WHAT IS “A REAL MAN?” (On respecting essentials over mere priorities and priorities over mere ideals)
You know the kind of guy that women love to talk about with each other? That is a kind of guy that they find interesting to talk about. We might even call that an “ideal” of a man.
Women may like to imagine a certain kind of man because they like how it feels to imagine themselves with him. They may also fantasize about the boss that they wish they had or the job they wish they had or even the political leader that they wish they had.
Keep in mind that when a bunch of women are socializing with each other, they may talk about a lot of things. What they say to each other about their ideal man (or anything else) is… their business.
Now, imagine a bunch of moms sitting around having lunch together and talking about their ideals of how their little boys will be when they grow up. Or, imagine a pair of really old women talking about what they used to say about their ideal son or their ideal mate. They might be laughing about it all.
Men can have ideals, too, like about how they should be or how they should not be. They can learn those ideals from their own family members, from mass media programming, from classroom social conditioning or from many other sources.
Or, they can form their own ideals. Even in the total absence of any social pressure to adopt certain behaviors or avoid certain behaviors, isn’t it inevitable that they would learn to admire certain results and fear certain results? Wouldn’t they inevitably develop preferences and priorities?
Note that I am not talking about identifying a particular set of behaviors that will hopefully produce the result of social approval. Attracting some form of social approval (either from a specific person or many people) might be the priority outcome of a man, like during a job interview or a sales pitch. Other than that, how important is social approval in general?
One of the first contrasts between the average man and a “real” man is that many men are focusing on preserving the ideals that they were presented in their youth. They were young boys back then and they are old boys now (socially).
Physically, they are men (adult males). However, socially (emotionally, mentally, behaviorally), they are still “tamed.” They are still in a state of chronic stress, preoccupied with attracting social approval (and avoiding social disapproval) by presenting a persona that conforms to certain ideals of behavior.
In other words, they are anxiously pre-occupied with pretending to match some social ideal that they adopted as a coping mechanism in some stressful situation(s) in the past. If there is an obvious contrast between their social ideal and their actual behavior, they will experience a form of intense fear called shame. They may apologize and promise to keep trying the method that they were already trying (as in “I will be sincere again next time, except even harder than last time”). Or they may attempt to justify a particular incident as somehow conforming to one ideal even if it violated another. Simply put, they remain in an inner conflict (in shame). They may even ridicule other people for “being even more offensive” relative to whatever holy ideal they are worshiping.
What about a “real” man? They are not pretending to be a particular way. They are not pretending to be real. They are not trying to convince anyone that they have always been free of pretenses or inauthenticity. They are not hysterically preoccupied with convincing anyone of anything.
They are not trying to invalidate others who do not match a particular ideal (or who do not even glorify a particular ideal). They are not trying to compete for constant social approval. They are not arguing over which ideals are most ideal or least idealistic. They are not arguing that some ideals or all ideals are shameful.
They recognize that when there is shame, there is an ideal behind that shame (and often the precise ideal is not clear to the person experiencing shame because for them it is not just a simple ideal, but an unexamined assumption). There is nothing unusual to them about shame. It can come and it can go. There is nothing unusual to them about ideals either. They can form, transform, and dissolve.
They are interested in the contrast between tense pretenses and relaxed authenticity. They prefer authenticity. In other words, it is an ideal.
But an ideal is not the same as an essential or a priority. When something is essential, failure to address it will typically have fast, obvious, disastrous effects.
For instance, have you ever driven a car for half an hour? Would it be merely an ideal to keep your eyes open and stay awake for the entire drive, or would all of that be essential? How about breathing several times during that half-hour drive? Would it be ideal to inhale and exhale at least a few times in a half hour or would it be essential? How about having on a seat belt?
So one possible problem (that may be present in the vast majority of people) is that they confuse things that are socially ideal with things that are actually essential or priority. They have been socially programmed to organize themselves around this priority: attracting social approval and avoiding social disapproval.
Again, certain kinds of social approval can be essential in relation to a particular priority. Be attentive to the wording here. There are outcomes and there are methods. With a certain priority outcome (such as keeping a certain job), it may be essential to behave in conformity to certain social ideals. However, the behavioral essentials for working as a paramedic are not the same as for a pilot, right?
So the outcome defines the means. This is not about justifying particular means or invalidating other means. This is just saying that different outcomes will require different methods. By requiring a certain method, I mean that the method will be essential, but only relative to that outcome. The outcome regulates which method is best or most fitting.
Next, ideals are not universal. Notice how different groups will have different ideals? For instance, toddlers and grandparents do not have identical ideals, right? A toddler may learn a few new social ideals in a single day!
So a real man is not confused about ideals. A “real” man does not need to make “having no ideals at all” in to a new ideal to worship. Ideals can be respected for what they are, which is a type of strong preference.
Essentials are essential. With a target outcome that it is essential to produce, there will be no problem with taking unusual risks.
For instance, imagine a person driving a pregnant woman who is in labor to a medical specialist. Is that driver willing to violate traffic rules that they would normally follow? Are they unusually willing to honk or wave or yell in order to aggressively direct other drivers?
Some traffic rules will be nearly essential to follow. Others will be a high priority, but not quite essential. Finally, some rules will be quite easy to discard temporarily.
If we have a moderately strong preference toward a certain pattern of behavior, then we can call it an ideal behavior. It is not an essential behavior (like breathing). It is not even a priority behavior (like waiting for traffic lights to turn green). It is just a strong preference (an ideal).
An example might be to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. There can be legal consequences for only slowing down and making sure there is no traffic, then carefully rolling through (like for a yield sign).
