attacks and isolation. He realized that to be a true man, he needed to pay attention to his close relationships and helping others. By doing so, he was able to truly realize his potential.
I hope this is helpful in debunking some of the myths about what it means to be a man and I hope that we can all find a life full of meaningful relationships and a noble cause to dedicate ourselves to. I am grateful for this presentation by Joe Ehrmann.
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