A couple months ago I went on a hike with my buddy and his son, my godson.
The kid’s a great kid, but the hike was pretty damn long for a 4 year old. We’d rotate between carrying him and allowing him to trek on his own. When he’d get tired, close to quitting or whining, we’d provide motivation in the form of a call-to-action that men have given younger men for thousands of years.
We told him to man up.
This term has become controversial, as a few aim to get the majority to stop saying it.
This desire to rid our society of this call-to-action comes from a good place. It’s rooted in the notion that men need to talk about our emotions and feelings more. All that the other side wants is to help people live better, longer lives.
Good intensions, but a horrible solution. It’s wrong and destructive to rid such a powerful tool from our vernacular. In this article I’ll cover 7 reasons why calling on our boys to ‘man up’ isn’t just okay, but good and powerful and increasingly necessary.
There seems to be differing ideas of what ‘man up’ means, which is a big part of the problem. As with most things in life, two sides have the same goal, but differing worldviews help them create differing solutions.
As well with most things in life, there is a right answer and a wrong answer. If you want to raise victims, don’t use the term. If you want to raise leaders, use it, but use it wisely.
When my pal told his son to man up, I saw a change in his posture. He stood taller. He forgot his desires to quit and to rest, he put them aside, he rose to the challenge, and he got after it.
We live in a society that places far too much importance on desires and emotions.
What you feel like you are, you are. What you feel like doing, you should do. If you feel sad, you are sad. If you feel broken, you are broken. If you feel lost, you are lost.
Each of those, of course, are a lie if you choose to make them one.
What’s gone is the power given to the individual to own their reactions to events and the responsibility of how they respond to situations. What’s lost is the power given to the individual to shape their reality, their mood, their desires, based on how they act, not how they feel in a given moment. (Read This: The Event Doesn’t Matter. Your Reaction to It Does.)
By removing the call to man up from our vernacular, we’re removing a powerful call-to-action that propels boys to want to become men.
It makes sense that we want to deter our boys from becoming men when we live in a society that degrades men, that sees the masculine virtues that won freedom and wealth and prosperity as archaic and falsely oppressive. It’s a cowards way of thinking, of creating victims where there are none and oppressors where there were only men who made the lives of others better, easier, filled with far more opportunity.
We’re trying to make life easier, when easier isn’t necessarily better. We’re aiming to explain our emotions when our actions are all that matter.
The Great Depression bore our Greatest Generation. Times of plenty bore our weakest.
We do not need to coddle our young men, to tell them to explain their feelings and follow their desires.
We do need to tell them to man up.
To man up isn’t to shut up. To shut up is to shut up, it has nothing to do with rising to the occasion unless shutting up means to stop listening to the weak voice within us that we all have.
If you don’t understand the call-to-action, you were likely never called to said action by a worthy source.
My old man was and is a worthy source. As is my mom. If either of them tell me to man up, it means I’m not being a man. Which means I’m not being dependable, strong, courageous, hard-working, and just. It means I’m being a pussy. I’m not doing what must be done and I’m not doing a good enough job.
I’m listening to the inner voice that wants to give reasons for my failure, that wants to provide excuses for how I’m acting, not the side that calls me to a higher standard.
To man up is to ask a man to do what must be done regardless of his desires, emotions, or feelings.
We tell a young man to man up if he gets his lady pregnant and is thinking of leaving her on her own to fend for her new family.
We tell a young man to man up when he’s complaining about where he is instead of accepting it as his reality, and doing his best to make it better.
We tell a young man to man up when he’s whining about how he feels, calling him to act like who he can be rather than acting like the coward he’s become.
We need this term in our culture.
This term was used heavily in past generations, the generations that fended off the Nazis, gave women the right to vote, ended slavery, and built nations of the west into superpowers.
Winning is a very good thing. We need to win once again, and turning our backs on the virtues that create victory (hard work, dedication, persistence, honor, justice, intelligence) because we’ve become so soft and sensitive that we’re even scared to claim ourselves victorious, we need to once again reclaim them.
Because there is very little honor left in American life, there is a certain built-in tendency to destroy masculinity in American men. ~ Norman Mailer
1. People need more asked of them, not less.
It doesn’t matter the age of the individual, people need to be challenged. By coddling and thinking less of their abilities and toughness, we teach our youth to think less of themselves.
By telling a boy to man up, you’re not telling him that he’s less, but that he can be more – which is always true. We can always do more, be more, learn more, work more, and so forth. We’ve simply slid into an existence as a culture where the ideal is doing nothing, being lazy, and being envious of those who aren’t.
Work is life. Accomplishment is necessary for an individual to feel as though he’s lived a purposeful life. Happiness is overrated. Meaning and purpose and underrated.
People need to be challenged. They need more asked of them, not less. They don’t need a pat on the back, but a kick in the ass, then a high five when they rise to the occasion.
2. Young men need to be connected to something, a lineage that gives them a source of strength and community.
The truth is we’re all connected. Somehow, some way, you are connected to Cato or Napoleon or Theodore Roosevelt. As a man, you can bring that connection close by acting like those men you respect, by adopting common virtues and values and hard work is common throughout.
