Nowadays, there’s a lot of debate about what a man should be. There’s actually been so much debate that we’re suffering a serious identity crisis.
Does a man do the dishes and the laundry? Does he provide for his family? Does he spend his days and nights watching ESPN with his faithful companion Bud Light? What exactly does he do? Should he be tough? Nurturing? Wimpy? Decisive?
It would be a lot easier to answer this if it didn’t seem like the answer changes every week. The boss expects one thing, our wives and girlfriends another, and our kids suffer the consequences of this indecision.
More than 2,500 years ago, before the Internet and Fox News, before Urban Outfitters and super PACs, before Twitter and twerking, there was a Chinese sage named Chuang Tzu, who followed the way of Tao.
He didn’t wear a Paul Stuart suit or work at Goldman Sachs. He didn’t read GQ or have a Facebook page and he certainly never used LinkedIn to find a job. And yet he was revered for his wisdom.
Meaning of manhood
In one writing, Chuang Tzu questioned the meaning of manhood:
“What is meant by a ‘true man’?
The true men of old were not afraid
When they stood alone in their view.
No great exploits. No plans.
If they failed, no sorrow.
No self-congratulation in success.
They scaled cliffs, never dizzy.
Plunged in water, never wet,
Walked through fire and were not burnt.”
Barack Obama vs. Vladimir Putin
What does all that mean? Is Barack Obama a true man? Is Vladimir Putin? Is Rush Limbaugh? Is Jimmy Fallon? What about George Clooney?
I sat and wondered, “Do I know a true man?” A man not polluted by political agendas and special interests. A man not tainted by self-deceit, narcissism and the relentless pursuit of more — more money, more recognition, more pleasure, more praise, more possessions.
Does a true man, like a politician, strive to please the most people? Where is the truth in that? Does a true man think like the crowd, the culturally fashionable and the enlightened masses? Where is the truth in that?
Does the true man embrace views propounded in newspaper editorials and blogs? Or does the true man, like Socrates, resist the tyranny of the majority and make his decisions based on principles rather than public opinion?
Integrity or material success?
Does the true man value integrity more than material success? Should I look for the true man on Wall Street or in the White House?
Should I look for the true man in Hollywood or in the Vatican? Does he work for The New York Times or National Review or Vanity Fair or “none of the above”?
And what about the true woman? Is Kim Kardashian or Maureen Dowd a true woman? Do Sarah Palin and Nancy Pelosi have the necessary qualifications? Show us the true women who can scale cliffs.
Was Mother Teresa or Princess Di a true woman? Does a true woman have to be successful in the eyes of the world?
Considered the greatest of all Chinese philosophers, Chuang Tzu worked as a minor civil servant. He wasn’t an “influencer” or “thought leader” by modern standards.
It is said that the king, hearing of Chuang Tzu’s wisdom, sent messengers bearing gifts to lure him to the royal court. What a great career opportunity.
But Chuang Tzu laughed and told the bureaucrats, “A thousand ounces of silver are a great gain to me and to be a high noble minister is a most honorable position. But have you not seen the victim-ox for sacrifice? It is carefully fed for several years, and robed with rich embroidery that it may be fit to enter the Temple. When the time comes, it would prefer to be a little pig, but it cannot.
“Go away quickly, and do not soil me with your presence. I would rather amuse myself in a filthy ditch than be subject to your rules and restrictions,” Tzu continued. “I prefer the enjoyment of my own free will.”
So please lead me to the nearest “filthy ditch” so I can learn to be a true man.
Joe Pisani, who grew up in Shelton’s Pine Rock neighborhood, may be reached at email@example.com.