On the Need for Self Improvement

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility is being superior to you former self.”

In trying to find the source of this quote, I’ve come to the conclusion that, apparently, everyone said it. To me, this is simply further evidence of what I already suspected: it is absolutely true.

Many people seem to find a comfortable level of success and competency and settle into complacency immediately afterward. This is, perhaps, the greatest sin a man can commit against himself. If you are not making a concerted effort to improve, you are likely diminishing. At best, you’re stagnating while the rest of the world improves, leaving you behind.

None of us will ever be perfect. We can always be smarter, faster, stronger, more virtuous, etc. I encourage everyone to seek out their failings, just one at a time if necessary (I have far too many to tackle all at once), and make yourself better in that regard. Whether your pursuit of a superior self means being able to deadlift 500 lbs., speak another language, or live more morally, the effort will not only bring you toward that particular goal. It will bring the core of your being toward greater ease with any accomplishment.

The one thing that causes life to thrive in every fashion is a surmountable struggle. It’s what took primitive hominids, only capable of surviving on the plains of Africa, to every patch of land this planet has to offer, with brief stints on the waters in between, and one day, land that our planet isn’t even offering. Just as this almost magical force can drive a species to better itself, it can drive an individual to better himself. While you may think to yourself, “I’m the crocodile in this scenario: the apex predator with no further need to evolve,” you’ll likely find that you’re actually the Tasmanian tiger. Once you stop bettering yourself, the chances of a new factor entering the habitat powerful enough to remove you skyrocket.

The other great advantage of pursuing those surmountable struggles at every opportunity is that the more and more you improve, the fewer insurmountable struggles exist for you. A slow man can’t outrun a threat, but if he continuously takes part in challenges which just exceed his capacity, he becomes faster and his ability to avoid danger increases. Granted, the primary purpose of this is not simply to be able to survive life threatening situations, though this is obviously important, but that’s an easy example to illustrate the issue.

In our modern society, complete with cars, emergency services, and supermarkets, the struggles aren’t ever present, as they were for our ancestors who had a daily fight to ensure they had the food and shelter required to survive long enough to do it again tomorrow. While I don’t argue that scaling back to the point where daily survival is a concern is the way to go (in fact, it would be a hindrance as we couldn’t then take advantage of our intellect to guide our improvement), we need a replacement for that. You must find a daily struggle for something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same thing every day, or it could be multiple things each day, but you have to test your limits in some way. The more you do so, the further those limits will extend from your starting point.

Run, lift weights, do math drills, try to come up with compelling topics for your blog (and I hope I’m not stretching too much this early in my own endeavor). Figure out a way to better yourself and commit to it every day. When the day is over, evaluate your performance and set a specific goal for the next day. Just keep improving until it seems pointless to take the pursuit any further, then maintain your new found level of excellence while also looking for the next thing to improve.

Nobody ever made history by putting in forty hours a week and spending the rest of their time sitting on the couch watching TV. Comfort will kill you if you embrace it entirely. You have to go out, find things you can’t do, and keep trying until you can. Stagnation is death.

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Man Up

There seems to be a movement lately, specifically opposed to phrases such as “man up”. The assumption behind this is apparently that saying a man should be strong, confident, responsible, ambitious, etc. somehow implies that women are the opposite of these things. While I’m all for gender equality and believe women are capable of matching men in most of these categories (with physical strength being the only exception), this seems to be leading to young men being taught that these values are bad. Due to this, the vast majority of young men either fit into the category of “nice guys” (read emotionally weak) and “bad boys” (emotionally abusive) with a growing segment in between of pick up artists (nice guys pretending to be bad boys for the purposes of getting women to sleep with them and corollaries in the workplace and among non-romantic relationships).

The concept of traditional masculinity as somehow harmful seems to be based entirely on the brutish outliers who may beat their wives or commit rape. I find this equation of anyone displaying masculine traits to such depraved examples deeply offensive. Honorable, manly men have always been the ones to stand up to defend women from the threats they face as a result of their inherent physical and economic disadvantage. To say those men are no better than the ones who would do the same women harm is unconscionable. Men come in all types, of course, and there will always be some who use their advantages to cause harm, but there will doubtlessly be more who condemn the brutes and even a few noble men who actively fight against them. That is, of course, assuming those noble men aren’t trapped in the mentality of the nice guy.

