The internet is full of lists of the skills a man should master. They are usually offered as advice to the young, uncertain male. Such articles were around in my youth and decades before. The Stoics, in particular, attempted to define what “a man” consisted of. Women need the list of manly tasks as much as men do: the better to bypass those men who don’t have “the right stuff” or any desire to learn more than they know.
I am about to ignore the wise admonition, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” and offer you my own list. God help you. Not complete, but more psychological than most. You might have guessed as much. The catalog will focus on urban talents – the things best fit to the city – over rural skills or physical survival abilities, like escaping a bear attack.
- Learn to tie a Windsor Knot. Most men can’t create a triangular, symmetrical knot in their neck tie. “Not” good.
- Make eye contact: the kind that shows kind interest. You are paying attention and unafraid. Avoid the scary variety.
- Be able to tell a clean joke. Practice until you can. Humor is sexy, so I’m told.
- Know how to lead. If you are waiting for the recognition you deserve – for the crowd to realize a great man is in their midst – you may have time to read an encyclopedia. Raise your hand and take charge.
- Understand investments. Do not rely on the wisdom of those who want to sell you stocks in return for a commission. Dozens of books exist to guide you. Start with A Random Walk Down Wall Street.
- Dismiss 80% of what other people say about you, the good and the bad, but recognize the 20% you should take to heart.
- Learn to shoot a gun. Love or condemn firearm use, as you wish, but do try to enhance your understanding of its discipline and power.
- Be able to apologize. Don’t be one who regularly blames his failures on others.
- Practice forgiveness, but not until you’ve dealt fully with the hurt and anger inside.
- Become adept at giving speeches, toasts, and telling stories. Just you in front of an audience, a form of public nakedness with your clothes on.
- Don’t merely stand up for yourself, but for something more important than yourself, too. Live your values. Recognize how you fool yourself. Trust me, you do.
- Give a man’s handshake. Neither squishy nor bone crushing.
- Childhood is a time to push back your tears. Maturity is a time to permit your eyes to moisten.
- Learn how to sample and evaluate wine when the waiter presents a bottle to you.
- Become adept at a sport no later than your entry to school. Best if you choose the most popular team competition in your region. Personal stature is enhanced by this, a standing of benefit for your first 20 years or more. The camaraderie will be cherished for the rest of your life.
- Drill yourself on keyboarding and cursive writing. You need to communicate. A handwritten letter conveys even more weight, personal consideration, and intimacy than in the time before keyboards.
- Learn how to do things face-to-face: job interviews, asking someone on a date, returning merchandise. Ending a relationship, too. Don’t hide behind a phone call or, worse still, your email and twitter account.
- Become proficient in negotiation.
- Listen to people, not only what they say, but what is not said. Psychological-mindedness must be developed, not assumed. Don’t think, in amazement, “He isn’t logical.” You are expecting too much of the human race if you do.
- Practical skills: ironing clothes, cooking, changing a diaper, shuffling cards, buying clothes, etc.
- Buddies don’t count every nickel when trying for the impossibility of perfect equity over a friendly meal. Make friends and accept their short-comings or tell them the problem.
- Learn to climb a rope. Once done, you will recognize that what first seems impossible is not.
- Always keep a serious book in mind.
- Do not delay your pursuit of women until you “understand” them. Rejection is part of the game and may say more about the rejector than the rejectee. In my clinical practice I encountered many ladies who first deflected a man who would become a mate. Develop resilience in the face of discouragement. Defeat is a facet of every life, except for those who hide behind the barricade.
- Say I love you. Get to the point of being able to tell people why they matter to you, not just women.
- Expose yourself to ideas that may not resonate at first. Learn to think critically, read critically, listen critically. If all you know is what you’ve heard – blindly accepted – you know little.
- Become acquainted with the enormous power of waiting. There are times when people will move toward you because of the magnetic force of your stillness. And silence. Many run from a wild pursuit. Practice patience.
- Know some expressions in a foreign language. Master in detail at least one area of knowledge beyond your work, sports, and auto racing.
- Identify your dark side or become its victim. The things you do not acknowledge about yourself will control you.
- Be able to make small talk.
- Practice kindness and respect for the worth of every person.
