Man’s Virtues

“What we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man.” — Theodore Roosevelt, The American Boy
“What we have a right to expect of the American boy is that he shall turn out to be a good American man.” — Theodore Roosevelt, The American Boy

What does it mean to be a man? Does it mean we down liters of ice-cold beer or that we drink just to enjoy the taste of beer (temperance)? How much thought is put into what kind of man we want to be — particularly when we enter our twenties? When I was in my twenties, I was more concerned with what I should major in than what kind of man I wanted to be in ten years.

There are many men throughout history who feel leading a virtuous life is the proper way to achieve manliness. Art of Manliness (AoM) is a modern guide of sorts for those aspiring to learn what it is to be yesterday’s man in today’s world. Brett McKay, founder of AoM, has this to say about virtue:

“When most people today hear the word “virtue,” they usually don’t think “manliness.”…However, virtue is far from being sissy or effeminate. The word “virtue” is actually rooted in “manliness.” “Virtue” comes from the Latin virtus, which in turn is derived from vir, Latin for “manliness.”’ ¹

Renaissance man Benjamin Franklin sought to achieve moral perfection as a young man in his twenties and eventually created a system of values to live by.

His list was ambitious. However, Franklin felt his life improved by striving to adhere to these virtues. Before he arrived at his thirteen virtues, he created a plan of conduct at an early age and it can also be a guideline to becoming a man of character:

  1. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time, till I have paid what I owe.
  2. To endeavour to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in every word and action—the most amiable excellence in a rational being.
  3. To apply myself industriously to whatever business I take in hand, and not divert my mind from my business by any foolish project of growing suddenly rich; for industry and patience are the surest means of plenty.
  4. I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of every body.

Worthy endeavors for anyone, indeed. After reading his plan of conduct, I find myself coming up woefully short when measured to these standards, but inspired at the same time to start attempting to live up to them. I struggle with the first goal, frugality, in particular. I’m sure Franklin would consider my massive array of common technological devices and services to be wasteful, if not slightly indulgent

It should be noted that Franklin wished “to live without committing any fault at any time” — an obviously unattainable goal. I feel that it is necessary to seek out and attain these qualities, but achieving perfection is out of anyone’s reach. Franklin realized this soon after his undertaking of achieving moral perfection, that “habit took the advantage of inattention”, and he developed the following method, which was a simplified, compilation of his studies on moral virtues:

  1. “TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
  2. “SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
  3. “ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
  4. “RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
  5. “FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
  6. “INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
  7. “SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
  8. “JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
  9. “MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
  10. “CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
  11. “TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
  12. “CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
  13. “HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
    -The Thirteen Virtues, courtesy of Ben Franklin’s autobiography

The question of manliness is bound to elicit a wide range of responses today (Art of Manliness has done a great job of providing insight and the inspiration to post this blog), but, like I did, I think most young men fail to look deeper into the meaning of being a good man. Two major life events have pushed me to search for the answers: marriage and fatherhood. When I transitioned into each of these roles, I began asking myself how I compare to my father and grandfathers in how I represent myself as a man, a husband, and a father. But until coming across the topics discussed in this blog, I hadn’t really given virtue much thought.

Roman culture believed following basic virtues, the cardinal virtues, led to an honorable life:

  • Prudence: also called “wisdom,” the ability to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time.
  • Justice: also called “fairness,” the perpetual and constant will of rendering to each one his right.
  • Temperance: also called “restraint,” the practice of self-control, abstention, and moderation; tempering the appetition.
  • Courage: also called “fortitude,” forbearance, strength, endurance, and the ability to confront fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.
    -Courtesy of Wikipedia by John Trumbull

As we venture through life, we ought to strive for higher moral ground as it relates to being a man. Fear and uncertainty invade our lives daily. The cardinal virtues say we should confront them head on, with the wisdom to be just and the restraint to stay calm in dealing with these difficult situations — rather than avoid them at all costs.

Teddy Roosevelt had a lot of great thoughts on how a man should carry himself (start here, then here) and we all could benefit in life by making every effort to abide by these values. Roosevelt stressed that we cannot produce good results if we don’t give every effort to “count in any contest” and not lay down at the first sign of adversity or if we’re losing.

“In short, in life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard: don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s words invoke strength and character. I could pen an entire blog of Roosevelt’s speeches and quotes, but I’d advise just searching for them yourself. He encourages us to live a life of purpose, strength, virtue, and service.

I hope this has at least inspired some thought within you, as it has for me. There’s at least one thing that we could start working on tomorrow that could improve our lives in the near future. I think it is important to continue bettering yourself from week to week. It doesn’t have to be a major change or something that you display for others. There is likely no medal of honor awaiting you, either. I encourage you to check out the Art of Manliness website as well. There are so many articles to provoke thought on how you approach “being a man” and it is a much-needed infusion of old school thought into our modern way of living. It seems  a person’s worth has gravitated more toward material wealth instead of character.

I’ll let Ben Franklin close with this bit of advice he left in his autobiography:

“My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judged it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time, and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro’ the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arranged them with that view, as they stand above.”  — Benjamin Franklin on the 13 Virtues



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