Thankfully, there’s a small, but growing, population of men trying to man up. Some came by this naturally but I imagine the majority, myself included, are reformed nice guys who’ve found a better approach to getting respect (from others and themselves) than those who are just playing at being bad boys.

These men are working to improve themselves rather than follow the same old routine while blaming the world around them for their shortcomings. Those who aren’t happy with their physical strength commit to a dedicated weight lifting routine. Those who are shy around women make it a point to talk to women who intimidate them without following a formula handed to them by some morally bankrupt pick up guru. Those who are unhappy with their knowledge or mental acuity read thought provoking books and engage in mental games. Those who are completely happy with every aspect of their being recognize that happiness as a sickness and work to identify their flaws so they can then work to improve on them. This is what it takes to be a respectable man.

While I’m reluctant to blame feminism for the degradation of respectable masculinity, the new wave movement is at least a suitable marker for the time things started changing. When my father, born in 1952, fell off a building he was painting, temporarily losing the use of one arm (I actually forget which as this was about 25 years ago) no one had to tell him to man up. He stood up, lit a cigarette, and waited for the boss to check in later on in the day so he could get a ride to the hospital (cell phones being few and far between in those days). If I were in the same position, I likely would have cried for a bit before breaking the customer’s window so I could go in and use their phone to deal with the emergency situation, causing a horrible blow to the company image (though that wouldn’t actually happen as I would have quit my job rather than put myself in a position where falling that far was a possibility in the first place; just the idea of falling terrifies me).

Like myself, men today (at least the under forty crowd) don’t seem to be out in the world being men. Instead, we find a job with a decent pay level (or the best we can get) and reasonable job security and spend our forty hours a week there so we can then spend the remaining 128 sitting at home, watching TV and maybe eating, drinking, and smoking too much. I’m endeavoring to change that myself, though I’ve struggled with the difficulty in altering one’s mindset, and I encourage others to do the same.

Whether your failings as a man are due to the influences of feminism, overly cautious parenting, or just too much time spent in the emotional escapism of watching TV, it’s up to you to fix it. Read daily, join a gym and commit to a dedicated training program, learn new skills, pick up a hobby that involves being productive (and maybe even profitable) and take a moment to say hi to that pretty girl (or that pretty boy, your position as a man is in no way predicated on your sexual preference) that would probably never give you the time of day. Take steps to make yourself uncomfortable so you can become better. Coddling is for children.

Be a modern, enlightened man, concerned with gender equality and ensuring that women have the same opportunities as men, but also look back at men of the past to see their strengths and emulate them. Standing up for yourself and others is not a personality flaw. It’s what makes us men.

Basically, man up.

Love is a Verb

I’ve had these thoughts in my head for a long time without sharing them with anyone beyond touting the catchphrase found in this title. With Valentine’s Day coming this Saturday (as little as I’m concerned with the holiday itself) it seems like an appropriate time to share my thoughts with the world.

Modern society seems to think of love as a noun. Some sort of external thing which we can fall into or out of as the fates decide. As a result, modern couples rarely stick together. The divorce rate, slightly better in recent years than it was ten years ago is still unbelievably high and I suspect that the only reason it’s been dropping lately is because so few of my generation have bothered to get married. Some may argue that the higher divorce rate now is due to the fact that in the past, people in unhappy relationships were trapped by archaic societal rules which identified any person who ended their marriage as inherently bad. While this argument may hold some merit, if you look at those couples of the past, trapped by their anachronistic marriages, I think you’ll find that they were generally happier than the modern divorcee. The question is: what made them happier and their marriages more successful?

I believe it’s a function of having a different attitude toward love. I (and I suspect the generation of my great grandparents as well) think of love as an action. Something you have to choose to do, and continue doing day in and day out. Historians, looking into the personal effects of prominent men and women of a few generations ago, can tell you it’s common to find love letters written twenty or even fifty years into arranged marriages that show the same enthusiasm and far more dedication than you’ll find six months into a new marriage where the couple chose one another. While I’m certainly not inclined to argue in favor of arranged marriages, I will argue in favor of what I think made those marriages work so well despite the people involved having no concern for one another in the beginning. That thing which did so much for marriages of the past was, in my estimation, the action of love.

Bear in mind, love doesn’t require grand gestures. Flowers and jewelry, while certainly nice, do a poor job of defining a relationship. What it really takes is a conscious decision and desire to make your partner happy, combined with their reciprocation. If both parties contribute to the intention of a happy relationship and home, that is what they’ll have. After all, if you genuinely live to make another happy, and you’re successful in that, you can’t be unhappy.

