I was given a used book last summer by a colleague who was thinning out his library. He sent it my way after learning that I had written my own. He pastors a small inner-city ministry in Kingston, Ontario, called Cafe Church.
The book I received was written by a chap named Stephen Mansfield, and it is boldly entitled, Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men: An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self. When I first saw it, I chuckled. “Who would be so bold as to think they could write THE book on masculinity and manliness?” That guy has some real confidence – moxie – or whatever adjective jumps to mind. In the end, the title and accompanying design were meant to grab the reader’s attention and to set the scene for a good dose of encouragement, many individual character challenges, and a swift kick-in-the-pants to simply live better – to live for something.
The work begins with an up-front explanation of Mansfield’s Four Manly Maxims. Like many of us, I haven’t seen the word “maxim” in print for years. This is perhaps because I finished my graduate studies just over six years ago, in 2014. It’s also (possibly) because popular men’s culture has co-opted the title “Maxim” – applying it to the men’s magazine that is neither GQ, nor National Geographic, nor Times Magazine; you understand what I am saying.
Nonetheless, what is a “maxim” anyhow? Merriam Webster describes a maxim as “a general truth, fundamental principle, or rule of conduct.” One can say that it defines a code, a playbook, or a set of standards. That much makes sense. What, then, are Mansfield’s four essential maxims for our practical use today? They are as follows, and I will attempt to paraphrase each:
Manly Maxim #1: Manly men do manly things.
Simply put, one has to act. We can spend as much time thinking and comparing and theorizing and planning, but if we do not act on our convictions, we are generally useless. Men are made to act, to do stuff, and in doing so, advance the cause for which you were made.
Manly Maxim #2: Manly men tend their fields.
A young man’s field starts small. He is typically responsible for self: hygiene, own actions, own learning, own responsibilities. As we age, we are imparted greater levels of responsibility. This can be as broad as a family, a company, a church, or a battalion. It is expected that men must take responsibility for the field assigned to them – to own their mistakes, as well as the victories. Success in small fields leads to trust with bigger fields, and so on and so forth.
Manly Maxim #3: Manly men build manly men.
Men learn from other men. This can go either way – both the good and the bad. Interestingly, the author indicates that very little of this learning is done in a clinical 12-step fashion. Rather, men learn by observing. We should always be watchful for guidance, both intentional and unintentional. When we see another man treat his wife respectfully, we pick up on that lesson. We also learn from observing poor leadership or sad examples. The challenge, then, is to be the type of man who positively impacts those around us – our peers, kids, neighbors, etc. There will always be someone watching.
Manly Maxim #4: Manly men live to the glory of God.
Mansfield cites a variety of practical reasons why we must live beyond ourselves – living for the glory of God. A man cannot fulfill his purpose if he is living for applause, approval, affirmation in this world. As he puts it, “it simply will not come – not enough, certainly, to answer the needs of his soul.” Similarly, he believes that men do not have sufficient strength and energy to fully complete the assignments given them. As such, we are wired to seek strength and understanding to tackle the daily demands of our lives. We can only be at our best when we seek his sustainment, and that can only occur through a daily relationship: think of it as charging your Tesla. As a country-living truck owner, I beg your permission for that pitiful example!
Is Mansfield onto something?
I believe most would agree that he has provided a good framework and certainly good fodder for conversation over coffee or in the midst of a men’s group gathering. I think we can challenge each other to expand the list. Expansion of boundaries is “manly,” isn’t it?
Here is one such example.
I had just finished reviewing the four maxims with my boys, ages 13 and 17, when I went outside to the gym. We live in the country, and my gym is part of an old out-building that has served various purposes over the past few decades. In its current configuration, it is part gym (with squat rack), part workbench (for small projects/fixes), and part camping gear storage. It has two large windows that face south, exposing a snowy landscape and a barn tilted 5 degrees.
Earlier that morning, two of the younger kids, ages 10 and 13, went outside to run about and play with the dog. When they came in 20 minutes later, they appeared soaked from head to toe. How could this be? From my treadmill perch, I could see the tracks they had left in the snow. Inevitably, they had not discerned between the dryer, “high” ground, and seemed to have spent an equal amount of time in the drainage, or “low” ground. They didn’t need to, but they did. As a result, they were wet—simple math.
Based on this observation, I immediately thought of a fifth maxim:
Manly Maxim #5. Manly men stay out of the low ground.
You and I can ascribe any definition we like to the low ground in our lives. It could be bad habits, persons, places, addictions (or a combination of all elements) that define your low ground. The fact is, and I boldly assume Mansfield would agree with me, we cannot afford to dabble in the low ground and expect to surface unscathed – “dry boots” as it were. I could go on and on.
The examples are endless, and I encourage you to think of the areas in your lives where you risk getting your boots wet. The absolute first step in keeping those socks dry is identifying where the risk lies. Are you willing to do that today? Define your risk, then bring all of the other maxims into play to ensure your feet (and wool socks) are in good repair as you prepare for – and act on – God’s purpose for you this year.
Choose to be a Manly Man in 2021.
What other maxim’s would you add to the list?
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