February 25th, 2012 // 8:37 am @ Oliver DeMille
A review of Orrin Woodward’s game-changing new book, Resolved: 13 Resolutions for LIFE
by Oliver DeMille
The freedom of any society is directly related to the quality of books that are widely read in that society. That said, there are some books everyone should read, like The Federalist Papers and Democracy in America.* And in a society like ours where we are desperate for more leaders at all levels, truly excellent books on leadership are vital to the future of freedom.
I’ve read Woodward’s books before, so when this one arrived in the mail I put away everything else and read it straight through. It kept me up most of the night, and it was so worth it!
This is a fabulous book on leadership. It outlines 13 resolutions every person should make in our modern world, and gives specific helps on how to turn them into habits. Indeed, this book could be titled The 13 Habits of Success and Happiness for Everyone. The stories and examples from great leaders of history and current events are moving and uplifting. I literally have never read a better book on leadership than this one.
Woodward’s book is on par with the great leadership works like:
- Good to Great
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
- Acres of Diamonds
- A Message to Garcia
- Theory of Constraints
- The E-Myth
- Cashflow Quadrant
- Leadership and Self-Deception
- The Radical Leap
- One Minute Manager
- Rascal: Making a Difference by Becoming an Original Character
- Emotional Intelligence
It is truly a revolution in leadership books.
The 13 resolutions are exactly what we need leaders to adopt across our society. They are applicable to family and home leadership, community and business leadership, and societal and national leadership. They apply to the United States and other countries, and together they form a blueprint for renewing America and innovating a new and better Western Civilization.
The book is divided into three parts: private resolutions, public resolutions and leadership resolutions. Each of the 13 resolutions build upon each other, and together they create an effective and motivating system of becoming a better person and leader. They help the reader improve in career and in societal impact.
This focus on societal leadership is both timely and profound. In the 1950s we experienced a major “leader-shift” in society. Before World War II, most communities were led by professionals—doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, etc.—and before that by big landowners and even earlier tribal chiefs. The management revolution started by Edward Deming and popularized by Ray Kroc changed the focus of leading society from professionals to managers. This was captured in William Whyte’s great 1956 classic The Organization Man.
By the 1980s another major leader-shift occurred, this time from management (“do things right”) to leadership (“do the right things”). The great transitional classic of this shift was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. It outlined 7 habits that leaders needed in order to help their companies excel, and these habits became part of the mainstream language: for example, “Be Proactive,” “Think Win-Win,” and “Synergize.” Another great classic of this shift was Synergetics by Buckminster Fuller. The leadership revolution brought a whole new vision of what is means to be a leader.
Today we are witnessing a similar leader-shift, this time from leadership of organizations (“do the right things”) to leadership of society (“move society in the right direction”). Woodward’s Resolved is a seminal classic in this change. In fact, some of the early books in this change include Launching a Leadership Revolution by Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady, The 8th Habit by Stephen Covey, and Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman.
Woodward is more than an author; he has actually put these 13 resolutions to work in his business leadership. For this leadership, Orrin Woodward was named the 2011 International Association of Business’s Top Leader of the Year Award. His book Resolved outlines how we can all become such leaders.
In Resolved, Woodward shares a host of ideas and effective means of using family, business and societal leadership to impact the world. For example, he shows how Gibbon and Toynbee taught the laws of decline that are now attacking our culture and modern free nations.
He shows the three types of freedom and why they depend on each other—and how the loss of one is actually a loss of all. He helps leaders understand how freedom and character are inseparable and at the root of all societal progress and therefore leadership. His model of “Leadership Legacy” alone is worth the price of the book, and adds a whole new dimension to leadership literature.
Woodward adds several other new models to the leadership genre. He shows how five important laws from science, economics and history (Sturgeon’s Law, Bastiat’s “Law,” Gresham’s Law, the Law of Diminishing Returns, and the Law of Inertia) are combing in our current world, and what leaders need to understand and do about these five laws—individually and collectively.
These five laws are already part of our mainstream culture, but the analysis of how they are working together and what future leaders must do about it is new, deep and profound. No leader can afford not to understand this cutting-edge thinking.