As I learned from a recent series on the Art of Manliness, Winston Churchill, who may very well have been the most powerful man of his time (certainly in the top five), famously never strayed from his marital bonds despite all the opportunities such position and fame afforded him. While his was not the arranged marriage common to a generation before him and he certainly experienced enough of life to know what he wanted out of it before marrying at age thirty four, to think that such a man, with so many opportunities and an infamous reputation as a drinker could have maintained a happy marriage until his death at ninety shows that the average man or woman should have no trouble maintaining that level of dedication which held the Churchill’s together without fail for fifty six years despite the hardships of the office, during the worst war Europe has faced.

The Churchill’s are just one family to look at for this dedication which kept love alive. If you look back at others, even the letters and diaries of generations past in your own family if you have access to them, you’ll find something similar. A youthful love, conscientiously maintained over decades, which kept a family happy despite the hardships they faced.

The formula I gave above, desire and decision to make the other happy, isn’t magic. It also isn’t something that only people who are now all dead or dying were capable of. You can do it, too. All it takes is changing your attitude toward love. Don’t look toward Romeo and Juliet (a teenage double suicide being a poor model for romance for other, more obvious reasons) for you example. Look at the elderly couples who, after years upon years of boring existence, are still staying by one another, overwhelmed with happiness every time they meet for those who aren’t able to physically stay together in the home. This should be your goal. Real life isn’t exciting. It’s filled with boring people having boring relationships. The good ones, the epic romances, only differ from the rest in that the people involved have made this choice.

If you have a special someone in your life, sit down today and write that person a letter (the value of a handwritten letter being another thing I’ve recently learned from AoM) telling them what you love about them and how you plan to keep them happy in the coming years. If you don’t think that someone special deserves such a letter, figure out why. You may find that it has more to do with you than them.

I have loved four women in my life. Had any one of them made the decision to love me as I had with them rather than simply abiding the whims of their temporary emotions (the thing that people think love is now) I would probably still be in a happy relationship with that person. The only difference in success and failure in this regard is the effort made. In the interest of not playing the victim in the game of love, I’ll point out that there is at least one woman who’s loved me while I contributed far less to the relationship’s continuance. So, in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, to the women I’ve loved and those who’ve loved me: I’m sorry, I don’t hold it against you, and remember these words in your current or next relationship.

Love is a verb.

What’s Wrong with Porn?

There’s no problem with watching porn when the mood strikes. Everybody watches it, and it’s not like anybody’s getting hurt. It’s really no different than having a fantasy.

Except that it is different. For starters, you should have the mental capacity to generate your own fantasies. You had that as a child, why do you need an aid now? I’ll argue that it has something to do with the fact that you’ve been watching porn.

More importantly, I believe that watching pornography is deeply harmful. Mentally, emotional, physically, and (if you believe there’s an argument for such things) spiritually.

The more porn you watch, it seems to me, the more you need to satisfy the desire. This is similar to the cycle of drug use that takes a person from being a little adventurous at parties to being willing to do anything to get their next hit. The more deeply a drug addict pursues the artificial highs provided by their drug of choice, the lower their capacity to experience real, simple happiness. Similarly, as the ‘porn addict’ experiences more on the screen, he reaches the point where a flesh and blood woman, naked in his bed, does nothing to entice him. Thankfully, I’ve never reached this level myself, but I’ve heard stories of men, and even boys, who had. Imagine a teenager, who’s got a flood of hormones so intense that he’s likely to get an erection while thinking about bagels, being so sexually damaged from his porn viewing habits that he can’t achieve an erection when there’s an attractive girl there, willing to provide him with the real thing.

The way this differs from the drug analogy is that more of the same thing never seems to be sufficient. After watching the same video a couple times, you need to move on to something different. Maybe a new position, or a new girl, or a new guy, hell maybe two new guys. If you allow this cycle to continue, you will likely end up in a place where you’re watching, and getting pleasure from, things that you honestly consider to be repulsive.

I even have a theory that most men who watch child pornography start out with no tendency toward pedophilia. Rather, it’s simply the ultimate conclusion of chasing taboo. Part of the draw of pornography is that you’re not supposed to watch it. Once all the things I’m too timid to publicly admit having watched become mundane, you have to find another thing you’re not supposed to watch. If you follow this all the way through, you’ll find yourself watching something that every measure of decency, and even the law, forbids.

