Masculine Virtues

In this post, I want to take a look at what I think are unique virtues of masculinity. In my view, there aren’t many core virtues that are intrinsic to manhood. Indeed, I could only think of two, yet from these three virtues: Strength, Aggression, and male sexuality. I’m going to leave sexuality for another time and focus on the other two here.

I’m going to start by taking a look at each virtue, talk about what makes it virtuous, discuss how it can be turned to evil ends, and finally look at ways to cultivate it.

This article is part of a series on masculinity. You can read the introductory post here.

The Virtue of Physical Strength

One of the most primal sorts of differences between men and women, on average, is physical strength and size. Aside from our genitalia, it’s about the most immediately obvious difference between men and women. As a result, we very strongly associate masculinity with strength.

There are many reasons physical strength is a virtue. Men’s strength allows them to do the kinds of hard work that are helpful for survival. Be it carrying, building, or breaking, the more strength you have, the more you can achieve. Of course, strength also figures prominently in violence; when two people come into physical conflict, strength is a significant advantage you want on your side of a fight.

Strength is a form of power, and like all power, it can be used for good or ill. Thus, while it is a worthy virtue, it can, and often is put to evil purposes. Men use strength for selfish reasons; intimidating or assaulting people who are weaker. Nonetheless, there is nothing inherent in strength that requires it to be used this way.

Cultivating physical strength through exercise, diet, and hard work is a good way to build self-confidence. Genetics do play a pretty large role here so I think it makes sense to have incremental goals based on your own starting point. Like anything in the realm of self-esteem, it’s best to either work hard at a goal and admire what you have achieved or be content with who you are already. Trying to measure yourself by those most gifted is a recipe for frustration.

For those who have an abundance of physical strength, I think we have a responsibility to use it for the benefit of others rather than to gain an advantage over them excepting for just conflict or mutually agreed competition.

The Virtue of Agression

While physical strength is pretty simple to discuss, this virtue is quite challenging. Just picking a single word to define this virtue was difficult. Aggression has so many negative connotations, yet I think it best encapsulates the widest possible meaning, both good and bad. Drive, determination, ambition, courage, and many other terms could also be put here, but because I’m trying to boil this virtue down into its primal essence, I’m going with Aggression.

Like strength, this is something that stems from human genetics. Men’s hormones, specifically Testosterone, play a big part in making men, on average, more aggressive than women. This manifests itself in nearly every aspect of life. It drives men to strive for greatness despite the challenges, it inspires men to face dangerous circumstances, and it motivates us to compete with others and better ourselves.

Its virtue lies in it being a motive force. Like a wellspring of energy, our aggression makes us work harder, fight more fiercely, and even love more passionately. When channeled for the good of our loved ones and our society, our impulse to aggression is often what gets us moving and keeps us going.

Aggression may well be men’s greatest asset, but it can also be our greatest weakness. Violent crime is primarily the domain of men, and it’s our aggression that is behind those statistics. Even outside physical violence, men’s aggression can lead to all manner of abuse and exploitation.

Unlike strength, aggression is a virtue that is best in moderation. It’s great to have that inner fire, but unless it is directed and appropriately controlled, it is bound to get you into serious trouble. Thus there are two struggles here for virtuous manliness: to cultivate your drive, and to control your angrier impulses.

Outside the world of pharmaceuticals, I’m not sure it’s possible to manipulate your drive. It’s more practical to remove impediments to your motive force. Fear is probably one of the big roadblocks for many men. It can be fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of others, or even a fear of success. Laziness can also bottle you up in its snug cocoon leaving you dreaming of ambitions while you do nothing. The key to overcoming these things is often finding the right external motivations and getting support from those who want to see you succeed.

Self-control over your anger and violent impulses is one of the most important qualities of a virtuous man. While men are sometimes chided for “suppressing” their emotions (and that can be a real problem), I think that maintaining rational behavior in the face of our anger is critically important to cultivate. I considered including self-control as a masculine virtue, but honestly, both men and women face challenges in channeling emotion away from socially destructive behaviors. I think the greatest tool here is using our reason to develop the mental tools to temper our aggression and channel it to useful activities. Sublimation is a good example; directing our aggression from doing violence to achieving some productive or entertaining ends.

Another important tool for handling aggression is to think deeply about the structure of your life and work to eliminate stressors that create negative aggressive feelings. I don’t think men’s aggression necessarily tends to violence but when we are aggravated and frustrated, that is the channel it flows into most readily. By using our reasons to try and build a life of greater harmony and peace, we have less occasion to try and deal with overwhelming anger.

What about….

There is a whole lot more to being a good man than being buff and aggressive. There are innumerable virtues I’ve not talked about here, but I don’t find these virtues to be intrinsic to being a man. Nearly every other virtue I can think of in association with being a good man is also a virtue I think of as part of being a good woman. There is a lot more that men and women have in common than separates them.

I also want to add that for a woman to have these virtues, doesn’t make her less of a woman, just as for a man to have typically feminine virtues makes him less of a man. It’s only that these virtues come more easily to men due to our genetics and thus they are what we admire and respect in men and things we don’t commonly expect in women.

I’ve avoided talking about male sexuality as a virtue for two reasons. The first is that it’s not a subject I feel especially informed about. the second is that it’s very complicated and difficult to discuss in terms of being a virtue. I do want to do some articles on healthy sexuality and advice based on what I’ve learned, just not today.

Ultimately, no one needs to be judged on some deficiency of any of masculine qualities, but I do think that they are qualities we can cultivate and qualities that we can reasonably admire. One of the key ways we can work at being at peace with ourselves is not to be too jealous of what we may lack, but to admire what others have. To this end, it’s also important for those with admirable virtue to put those qualities to work uplifting everyone.

Sigfried

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