On a stylistic note, Woodward consistently uses fascinating quotes, ideas, stories, historical examples and even one equation in ways that make the reader see things in a whole new way. For example, he puts an intriguing new twist on Chaos Theory, the Butterfly Effect, a poem by Yeats, Systems Theory, the writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, credit card usage, American Idol, the “TriLateral Leadership Ledger,” the IBM way, Aristotle on true friendship, and many other delightful references from every field of thought –all written in a highly understandable and enjoyable way.
After I read Resolved the first time, I placed it next to my work chair and each day I open it randomly and read the quotes or stories on whatever page opens. It is always uplifting. Here are a few topics I’ve studied in Resolved during such random reading:
- Why courage isn’t pragmatism
- Producers vs. Exploiters
- A commentary on Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Principle
- The common reasons 23 major civilizations in history declined, and how we can avoid their mistakes
- The combining of mind, heart and will
- Charles Garfield on Success through Visualization
- Will Smith’s work ethic
- Never whine, never complain, never make excuses—and what to do instead
- Woodward’s 10 principles of financial literacy (Wow! Every American should study these.)
- Five steps for effective conflict resolution—in family, business and beyond
- How to really build business systems that work
- Henry Hazlitt’s economics in one lesson—and how to really understand the economy
- The conflict between creativity and realism in national leadership
There is so much more. In one example, Woodward quotes G.K. Chesterton after he was asked to write an essay on “What’s Wrong with the World?” Chesterton wrote simply: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.” This, in summary, is what Resolved is all about. The rest of the book, all 13 resolutions, teaches us how to effectively become the leaders the world needs—and that we were born to be.
This book has articulated the leadership motto of the 21st Century: “It has been said that everyone wants to change the world but few feel the need to change themselves. Even a basic study of history, however, demonstrates that those who first focus upon self-improvement usually ending up doing the most good in the world.”
Gandhi taught the same sentiment when he said that we must be the change we wish to see in the world, and Woodward quotes Confucius in saying that those who want to improve the world must ultimately focus on bettering themselves.
Buddha is credited with saying that our purpose in life is to find our purpose in life, and then to give our whole heart and soul to accomplishing this purpose. Perhaps no generation more exemplified such leadership by example than the American founders, and Woodward discusses them and their words (especially Washington and Franklin) at length in showing us how to become the leaders we meant to be.
Woodward also shows examples of effective leadership from such greats as Sam Walton, John Wooden, Ludwig von Mises, and Roger Bannister, among others.
I could go on and on. Resolved really does, in my opinion, mark a leader-shift to a whole new level of leadership training for the new Century. If you are only going to get one book on leadership, this is the one. What a great book. Our whole society needs to study more about leadership, and apply what we learn.
*Links to book titles provided for your convenience in reviewing and purchasing referenced books. Any purchases on amazon initiated from these links result in amazon sharing a portion of their profits with TJEd. Thanks so much for your support!
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
November 4th, 2011 // 4:39 pm @ Oliver DeMille
Home Schools, the New Private Schools, and Other Non-Traditional Learning
The current national commentary on American education is split by a major paradox.
On the one hand, nearly all the experts are convinced that our schools must find a way to effectively and consistently teach the values and skills of innovation and initiative.
If we fail in this, everyone seems to agree, the competitiveness of U.S. workers and the economy will continue to fall behind other nations.
As Gary Shapiro wrote:
“Our nation is looking into the abyss. With a blinding focus on the present, our government is neglecting a future that demands thoughtful action.
“The only valid government action is that which invests in our children. This requires hard choices…
“America is in crisis. What is required is a commitment to innovation and growth. We can and must succeed.
“With popular and political resolve, we can reverse America’s decline…. America must become the world’s innovative engine once again; we cannot fail.”
And education is the key.
On the other hand, many of the top education decision-makers seem committed to only making changes when there is a consensus among educators, parents, experts and administrators.
They adamantly criticize any who take bold, innovative initiate to improve the situation.
In the meantime, they wait timidly, albeit loudly, for a consensus which never comes.
Because of this view, the innovative success of many parents in home schools, teachers in small private schools and other non-traditional educational offerings go unnoticed or undervalued by the national press.
The reality is, as Orrin Woodward put it: “If everyone agrees with what you’re doing, it isn’t innovative.”
The growing Global Achievement Gap in our schools, as outlined by Tony Wagner’s book of this title, presents an ominous warning for Americans.