My own decision to swear off pornography came at a time when a man I knew, and generally thought of as a good guy, was arrested on child pornography charges. He said at the time, according to a news article about his arrest, that it was just something he started doing in the last couple years. Assuming he was being honest in this, I can’t imagine he simply had a switch flipped in his head, during his late thirties, which suddenly turned him into a pedophile. More likely, it was this cycle of escalation, which led to him enjoying something others (and I imagine even he) would view as horrifying.

I would say that the best solution is to forgo watching pornography all together, but I doubt most men would go for that. I’ve personally found myself drawn back to it in the years since I first came to the conclusion that watching it was harmful.

Instead, perhaps those reading this should simply resolve to limit their exposure. Swearing off internet porn may be a good first step. If you only have access to pornography that you have to buy in a store, there is a natural limit to the previously mentioned escalation.

After all, the problems people complain about concerning their excessive porn habits seem to be unique to the information age. Despite the religious fervor that stood in opposition to pornography in decades past, assuming it would turn every man who dared view it into a sexual deviant and moral degenerate, I’ve never read any account predating my adulthood that listed impotence as a potential side effect, yet a quick perusal of forums on the topic today will show just this.

So for the sake of your mental, emotional, spiritual, and notably sexual well-being, consider limiting or, preferably, eliminating your exposure to pornography. If nothing else, it may keep you from becoming an impotent pedophile.

Just Do Something

As I sit at my computer in the early days of a new year, I think back on the past fourteen of my adult life and the eighteen that came before that and wonder why I haven’t done any of the things I had planned back then. As a teenager, I had a buffet of options before me and wanted to pursue them all. Sailor, police officer, lawyer, writer, engineer, and even accountant (boring as it seems, I like dealing with numbers).

Endless possibilities, with endless potential. After all, I’m intelligent and motivated. Why shouldn’t I be the master of my own destiny? The fates would bow before me knowing that I was in full control and they had no say in the matter. The only trouble is that my control was not coupled with the focus required to take my place as a man of absolute authority over my realm.

Now, at thirty-two, I deliver pizza for a living. A mild physical disability held me back from the first two careers and prioritizing work over school has led to me only completing one semester of college in all this time which holds me back from three of the others.

There’s one of those old goals, however, that I can pursue despite my minor physical and educational impairments, and that’s writing. The only thing that has held me back from writing is my inability to finish ‘the great American novel’. Today I’ve considered a solution to that. I just need to do something. Rather than trying to write an opus and losing my patience for it a few chapters in, I’ll write this blog; just a little bit of writing to do here and there. As I do so, I’ll theoretically become a better writer and as I become a better writer I may find the ability to write something worthy of publishing, and then I can consider myself to have become a writer.

It seems to me that I, and many of my generation, have never learned how to turn goals into plans, or how to commence with putting those plans into action. We simply drift along from one dead-end job to another waiting for the perfect circumstances to come along before we seize the opportunity to pursue our passion. Some of us don’t even know what our passion is. We simply have a number of things we’d really like to try, but never even do that because the circumstances aren’t right. They never will be. You’ve got to make your circumstances rather than waiting for them to happen to you. That’s what I’m doing here.

I don’t know that anyone will ever read this. It’s not even really intended for public consumption. It’s more of a method to practice, and become proficient at, my chosen profession so that I may one day actually make it my profession, rather than simply being a lofty goal I’ve held for years without ever acting upon it. The value of posting it online comes from the fact that someone might read it. If anyone does, I’ve got to be sure it’s good. This is what makes it practice at professional writing, rather than simply keeping a journal, which is a worthy pursuit, but not something in which I can maintain an interest.

For anyone out there who decides to follow me on this journey, I’ll warn you that the subject matter is likely to vary drastically from one entry to the next. I’ll likely be writing about my efforts to become a better man, my political views, my thoughts on religion, and sometimes it may just be a random rant on how much of a dick my boss is. I plan to keep doing it, though, and if you plan to keep reading it, I’ll be happy for your feedback.

So this is my project for 2015. I’ll write a little bit every week and see where it takes me. Just to do something. With any luck, my project for 2016 will be to write that book. For my potential readers, who may be stuck in dead-end jobs looking for a way out, I urge you to do the same. I’m not necessarily suggesting you start a blog as I’m doing. After all, writing isn’t for everyone, and for all I know it may not even be for me. But any little thing to move beyond your current situation

Just do something.