[Article] What makes a man

First published on The Jakarta Post Weekender, January 2012 issue

When a friend asked me what I intended to write in this article about “blokes”, and I explained the basic concept, her response was: “Oh, you mean the good side of men.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at her sarcastic tone.

Surely they’re not all that bad. In my mind, I ran through a list of the men around me who – in my humble opinion – have given their team a great name, that is, from the point of view of the opposite sex.

The first name to come to mind was, somehow, Brad Pitt. I must excuse myself to all the male readers, but don’t you think that guy’s sexiness went up a notch or two after making a family with Angelina Jolie? The way he lovingly holds his children while staying the epitome of cool is a quality that can make almost any women’s heart melt.

But I don’t have to go to Hollywood to find a great guy. In the last three gatherings I attended (including in my household!), it was the man of the house who cheerfully cooked for all of us while the women sat about chatting.

I even know a bunch of male friends who proudly call themselves breastfeeding dads (twitter @ID_AyahASI): Indonesian husbands who are fully supporting and helping their wives in breastfeeding their children.

These men are obviously not shy of showing their sensitive side, which some might deem too “feminine” or “weak” for a man. Yet, to me, they seem to be more complete, more at ease with their manliness than most.

So what is this quality of “manliness”? What makes a man a man?

Quality Counts

The ongoing – often unproductive – debate over what is appropriate for men (or for women for that matter) seems to stem from the confusion of referring to the biological fact of being male or female rather than to the masculine (active) and feminine (receptive) qualities.

In truth, as many traditions state, every person (whether of the male or female sex) possesses both masculine and feminine qualities, in different amounts. The complete person therefore has these two qualities in balance.

What “balance” means in this context is different for each of us. Nevertheless, seeking balance is natural to us all. In fact, the masculine and feminine qualities in each of us need the other for balance, and to reach their full potential.

It’s unfortunate, then, that in these times, the dominant males – or even females – tend to be those who do not have their feminine qualities in balance and who are interested in self-serving power and wealth. Inappropriate aggression and failure to express emotion – a reflection of the dominant masculine (active) qualities – are often misinterpreted as strength.

The results of this condition – whether on a personal, social, national or global level – are obvious to all – and obviously unfortunate. There is no question in my mind that there needs to be further balancing of the feminine. I have to emphasize, however, that this is a balancing process, and not preference of one or the other.

Becoming a balanced, complete human being requires a compassionate, honest scrutiny of oneself and the courage to really look into our self and see what is going on within, without making any judgment of good or bad … because it is neither.

Through this honest process, we start to realize that all events in the world – including each major or minute change within us – only happen through a continuous, seamless interplay between the two qualities of masculine and feminine. One cannot do without the other.

We recognize the dynamics of the two qualities within us, smoothly shifting their expression like the black and white of the yin and yang principles fading naturally into one another while remaining black or white.

It is only when we allow this masculine–feminine interaction to happen naturally within us that we become a complete human being, without defying the true nature of our biological sex. Man stays true to his male-ness and woman to her female-ness. At the same time, each possesses the balanced ever-changing dynamics of feminine and masculine qualities within.

Significant Others

This leads to another intriguing question: If a person can be complete on his/her own, what then of man–woman relationship? Does it still serve a purpose? Thankfully, yes. In addition to the necessary meeting of man and woman for the sake of procreation, relationships can actually assist us in fulfilling our purpose in life.

Unfortunately, we often use these relationships as a substitute for something that can only be – or needs to be – found within our very own self. This frequently implies projecting onto the partner the exclusive possession of feminine or masculine qualities.

If we do this, we are failing to fully acknowledge their potentiality as a complete human being. We see them as a means to completion, an external complement that we need if we are to complete ourselves. This may lead to severe attachment and intense loneliness if our “other half” is not around.

This is such a shame, considering that, at their best, relationships can actually help us to discover our true selves.

But first things first. Man, take that bold step and reclaim your femininity.

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