We can change things if we choose, Wagner says, by adopting the following values and skills in our school curriculum: critical thinking, agility, adaptability, initiative, curiosity, imagination and entrepreneurialism, among others.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan quoted Wagner in Foreign Affairs:
“…there is a happy ‘convergence between the skills most needed in the global knowledge economy and those most needed to keep our economy safe and vibrant.’”
He also foreshadowed the decades ahead by quoting President Obama:
“The nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow.”
It is difficult to imagine our public schools meeting these lofty needs if our teachers are expected to be anything but entrepreneurial, innovative and agile, when they in fact work in an environment that discourages and at times punishes precisely such behaviors.
It is even more impossible to make the needed changes to our education system if we must wait for everyone to agree on a consensus of action.
Change always comes with a few courageous souls taking the lead, showing what can work, and helping others follow their innovative path.
The only way we’re going to see a burst of innovation and initiative in American education is to start paying attention to the myriad exciting educational innovations already occurring.
As Malcolm Gladwell suggests, the leadership right now in many arenas—including education—is occurring outside the mainstream, led by “Outliers” who just forget the experts and create new and better ways of doing things.
If you are one of these educational innovators—at home or in the classroom—keep taking the lead. You are the future of American success!
July 5th, 2011 // 6:57 am @ Oliver DeMille
The American framers overcame domination by an elite upper class by establishing a new system where every person was treated equally before the law. This led to nearly two centuries of increasing freedoms for all social classes, both genders and all citizens—whatever their race, religion, health, etc.
During the Industrial Age this system changed in at least two major ways.
First, the U.S. commercial code was changed to put limits on who can invest in what. Rather than simply protecting all investors (rich or poor) against fraud or other criminal activity, in the name of “protecting the unsophisticated,” laws were passed that only allow the highest level of the middle class and the upper classes to invest in the investments with the highest returns.
This created a European-style model where only the rich own the most profitable companies and get richer while the middle and lower classes are stuck where they are.
Second, the schools at all levels were reformed to emphasize job training rather than quality leadership education. Today great leadership education is still the staple at many elite private schools, but the middle and lower classes are expected to forego the “luxury” of opportunity-affording, deep leadership education and instead just seek the more “practical” and “relevant” one-size-fits-all job training. This perpetuates the class system.
This is further exacerbated by the reality that public schools in middle class zip-codes typically perform much higher than lower-class neighborhood schools. Private elite schools train most of our future upper class and leaders, middle class public schools train our managerial class and most professionals, and lower-class public schools train our hourly wage workers. Notable exceptions notwithstanding, the rule still is what it is.
Government reinforces the class system by the way it runs public education, and big business supports it through the investment legal code. With these two biggest institutions in society promoting the class divide, lower and middle classes have limited power to change things.
The wooden stake that overcomes the vampire of an inelastic class system is entrepreneurial success. Becoming a producer and successfully creating new value in society helps the entrepreneur surpass the current class-system matrix and also weakens the overall caste system itself.
In short, if America is to turn the Information Age into an era of increased freedom and widespread economic opportunity, we need more producers.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
April 20th, 2011 // 7:31 am @ Oliver DeMille
A review of the book The Social Animal: A Story of Love, Character and Achievement by David Brooks
There are at least three major types of writing. The first might be called Shakespeare’s method, which includes the telling of stories with deep symbolic and archetypal lessons. Many of the great world religious texts used this approach. The Greeks referred to this as poetry, though the meaning of “poetry” is much more limited in modern usage. In the contemporary world we often call this type of writing fiction, though this is a misnomer since the stories used are not actually untrue—they are, many of them, literally true, and nearly all of them are symbolically true. This could also be called the Inspirational style of writing.
A second kind of writing can be summarized as Tocqueville’s method, or the philosopher’s style. Called prose, non-fiction, or editorializing, this type of literature consists of the author sharing her views, thoughts, questions, analyses and conclusions. Writers in this style see no need to document or prove their points, but they do make a case for their ideas. This way of writing gave the world many of the great classics of human history—in many fields of thought spanning the arts, sciences, humanities and practical domains. This writing is Authoritative in style, meaning that the author is interested mostly in ideas (rather than proof or credibility) and writes as her own authority on what she is thinking.