- Find out about making it and taking it. A man doesn’t always ask permission. The doors of life must be identified and understood. Sometimes they are wide open and friendly. Sometimes they are closed until you knock for attention and advance. Locked portals must be respected or broken down, including those inside of you. Obstacles needn’t deter you from making a claim.
Much of what I’ve written is about a life in the urban West. Were I an Eastern philosopher, the list would be different. But, at least one more Buddhist-influenced suggestion should be added.
- When you converse with someone about ideas, try to efface your ego: lose your “self.” Listen to the thoughts and speak the thoughts (and their justification) without prejudice or attachment to your position. Permit the logic of your dialogue to be “authorless,” without concern over whose notions will “win.” What I’ve described doesn’t happen much in the places most of us live, but perhaps giving up the necessity of victory is the essential step toward learning something new.
The top painting is A Portrait of an Unknown Man by Antonello da Messina. Next comes Wassily Kandinsky’s Composition VI – 1913. Claggett Wilson’s WWI painting follows: Flower Death – the Bursting of a Heavy Shell – Not as It Looks, but as It Feels and Sounds and Smells. Finally, the Roraima Cliffs by Paulo Fassina. Wikiarts is the source of the first two. The Wilson painting comes from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Wikimedia Commons is the source of the Fassina photograph.
These are 33 things EVERYONE should know, not just “a man”, don’t you think?
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Doubtless, we should all know as much as we can. That said, I wrote this with an eye toward what might be considered priorities for men, in particular. Yes, there would be lots of overlap between men and women. But, to take only one example, would you include tying a Windsor Knot as among the 33 most important things a woman should know? Thanks for your comment, Brewdun.
Actually I would. Lots of girls need to know this for work I used to wear a tie to school. Also as a mum to 2 little boys should something happen to my husband, I would have to become both mother and father and teach them thus stuff. Zero clue about urinals but then I don’t count learning to pee standing up as an essential life skill. A man can get by in life (I think) while sitting down to pee??!
A world without urinals! I’d never give that a thought. The toilet industry would love the suggestion, quite a boon to the construction sector of the economy! Congratulations on your two little boys.
I absolutely agree with these things a man ‘should’ know, but I do have to ask you one small question? Where do I find these men as I’ve not met one yet?
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I haven’t either, Joanna. The list is aspirational. If mastery of each of the 33 items were required, I’d be left behind myself. The best comment on an “ideal man” might be the words of Antony over the body of Brutus at the end of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar:”
This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world ‘This was a man!’
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Excellent post, Dr. Stein! A list to be printed and put into daily practice by men who make decisions that affect all of our lives.
As a woman and mother, I draw attention to a few that are a must for the men in our lives:
~ Be able to apologize. Don’t be one who regularly blames his failures on others.
~ Don’t merely stand up for yourself, but for something more important than yourself, too. Live your values. Recognize how you fool yourself. Trust me, you do.
~ Expose yourself to ideas that may not resonate at first. Learn to think critically, read critically, listen critically. If all you know is what you’ve heard – blindly accepted – you know little.
~ Practice kindness and respect for the worth of every person.
Regarding your photo, “Roraima Cliffs”: They are located in Guyana on its southern borders with Brazil and Venezuela.
Thank you, Rosaliene. What a beautiful site. I’ll bet you miss it. Thanks for the enlightenment.
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Words from a wise man, and YES, a sense-of-humor is very sexy, along with kindness and intellect!
I have always pictured a wise man as an impossibly old guy in a toga, sandals, and holding a staff in his right hand; long white hair blowing in the breeze. Or a blind seer like Teresias in Oedipus Rex. I do not look the part, but am tickled that you honor me with the title, Nancy. What’s more, now I know what I should wear for Halloween! Thank you.
I totally agree, Nancy.
I commend you for not worrying much about the political correctness of such a post. As a mom to both a son and daughters, there are life skills and knowledge I want them both to know and those that are (dare I say) gender specific. The final item you listed, Buddhist inspired, applies to us all, but in my experience, I find men much more attached to their opinions and being right.
By the way, I’m a sucker for a man in a nice tie.
Just before I read this, I heard a news bulletin that a weather satellite detected a significant migration of people wearing ties. Now I understand! Alas, the tied-up legion will be disappointed when they cannot find you.
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good blog . helpful information
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