However, what if there has been a collision nearby and a car is spinning wildly toward the stop sign? What if the safest thing is clearly to advance ahead of the stop sign without stopping first?
In some cases, there could be major negative consequences for failing to violate a minor rule. It could be a high priority or even essential to temporarily ignore an ideal. Ignoring what is essential, even temporarily, has a totally different level of consequence than ignoring what is ideal. To help you remember the simplicity of that, consider the importance of breathing while driving compared to the importance of wearing a seat belt.
So real men, like real women, are not hysterically obsessed with perfectionism. They know that essentials are essential, priorities are priority, and ideals are merely ideal.
They also know that there are outcomes that can be so important that typical behavioral ideals will be “relaxed.” In an emergency, practical priorities always outweigh mere social ideals. If an ideal ever conflicts with a priority, the ideal will be immediately discarded….
The more hysterically that someone relates to social ideals, the more conflict or shame they will feel about having temporarily ignored socially-programmed ideals. Note that when a person forms their own social ideals based on observation, they have no confusion that the ideals are just ideals. The ideals that trouble us most are programmed ideals that we have never examined and that we have sincerely confused with behavioral priorities.
What outcomes should someone have as their targets? That is a question about which ideals they have been programmed to use.
A different question is this: which outcomes are essential, which are priority, and which are ideal? If an essential outcome is perceived to be threatened, everything else gets interrupted to promote that outcome.
Next, the linguistic model of a three-category spectrum is arbitrary. We could easily divide the same conceptual spectrum six times or nine times.
So, as each level of priority outcome is fulfilled, then the next lower level comes in to attention as the most important priority that is not yet fulfilled. As the target outcome changes, then the amount of hysteria about social ideals can decline. In other words, when people are most desperate or distressed or emotionally unstable, then they will most rigidly cling to familiar ideals (without any thought of examining them).
When do people examine their ideals? A common sequence is that a high priority outcome comes in to question (or something essential is suddenly threatened), and then people take actions that they know are not consistent with their previouosly stated ideals. So, they take the action and fulfill the high priority, but then experience shame.
Eventually, they may recognize that the shame is merely a social display. Shame is about an expectation of negative social consequences for the temporary violation of an ideal. Shame is just intense embarrassment, and both are forms of alarm, distress, stress, fear, alert, or extreme caution.
Shame is a social signal of submissiveness. One who experiences shame is expecting punishment. Shame is a display of loyalty to old social ideals that were programmed and have never been examined. Once the behavioral ideals are examined, we can recognize that they are mere ideals and also recognize how they can be very useful guidelines, at least for a child or a person of limited social stability or wealth.
When someone lacks discretion and perceptiveness, then rigidly adhering to programmed social ideals is adaptive. It can even be essential to survival, at least for a while.
Consider the practice of lying. It can be very detrimental, like in the context of a job or an important relationship. However, lying can occasionally be a priority or even essential. Otherwise, why would anyone who has ever been punished for lying ever lie again? Why? Because in some cases it may seem to be worth the risk.
The real man is realistic about behavioral ideals. They are formed for a reason. They eventually change. They may be upgraded to behavioral priorities or even behavioral essentials (like in a certain job, it may be essential to always answer the phone every time it rings, or else expect to lose that job).
Are you realistic about ideals and priorities and essentials? Or, are you hysterically distressed about competing for social approval of your particular form of idealism and perfectionism and social obsessiveness? Do you hysterically ridicule others antagonistically (or merely tease occasionally in a casual social way)?
Are you upset by the idea that hysteria and shame exist? Or, do you casually accept the simplicity of the reality of shame and hysteria and denial and so on? Do you plainly recognize that some emotional displays may be shamed as negative or socially invalidated? Or, do you hysterically relate to certain emotions as somehow fundamentally better or worse than other emotions?
If you have a strong preference for certain emotions, that is a sign of being human. If you relate to certain emotions as fundamentally shameful, that is operating within the emotion of shame. Most people are chronically ashamed and hysterically in denial of their constant state of distress and social anxiety.
They may be ashamed of shame. They may not simply respect it. Instead, they may ridicule it in others and deny it hysterically in themselves (or else desperately justify occasional exceptions).
They hysterically practice the shaming of particular behaviors (rather than selectively and efficiently shaming only certain people and only in very deliberate and caring ways). They do not waste their time shaming people they do not know or arguing with strangers about which ideals are the most ideal (or the least idealistic).
They are not competing for social recognition of their authenticity. They are not trying to be glorified as the least competitive or the least socially-anxious.
They are relaxed and natural. They desire what they desire. They assess risks and take the risks they take, then learn from whatever results they produce.
They assess their target outcomes and their behavioral strategies. They adapt. They invent. They test. They refine.
If something is not working for them, they want to know. If it is working, they may want to measure how well it is working.
They are not just hysterically taking actions “because they should.” Or, if they do experience occasional hysteria, they can admit it without shame.
They know they have been naive. They know that confusion is part of life and most instances of confusion are not even important.
They focus on identifying outcomes that powerfully motivate them and then prioritizing the best methods for producing those results. They focus on perceptiveness and effectiveness, not defending prior methods or invalidating some method as inherently… anything.
They are not pretending that certain behavioral standards are always more important than any outcome. They are not hysterical fanatics. They are not “socially tamed.” They may appear quite tame when they choose to promote that appearance, but they may also be “quite intense.”
As for their preferences in relation to female companionship, they notice what appeals to them most, as well as what repulses them. They focus their attention selectively and deliberately, generally ignoring what most people are doing, except when intentionally measuring social trends or influencing social trends.