Friday, April 01, 2005

What is the measure of a man?

A while back something happened that should never have happened... A man made a woman cry.

Not just a tear on the cheek – she really was distraught. A single tear would be too much – a two-minute boo-hoo – would be way too much – but this person was really upset and cried for hours. Why? Because she valued her friends, she valued her friends opinions and she understood the sense of loss when a "friend" turns out to not really be a friend at all.

In this case, the man, was a dental "professional" – apparently with a huge ego. He did not like to be questioned or second-guessed. He was insulted she would go to a mere dental technician for advice about her treatment options. (Never mind that the technician is a nationally known technical "guru".)

This so called dental "professional" blew up and walked out on the woman at a social event – as if to say "you are not worth my time little one", leaving behind a trail of words that were said that should not be printed – only to echo through her memory for the next several hours.

My wife spoke to her for about an hour before handing me the phone and letting me talk to her for quite a few more minutes. The conversation left me angry and a bit embarrassed about my side of the fence. It also left me with questions about what has become of the man’s character and the meaning of being a gentleman in today’s culture.
In general, what has happened to men? Where did we lose the definition of being gentlemen? Is it possible the Women’s Lib movement allowed us to drop our guard and become the kind of slime they so often accused us to be? Or has it been MTV and popular shows like "Sex in the City" objectified all of us to nothing more than objects to be had for personal satisfaction and then discarded? Ultimately you have to ask yourself which side won in that debate!
I know – egos have always been egos - men will be men and men will be boys. It’s always been this way to some degree. Walking near a couple of guys (male sales reps) who were following a pretty female around the sales floor the other day, and hearing their comments between each other is enough to prove my point. But when men act below themselves – what has happened to their sense of shame? Men are called to be real men - which implies being gentlemen. This is whether a woman notices their effort or not. What used to not be discussed is now open dialog - even in the very aisles of a professional meeting.

What does it mean? What does it mean to be gentlemen? Do we know anymore? Have our culture and our relaxed attitude toward right and wrong given us the license to be nothing more than selfish jerks? How do we allow ourselves to demean the personhood of anyone when the purpose is only to save our pride or inflate our already oversized egos?

The Women’s Lib movement said "don’t open that door for me, I can get it myself!" in no uncertain terms and inflection. I still open doors – not because it’s my duty – but because I want to. This goes way beyond that. What is the measure of a man? Where do you draw the line? How could this dental "professional" have dealt with his bruised ego and anger so it did not transfer his personal feeling in a way that would not hurt his friend so terribly? How do you think she should have responded? Keep in mind - she thought this "professional" and his wife were close friends.

First on my list is that you treat people with r e s p e c t. Aretha Franklin said it – I believe it – it must be true. You’re dealing with someone who not only has feelings that can be bruised but has the invested dignity of being a real person – created in the image of God. In that light, all persons have infinite value and have the right to command respect – whether or not "God" enters into their personal equations or not. (this is a lesson I too have had to learn)
We are to treat others as we wish to be treated – I’ve heard that repeated since childhood – we all have. In almost every culture that theme has been advanced regardless of the religion that promoted it. As a Christian, I am taught that there is no greater love than to lay down my life for my friends. My Teacher did just that and set the example and standard. I am also told to love my enemies with the same degree of depth. Not all of us will ever be asked to stand in the path of a bullet or be killed for a friend – but as with all of my Teacher’s lessons – they apply to my thoughts and responses as well as any possible actual event - even in "polite" conversations.

When given the option of being rude to save my own face or swallowing my pride and saying nothing – I am to swallow my pride and be silent. Humility always trumps arrogance. If I loved my friends, I would do anything I could to keep from hurting them… even if it cost me in some way. Even if it meant swallowing my pride. No tear should fall on my account. I cannot pay for pain already charged to my account – I must not cause a larger debt. By showing respect and loving someone else more than I love myself, I can overcome the temptation to be hurtful.

What other ways are men to show they are real men? How do we promote in our lives true character? What is character? How best is it defined? Do we settle for the "Boy Scout law"? – stop – I can see many of you smirking already… but what IS wrong with "trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent"? Now that we are adults- are we excused from these basic standards of decency?
Here is another list of some ideas where to start - taken from Gene Getz’s book "The Measure of A Man":

Above reproach
Husband of one wife (faithful)
Not self-willed
Not quick tempered
Not pugnacious
Not in love with money
Handles his own household well
Has a good reputation
Loving what is good

Are we actively trying to incorporate these virtues into our lives on a daily basis?

A while back, Bonnie Rait sang she wanted a "Real Man". Even before that Willie Nelson wrote a song called "Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" where he recommends women raise "doctors and lawyers and such" instead as if that is a better choice. Growing up in a household with three sisters and all of their girlfriends – even as much as I tried to avoid them – I heard their calls to each other to "grow up and one day marry a doctor".
Maybe that’s part of the problem. Mothers taught their daughters they could find happiness and love anywhere so they may as well marry a doctor or lawyer and be rich in the process. Sheer pragmatism leads nowhere. Having a professioanl degree does not assure character. Is it any wonder that the majority of marriages end in divorce these days? Is that what people want? In a way – I pity the woman who married this dental "professional" because it sounds as if she married his career and not his character. If he can step on a friend with such ease – as if it were nothing – easy to forget, I wonder how long before the wife is also under his boot. What are his values and whom does he respect if he doesn’t respect himself enough to be a gentleman?
We can only hope for real change.

You don't have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body. - C.S. Lewis