The third sort of writing, what I’ll call Einstein’s method, attempts to prove its conclusions using professional language and appealing to reason, experts or other authority. Most scientific works, textbooks, and research-based books on a host of topics apply this method. The basis of such writing is to clearly show the reader the sources of assumptions, the progress of the author’s thinking, and the basis behind each conclusion. Following the scientific method, this modern “Objective” style of writing emphasizes the credibility of the conclusions—based on the duplicable nature of the research and the rigorous analysis and deduction. There are few leaps of logic in this kind of prose.
Each type of writing has its masters, and all offer valuable contributions to the great works of human literature. This is so obvious that it hardly needs to be said, but we live in a world where the third, Objective, style of writing is the norm and anything else is often considered inferior. Such a conclusion, ironically, is not a scientifically proven fact. Indeed, how can science prove that anything open to individual preference and taste is truly “best?” For example, such greats as Churchill, Solzhenitsyn and Allan Bloom (author of The Closing of the American Mind) have shown that “Tocqueville’s” style is still of great value in modern times—as do daily op eds in our leading newspapers and blogs. Likewise, our greatest plays, movies and television programs demonstrate that the Shakespearean method still has great power in our world.
That said, David Brooks’ new book The Social Animal: A Story of Love, Character and Achievement manages to combine all three styles in one truly moving work. I have long considered Brooks one of my favorite authors. I assigned his book Bobos in Paradaise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There as an undergraduate and graduate college text for several years, and I have recommended his book On Paradise Drive to many students and executives who wanted to understand American and modern culture. In one of the best descriptions of our society ever written, he outlined the new realities experienced by the “average” American citizen, who he called “Patio Man.” I have also enjoyed many of his editorials in The New York Times—and the ongoing, albeit unofficial and indirect, “debate” between his columns and those of Thomas L. Friedman, Paul Krugman, George Will and, occasionally, Peggy Noonan.
The Social Animal is, in my opinion, his best work to date. In fact, it is downright brilliant. I am not suggesting that it approaches Shakespeare, of course. But who does? Still, the stories in The Social Animal flow like Isaac Asimov meets Ayn Rand. It doesn’t boast deep scientific technical writing, as Brooks himself notes. Indeed, Brooks doesn’t even attempt to produce a great Shakespearean or scientific classic. But he does effectively weave the three great styles of writing together, and in the realm of philosophical writing this book is similar to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. The content of the book, in fact, is as close as we may ever see to a 21st century update to Tocqeville (1830s) and Bryce (1910s).
I know this is high praise, and in our modern era with its love of objective analysis, such strong language is suspect in “educated” circles. But my words are not hyperbole. This is an important book. It is one of the most important books we’ve seen in years—probably since Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World or Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. This book is in the same class as Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, Strauss and Howe’s The Fourth Turning, or Philip Bobbitt’s The Shield of Achilles. It is as significant as any article in Foreign Affairs since Richard Gardner’s writings. It reads like Steven Pinker channelling Alexis de Tocqueville. The language is, well, beautiful, but beautiful in the modern sense, like the writings of Laura Munson or Sandra Tsing Loh.
The book also manages to bridge political views—I think liberals will find it moving and conservatives will find it convincing. It is not exactly Centrist, but neither is it patently Right nor Left. It will appeal to independents and people from all political perspectives. If it has a political leaning, it is the party of Common Sense—backed by meticulous research.
Moreover, The Social Animal clouds typical publishing stereotypes. I’m not sure where big bookstores will shelve it. It is a book on culture, politics, education, and career. It is a book about entertainment, marriage and language. It is about the upper, middle and lower classes in modern American society, how they interrelate and what challenges are ahead as they clash. It is about current events and future challenges. It is, above all, a book about success. It goes well beyond books on Habits or The Secret or even “Acres of Diamonds.”
As Brooks himself put it:
“Over the centuries, zillions of books have been written about how to succeed. But these tales are usually told on the surface level of life. They describe the colleges people get into, the professional skills they acquire, the conscious decisions they make, and the tips and techniques they adopt to build connections and get ahead. These books often focus on an outer definition of success, having to do with IQ, wealth, prestige, and worldly accomplishments.
“This story [The Social Animal] is told one level down. This success story emphasizes the role of the inner mind—the unconscious realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings….
“…we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. We are primarily the products of thinking that happens below the level of awareness.”
“The research being done today reminds us of the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, character over IQ, emergent, organic systems over linear, mechanistic ones, and the idea that we have multiple selves over the idea that we have a single self.”