When you tell a boy to man up, you’re not pushing him down, you’re connecting him to that lineage, those men of history who didn’t let their feelings or desires diminish what they could accomplish.
That’s the key…
This call-to-action isn’t shutting down, it’s rising above. It’s not about closing up, but pushing through.
3. We don’t need to follow our desires, we need our actions to change them.
Every fella I know who’s written a book (not an easy thing to do) has done so on a schedule.
His words weren’t on paper because of feelings or emotion, but because of routine. Regardless of how they felt, they sat at the computer and wrote.
If you’ve ever felt down, you’ll know that a tough workout can change your mood. If you’ve ever felt sorry for yourself you’ll know that charity work can turn that around.
The keyword is ‘work’.
Actions have weight to them. Emotions are fickle and often lies. By telling your body to man up you’re telling him to take control of his emotions rather than letting them control him.
4. Challenging a young man to be more manly is beneficial, not harmful.
Being a man, not a male or a boy, but a real man, is something to be proud of.
Those who call on us to stop telling other guys to man up ignore the masculine virtues that bore free nations and defeated evil ones.
They see masculinity as brutish and oppressive, but my goodness, they’re the same lot that want participation trophies (which we know are destructive). They’re the same lot that want men to work in careers that are typically pursued by women…
… They ignore fact and reality.
Men and women are different, and being a real lady and being a real man are good. They’re the ideal for each sex and should be something we all aspire to be.
Everyone knows a ‘man’s man’, and few would have anything bad to say about him.
Being a man, a manly man, a real man, means being a leader, it means doing what must be done regardless of feelings. It’s acting with honor and courage. How in God’s great name could this be seen as a bad thing?
5. Telling a boy to man up teaches him that he’s not a victim of his surroundings, emotions, desires, or how he feels. He’s in control. He’s in power.
We place a great deal of importance on feelings and emotions.
People can spend their entire lives falling victim to both, never acting because they never felt like it.
The truth is that actions are far more powerful. We can do great things if we’d just act. We can persist day in and day out if we just act.
We can actually become better, stronger, more successful people if we’d just act like it.
To man up is to act regardless of feelings and emotions, and if you want to raise a successful son, that’s a valuable lesson to teach.
6. Telling your boy to man up won’t make him commit suicide.
One of the facts that the ‘stop manning up’ crowd cite is that men are more likely to commit suicide. This is true. Yet, as with most things, it’s true if you stop there, and if you want to prove that we shouldn’t tell our boys to man up, you will stop there.
The deeper, more nuanced reality of suicide and mental health is that men are simply more efficient at suicide. Why? Because we’re more violent and we care less about our appearance.
Women attempt suicide at higher rates. They’re just less likely to do it by doing something physical, like shooting or hanging themselves, or jumping off something tall. They’re more likely to attempt suicide using less violent means, like taking pills or something along those lines.
One study found that 7% of women and 4% of men attempt suicide, but that more men were successful.
Note: I realize that the words I’m using here and the way I’m using them can come across as incredibly insensitive, especially with such a devastating topic. That’s not my intension. I’ve had loved ones commit suicide. Dealing with this issue, however, I find it drives a point home if I don’t fill it with the despair and sadness that comes from those who’ve lost someone close to them. So, my apologies if this is just too coldly worded.
Suicide also isn’t merely a matter of talking about one’s feelings, but more about feeling as though we serve a purpose. When we lose touch with why we’re here, we devalue our lives and our reason for being here.
We can also see that diet and exercise are as effective as anti-depressants.
We’re also calling our young men to man up, less. We’re rewarding participation and not actual victory, devaluing hard work, persistence, and winning in the process. We’re making life easier for them and then the real world smacks them in the face.
As the quality of life increases, suicide rates increase along with it.
Ease is not what we need.
We’re born to overcome, to be challenged, to get pushed around and fight back, not to lie down and give up and sob about our plight.
Train your body to be a fighter, a warrior, a guy who rises to challenges, and he will. That’s love. Excusing him from life isn’t, it’s pity.
7. It will force you to become better.
You cannot tell your son to man up if you’re acting like a coward.
You can’t tell your boy to man up if you’re not treating your wife right.
You can’t tell your son to man up if you’re not being a great example. If you do, it will have the opposite effect.
You have to show him what a real man is, so he doesn’t get confused about what this call to action is.
If you’re abusive, cowardly, weak, he’ll have the wrong reaction to the challenge.
Fatherhood should make us better.
If you’re reading this, it likely has and is, or will.
Be the man your son, your daughter, wife, and family need you to be. If you are, simply watching you, how you act, who you are, will be a challenge that your son or sons will try to live up to.
Get after it.
About The Author
Chad Howse: Chad’s mission is to get you in the arena, ‘marred by the dust and sweat and blood’, to help you set and achieve audacious goals in the face of fear, and not only build your ideal body, but the life you were meant to live.