The Morning After: Defining The Modern Man In An Unsocial America
It’s now the early morning of a very interesting time in the United States. I drink orange juice, walk my dog, say hello to the people I usually see every day, and generally go about life as normal.
I can’t ignore the stress and confusion that lingers in the air, the off-kilter glances and the exasperated sighs on the subway, the cautious and generally cold way people seem to carry themselves down the sidewalk today.
This morning alone I half listened to the end of the world sermons peddled between muted groans of the disillusioned and aimless. We live in a world that was different from yesterday but regardless I’m here to comment on what is and what can be for me as a man in a world that seems different than the one we came from.
As I believe everyone is aware, here in the United States, we have elected a new Commander-in-Chief to lead our country for the next four years.
A cycle of campaign speeches, 15 second highlight reels across every channel of communication – new and old – and a never ending social overload of difference of opinion now comes to a conclusion.
We as a connected society can now firmly say one chapter is over, but of course as the nature of stories go, there’s always something else to be written.
The intent of this piece is not to be political, I choose not to comment on political parties or on who won or even my personal beliefs on our current election cycle, because in the end it is not constructive to the point I’m trying to make.
I believe that we have had enough of politics as a community. I can’t speak for anybody else but there is an obvious level of fatigue associated with this year’s election cycle, I’d never even think I’d feel so integrated with the political fervor that had occurred so early in my life and frankly I am tired.
Whichever perspective you or I may have we can at least agree that for the sake of this conversation politics shouldn’t matter. This is a discourse on what the mantle of leadership has been, and where I stand on broken ground.
I was inspired to convey my thoughts after watching one of my own inspirations of what modern masculinity looks like, Steven Colbert, the current successor of The Late Show and formerly of The Colbert Report, conclude his Election Day late night special with the same level of confusion and bewilderment that seems to reflect one half of our public.
What inspired me however was his call for unity in the face of division, and how no matter what the future may hold, that as a man I can say I aspire to this basic level of respect that we can have for one another.
Make no mistake, The United States is very divided, but this is no different of people anywhere. There is division amongst ideals, on current events, on what we should eat for lunch, on style, on movies, people differ.
What makes us different is our ability to communicate, maybe not to the degree of quality that we should aspire to in most forums, but we do communicate and try to forge a sense of understanding.
It’s an unsaid principle that each man who has led our nation has tried to instill towards the citizens under their charge; the idea that through diplomacy, through communication, and through our ability to work together we can aspire to be more.
Theodore Roosevelt once said that “we need the iron qualities that go with manhood. We need the positive virtues of resolution, of courage, of indomitable will, of power to do without shirking the rough work that must always be done.”
These qualities that Roosevelt sought to imbue upon his political career stemmed from his own personal convictions as a man who would lead others. He sought to be progressive in a world that seemed rigid in nature using his own sense of will.
To lead by example, to persevere in the face of division, key dogmas that carry on today. Of course I would wager that the political and social structures today wildly outpace Roosevelt’s vision for the future, but every man who leads must be prepared for growth beyond the scope of their ideals.
And grown we have, as a people we communicate more, we share ideas quicker and more freely than at any point in history. The place at which as a community we now stand is light years away from where we started.
Men have changed roles, masculinity has become reformed, and now the social man is one who is enlightened and aware of his environment. And every man worth his salt looks back on the unspoken criticisms that history provides us to look upon through a lens for the future.
One leader, despite his short time in office, I look upon with great respect.
Despite only serving for 200 days within the Oval Office, James Garfield famously said “I mean to make myself a man, and if I succeed in that, I shall succeed in everything else.”
This ‘means maketh man’ mentality harkens so close to the nature of New York City which glows from sunup to sundown.
A city forged and revised over and over, as new generations of leaders and innovators paint their own colors on the shared canvas, one unified feeling of self determination rings true.
Can I be an agent for change in my own life even when the world seems to have determined the voice we speak in from above? Does who represents us collectively mean that I must alter my individuality, my perspective?
Constant thoughts that ceaselessly antagonize every New Yorker even before their first cup of coffee. Andrew Jackson thought otherwise during his own presidency, practicing a higher form of composure instilled by his own mother who gave him the advice to “Avoid quarrels as long as you can without yielding to imposition. But sustain your manhood always.”
As an homage to her wise words, Jackson would define his manhood through the pursuit of education, leading him to be an excellent lawyer and eventually utilizing his raw charisma and masculinity towards his ascent to the presidency.
This candor, whether it be American or universal in nature, seems to be intrinsic across individuals throughout time – oh how has time passed.
Within the last fifty years, from eras only understood through the lessons of my own father, it’s hard to parse ideology from the realities we face.
Words spoken for us, an ever-growing discontent, the growing pains of a rapidly advancing world all adding up to that previously mentioned feeling of disillusionment. Every day we grow closer to a realistic version of a Tom Clancy tale, with whatever brewing compounding to the sum of all fears.
Historically speaking, however, our perception of what it means to be a social man has always been evolving. From the classic interpretation of the Kennedy era of America, one rife with division from the fight for Civil Rights, the nature of masculinity had at that point evolved from that of the image of a man during World War II nearly two decades prior.
Though classic by modern standards, Kennedy, and men like Sinatra, Hugh Hefner, and Ian Fleming’s James Bond were representative of a changing tone and some would say reacquisition of masculinity.
Each could be described as men of a social nature in a time where society was being upheaved to remake something new out of the old, being able to convey their ideology, ascertain of their position, and be agents of change.
Even Kennedy famously challenged the world to place a man on the moon, and had Armstrong taking that monumental leap for mankind.
What does this mean for me however? I am no voice for a generation, a slice of the general consensus in a modern millennium. Would I even want to be?
I won’t deny that it’s hard to see a world which isn’t so cordial or welcoming in lieu of discord and a ceremonious appreciation for a lack of trust in our fellow man. And as timeless as some male colloquialisms may be, how can I translate these truths to a day that will evidently go down as a benchmark in American history?
In all honesty when it comes to the epitome of modern masculinity personally it isn’t found through any classic form of male role model shown in movies despite my admiration for what characters such as Captain America may represent, but rather from our most recent president Barack Obama.
A quote I always remember from his first inaugural address when I watched on a cracked iPhone during class, it goes, “As the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself.” I don’t know why that quote stuck with me but on this morning it seems to carry more weight.
The world is smaller, quite so in fact. And despite the so called digital alienation as a byproduct of a more interconnected society, I do believe in Obama’s words. We all share a common humanity, we can attempt to understand each other. Obama saw us as a nation of individuals that would make the whole better, and that’s something I seek to practice within my own life.
I am a modern man, I am a social man, and you and I are alike in many ways. I hear the whispers, I see the headlines, but I won’t let them speak for me.
I speak for myself, and rather than passively go through the five stages of grief that a lot of people seem to be experiencing, I’d preferably attempt to consider what can be for me and those in my life with others who both share and differ on my opinions.
So maybe in the days to come, let’s put the politics aside and stop being afraid of things that may come, let’s find a common ground, sip some tea, and find the means to construct a unified future for all of us.
Let’s take the time to listen, and heal from our divide.