The book deals with such intriguing topics as:
- Modern dating and courtship
- Today’s marriages and what makes them succeed—or not
- The scientific versus popular views of child development
- Cultural trends such as global-warming awareness assemblies in high schools
- The scientific foundations of violence
- The kind of decision-making that leads to success versus mediocrity and failure
- A veritable manual for success in college
- The powerful leadership techniques of priming, anchoring, framing, limerance, fractals, metis and multiparadigm teams, among others (it is worth reading the book just for this)
- How to “ace” job interviews
- The new phases of life progression
- Effectively starting a new business—the steps, techniques, values and needed character traits
- Leadership in the modern corporation
- How to win a revolution by only making a call for small reforms
- The effectiveness of a talent for oversimplification
- The supreme power of a life’s viewpoint
The Social Animal struck a personal note with me because it brilliantly describes the true process of great mentoring that more of our teachers need to adopt and that I wrote about with Tiffany Earl in our book The Student Whisperer. I have seldom seen truly great teaching described better.
This book is primarily about success—specifically success in our complex modern world—but at a deeper level it is about happiness. Brooks writes:
We still have admissions committees that judge people by IQ measures and not by practical literacy. We still have academic fields that often treat human beings as rational utility-maximizing individuals. Modern society has created a giant apparatus for the cultivation of the hard skills, while failing to develop the moral and emotional faculties down below. Children are coached on how to jump through a thousand scholastic hoops. Yet by far the most important decisions they will make are about whom to marry and whom to befriend, what to love and what to despise, and how to control impulses. On these matters, they are almost entirely on their own. We are good at talking about material incentives, but bad about talking about emotions and intuitions. We are good at teaching technical skills, but when it comes to the most important things, like character, we have almost nothing to say.
The book, like any true “classic” (and I am convinced this will be one), is deep and broad. It includes such gems as:
- “The food at their lunch was terrible, but the meal was wonderous.”
- “For example, six-month-old babies can spot the different facial features of different monkeys, even though, to adults, they all look the same.”
- In his high school, “…life was dominated by a universal struggle for admiration.”
- “The students divided into the inevitable cliques, and each clique had its own individual pattern of behavior.”
- “Fear of exclusion was his primary source of anxiety.”
- “Erica decided that in these neighborhoods you could never show weakness. You could never back down or compromise.”
- “In middle class country, children were raised to go to college. In poverty country they were not.”
- Jim Collins “…found that many of the best CEOs were not flamboyant visionaries. They were humble, self-effacing, diligent, and resolute souls who found one thing they were really good at and did it over and over again. They did not spend a lot of time on internal motivational campaigns. They demanded discipline and efficiency.”
- “Then a quiet voice could be heard from the other end of the table. ‘Leave her alone.’ It was her mother. The picnic table went silent.”
- “Erica resolved that she would always try to stand at the junction between two mental spaces. In organizations, she would try to stand at the junction of two departments, or fill in the gaps between departments.”
- “School asks students to be good at a range of subjects, but life asks people to find one passion that they will do forever.”
- “His missions had been clearly marked: get good grades, make the starting team, make adults happy. Ms. Taylor had introduced a new wrinkle into his life—a love of big ideas.”
- “…if Steve Jobs had come out with an iWife, they would have been married on launch day.”
- “Epistemological modesty is the knowledge of how little we know and can know.”
There are so many more gems of wisdom. For example, Brooks notes that in current culture there is a new phase of life. Most of today’s parents and grandparents grew up in a world with four life phases, including “childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age.” Today’s young will experience at least six phases, Brooks suggests: childhood, adolescence, odyssey, adulthood, active retirement, and old age.
While many parents expect their 18- and 19-year-old children to go directly from adolescence to the adult life of leaving home and pursuing their own independent life and a marriage relationship, their children are surprising (and confusing) them by embracing their odyssey years: living at home, then wandering, then back home for a time, taking a long time to “play around” with their education before getting serious about preparing for a career, and in general enjoying their youthful freedom. Most parents are convinced they’re kids are wasting their lives when in fact this is the new normal.
The odyssey years actually make a lot of sense. The young “…want the security and stability adulthood brings, but they don’t want to settle into a daily grind. They don’t want to limit their spontaneity or put limits on their dreams.” Parents can support this slower pace with two thoughts: 1) the kids usually turn out better because they don’t force themselves to grow up too fast like earlier generations did, and 2) the parents get to enjoy a similar kind of relaxed state in the “active retirement phase.”
