Advertising
Advertising

Being a Man in the 21st Century (Part 2)

Being a Man in the 21st Century (Part 2)

20091030-manhood

    Earlier this week, I began a discussion of the way that manhood in American society is changing. Today, I want to revisit the topic with some of my own ideas about how these changes could lead to a more enriching and satisfying take on masculinity.

    Before I do that, though, I want to say how thrilled I was at the response the first post got – I had never expected such lengthy, thoughtful comments and the depth of insight that you, Lifehack’s readers, have shared with us. I had intended to respond directly to some of the comments, but they turned out to be so rich and complex that any response I could give would hardly do them justice. If you missed that post, I implore you to go back and look at the comments.

    Advertising

    I also want to point out that these changes are not limited to the American scene, though that’s the context I know best. Around the world, women are emerging as major players in the increasingly global economy. One sign of the role women are playing is the success of the microloan movement, many of whose programs lend primarily or solely to women.

    I don’t claim that I have all the answers, by the way. In fact, despite the fact that I teach women’s studies for a living and have spent more than a decade dwelling on the issues I’m raising in these posts, I am as prone to chauvinistic thinking, objectification of women, and just plain dumb behavior as the next guy. It’s the way we’ve been socially and culturally conditioned — creating unconscious thought processes that aren’t always immediately apparent. The best I think we can hope for is self-awareness and growth, not the instant transformation of every man into a superhero overnight. It will be the next generation, the kids who grow up in a world where women are full participants in our public lives, that will show us best how to be men that embrace true equality – and I have no doubt that they’ll look on me as unkindly as I look on, say, the anti-Suffragists of the last century.

    We are all feminists now.

    Aside from a few hard-core traditionalists, just about everyone now accepts as a given that both men and women will have an education, a career, and a public life. Each and every one of us benefits daily from the greater participation of women in our society: we use medicines developed by women, we use products designed by women, we live by laws written by and voted on by women, and so on. By lowering the barriers that prevented women from developing to their fullest extent in the past, we have effectively doubled the pool of talent that we as a society draw on.

    Advertising

    The idea that a woman can’t be this or that is falsified by the reality that there is virtually no job category that women haven’t entered and excelled in. Real men encourage those around them, male or female, to realize their fullest potential, regardless of their own or others’ preconceptions. That’s feminism.

    There is no “men’s work” and “women’s work”, there is only work.

    Sociologists estimate that there are as many as 2 million stay-at-home dads in the US right now. And fathers as a whole – stay-at-home dads or otherwise – spend almost as much time with their children as mothers do. Men do laundry, cook dinner, buy groceries, and drop the kids off at soccer practice. Meanwhile, women write legal briefs, run for office, work construction equipment, and direct corporate mergers. The idea that certain kinds of work are “feminine” or “masculine” is dead in the water. Although there are plenty of holdouts who are still inclined to fill positions based at least in part on gender, the most successful businesses work hard to focus their hiring on demonstrated talent. Likewise, the most successful families have found that splitting household tasks not according to gender but according to skill and available time. There are plenty of un-handy men around, and plenty of non-domestic women, and we all benefit when they’re encouraged to do the things they’re good at instead of the things their gender allegedly suits them for.

    Parenting is fundamental.

    The reason that so many men are choosing to spend all or a significant part of their lives elbow-deep in domestic parenting tasks is that we are finally learning how much we’ve been missing in our traditional 8am-8pm work+commute+overtime workaholic schedules. Whole generations of men have missed not only seeing their kids grow up, but seeing themselves grow up. Parenting is about so much more than financially supporting someone through their childhood years, it’s about tending to cuts and scrapes, putting a balanced meal on the table, and dealing with the scores of childhood traumas that mark our growth into personhood. It’s about sacrifice, hands-on responsibility, and struggling alongside our kids to make sense of the world. The stereotypical middle-aged man sporting a ponytail and a convertible is, I think, a product of the kind of selfishness that real parenting necessarily eliminates.

    Advertising

    Passion is a priority.

    Manhood in the 20th century was about financial success – working a job you hate because it puts food on the table. With both men and women supporting their families, though, some of that pressure is lifted. Of course, we still need to work, but just as important as earning a living is the passion that drives us to excel – even at careers that are not especially lucrative. We can see, for instance, the rise of “lifestyle entrepreneurs“, people who start their own businesses not so much in hopes of getting rich but in order to support themselves doing something they love, as an indicator of the way that income is giving way to passion as a measure of one’s manhood.

    Embrace difference.

    It’s becoming harder and harder to take people who rant about the difference between men and women seriously. For every generalization, we can point to a thousand exceptions – men who love shopping and women who hate it, women who whoop and holler over their football team’s victory and men who couldn’t tell you if the Cleveland Browns play in the American League or the National League*.

    Traditional masculinity was about punishing any man who stepped out of bounds, whether it was because he was gay, feminine, physically weak, or in some other way short of the masculine standard. That simply doesn’t fly any more – there are as many different ways of being “manly” (or “womanly”, for that matter) as there are men (or women). And success doesn’t come in spite of those differences, it comes because of it – they create the diversity that allows businesses, organizations, and other endeavors to be flexible, to adapt to changing circumstances, and to innovate. In short, difference allows us to thrive, and we need to stop fearing it and embrace it.

    Advertising

    And that goes for other kinds of differences, too – racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, religious, national, linguistic, you name it. Being a confident man these days means not being threatened by what we don’t understand, it means seeking greater understanding.

    * Yes, I know. It’s funny, see?

    It’s about us.

    Though “being one’s own man” has long been held up as a standard of masculinity, it’s rarely been realized in practice. The eras of manhood that we look back to nostalgically as models of “when men were men” – I’m thinking, for example, of the Mad Men era – were times of stunning conformity. We weren’t our own men, we were beholden to a particularly narrow model of what men should be, and men who didn’t fit that model were punished, often brutally.

    The 21st century offers men a real opportunity to live up to the ideal of being our own men, though. The possibilities for personal development and self-expression have never been greater. It’s no longer about what women find attractive – freed from the need to find man to support and protect them, women are finding themselves attracted to a wide range of types that in the past might have been considered “unmanly”. It’s no longer about being “one of the boys” – that kind of conformity is poison to the modern workplace and to modern communities. No, manhood today is about us, about living our own lives as fully and satisfyingly as we can.

    It’s about you.

    Like I said, I don’t have all the answers, and I’m intensely curious about your thoughts. I’ve left some things out, too – most notably sex, but also fashion, personality, and matters of taste or style. These things have become so various that there’s no way I could do them any justice here. By and large, I think they fall under the category of embracing difference – of recognizing that in a society where diversity is a crucial value, men will find a huge variety of ways to dress, act, enjoy their leisure time, and make love. But maybe you have thoughts on those topics as well – the conversation in part 1 was brilliant, let’s see if we can keep it up in the comments here!

    More by this author

    How to Learn Something New Every Day and Stay Smart How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques 3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively How To Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Trending in Featured

    1 8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener 2 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 3 How to Become an Early Riser and Stay Energetic 4 The Art of Humble Confidence 5 How to Get Promoted When You Feel Stuck in Your Current Position

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on October 22, 2020

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

    Advertising

    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

    Advertising

    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

    Advertising

    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

    Advertising

    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

    Read Next