Most odysseys pursue life in what Brooks calls The Group—a small team of friends who help each other through this transition. Members of a Group talk a lot, play together, frequently engage entrepreneurial or work ventures with each other, and fill the role of traditional families during this time of transition. Even odysseys who live at home for a time usually spend much of their time with their Group.
This book is full of numerous other ideas, stories, studies, and commentaries. It is the kind of reading that you simply have to mark up with a highlighter on literally every page.
Whether you agree or disagree with the ideas in this book—or, hopefully, both—it is a great read. Not a good read, but a great one. Some social conservatives may dislike certain things such as the language used by some characters or the easy sexuality of some college students, and some liberals may question the realistic way characters refuse to accept every politically-correct viewpoint in society—but both are accurate portrayals of many people in our current culture.
The Social Animal may not remain on the classics list as long as Democracy in America, but it could. At the very least, it is as good a portrayal of modern society as Rousseau’s Emile was in its time. It provides a telling, accurate and profound snapshot of American life at the beginning of the 21st Century. Reading it will help modern Americans know themselves at a much deeper level.
This is a book about many things, including success and happiness as mentioned above. But it is also a classic book on freedom, and on how our society defines freedom in our time. As such, it is an invaluable source to any who care about the future of freedom. Read this book to see where we are, where we are headed, and how we need to change. The Social Animal is required reading for leaders in all sectors and for people from all political persuasions who want to see freedom flourish in the 21st century.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
December 23rd, 2010 // 4:00 am @ Oliver DeMille
I wrote in an earlier review of several recent articles and books on “the end of men.” Such writings sparked a lot of discussion on the national scene, mostly among women.
Men, it seems, aren’t paying much attention to such things. Where men do take exception to the predictions and statistics about man’s falling value to society, it has mostly come in the tone of irony.
For example, Colin McEnroe slaps back in the September 2010 issue of Men’s Health with arguments like:
“But listen up, ladies: The buttons on that remote aren’t going to push themselves.”
“They would miss us, right? There would be subtle repercussions. For example…jar opening, wasp-nest nuking, rodeo riding…knife fights in malls…”
“Women are still free to seek our elimination, of course, but my advice is to keep a small number of us—300 or 400—in some kind of zoo, for breeding purposes. Like albino alligators, we may play roles in the ecosystem that even we cannot see.”
And Jeff Wilser says the top seven man rules are:
- Tip well;
- You only recognize primary colors;
- Know how to give a compliment;
- Never say “blossom”;
- Keep an empty urinal between you and the next guy;
- Pack two pairs of shoes or fewer;
- and Outperform the GPS.
Male joking aside, the man’s role is in serious question—among men and women. The use of humor often highlights the fact that this topic is definitely on the docket in the American dialog.
The New Man Rules
A few things are clear. During this post-economic-meltdown era, certain things are in, like brown dress shoes, a little facial hair, leather bands on watches, v-neck sweaters, cuff links, and sneakers that are simple and cool.
“Women may not take note of the hours you log working out, but they will notice if you wear sneakers outside the gym,” one column assures us. The Prohibition-era look (recession, but not yet depression) and early sixties fashions are in — a rebellious comment against the Establishment.
But the serious advice to men is worth noting: “Optimal living isn’t about saving time. It’s about seizing control over the ways you spend it.” Get more done by getting out of bed as soon as you wake up, take real vacations to reboot, and “buy a trip, not a toy.”
Men are also told that “The New Rules for Men” include standing for something that matters, unplugging from electronics when it’s time to do important things, customizing many of the things you buy in life to fit your real needs and wants, and accepting that you can’t control everything.
“Standing for something” was the title of a book by Gordon B. Hinckley promoting, among other things, being a real man by being a truly good person, husband and father.
The “ideal of unplugging” was taught in the seventies by John Naisbitt in the bestselling Megatrends; he called it “High Tech, High Touch.”
“Customizing” was predicted in the 1990s as a major growing trend in our times by business guru Harry S. Dent, and the promotion of “accepting that which we cannot change” (and taking positive action to change those things we can and should) are as old as the Cicero, Cato, Aurelius and the Stoics. But bringing them all together for our time in history is, I think, quite profound.
It seems that while some women commentators are noting the popular ascendance of women and relative decline of man’s power, others are quick to point out that the equality of women is still a major unfulfilled challenge for feminism.
And where some men are ignoring or brushing off the trend with humor, at least one significant thing is happening among men: A lot of them are talking about what it means to be a man, how to be a real man, and what being a good man is all about. That’s not a revolution or a reform, it’s an internal renaissance among men.
This trend started (mainly among religious groups and authors) in the nineties, but it is taking on an increasingly mainstream tone.
For example, Philip Zimbardo of Stanford and John Boyd of Google teach in The Time Paradox that men who want to keep up with the coming future take more risks, remain goal-oriented, have strong impulse control, and take time to enjoy the present more often. Sounds almost Biblical. Or Shakespearean.
Boys 2 Men
Current advice to men includes: Eat better, drink more water, add fruits and vegetables to most of your meals, listen to more relaxing music, stop smoking, get more sleep, and so on.
This sort of advice has been served up for a long time, and there is a lot of the play-while-you’re-single commentary still, but some things have a newer ring: Work out more often in chores like “chopping and splitting wood,” “planting trees,” and “operating a floor sander,” eat more eggplant and also kale.
Also: Read more often in the deepest books, express more gratitude to your significant other, go out on more dates with her instead of just hanging out, give more service to your charity.
Make your own fate. In a political discussion, turn things to solutions instead of attacking sides. Spend less at restaurants and cook for her more often. Clear and clean the dishes.
Turn off all electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed to increase the quality of your sleep. Be yourself, and better yourself.
Do wild things that make you feel like a man, and do them smart. Start a business. Increase your education. Take long hikes (customize and make your own trail mix).
“What a fairy-tale, romantic version of a man,” my 18-year-old daughter said when she read this. “Where did that list come from?”
When I told her it was mostly from one issue of Men’s Health, she was shocked. “That’s sooooo cool!” she exclaimed.
“I know, right?”
Be strong, innovative and reliable—these are some of the main messages men are now sending to men. And many women seem to agree. Where teen heart-throbs such as the unshaven young Leonardo DiCaprio used to be the choice for sexiest man alive, the top three right now are 47-year-old Johnny Depp, 42-year-old Hugh Jackman, and 36-year-old Christian Bale.
C.S. Lewis once wrote an article titled Men Without Chests to argue that we need more leaders who stand up for the good and against the bad, even when it is unpopular or difficult.
Decades later, The Weekly Standard published an article called “Men Without Chest Hair,” noting that then-teenager Leonardo DiCaprio had become the new male icon.
Today the grown-up, and very-non-teenage-looking, 36-year-old DiCaprio is still high on the list of “sexiest man alive.”
Teenage-looking men, like Zac Efron or Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, are rarely listed. Only five of them are in the top fifty, and even most of these look like they’re trying to appear older.
The most popular drama on television, according to Emmy voters, is Mad Men, which features middle-age men as its “handsome” leads. A headline in the woman’s magazine Glamour reads: “From silly boys…to ‘mad men.’”
I don’t know if the age of man is over or not, but the world can only benefit if more men work to become better. Not as a government program, mind you, but as a self-led-personal-improvement stimulus.
As corporate keynote speaker Bill Perkins suggested, there are times when real men need to break each of these six rules:
- Never get in a fight;
- Never risk it all;
- Never give up;
- Never ask for help;
- Never lose your cool;
- Never look stupid.
There are things worth fighting for, times to take more risk, habits and behaviors each of us should give up, times we really should ask for help, situations that require our full energy and passion, and experiences where humility and being willing to look stupid are exactly the right thing. Done correctly, all of these are characteristics of strength. There are many others.
I think maybe we’ve reached a point where the concern is a lot less about the differences between men and women than simply this: How can I be a better person?
We can wait for government, society, another institution, the experts, some great artist or something else to help us reconcile the male/female debate and bridge the gap between the various schools of thought on how men and women should be.
Or, finally, we can just get to work on truly improving ourselves. In this particular case, we all need to say “I” a lot more than “we.”
- I am improving the way I spend my evenings
- I am reading more things that matter
- I am spending more truly quality time with my kids
- I am doing more just because it is fun
- I am eating better
- I am taking long walks with my grandchildren
- I am making my work a real mission to improve the world
- I am smiling, laughing and relaxing a lot more
- I am finding so many fun ways of serving my wife
- I am helping build things that really make a positive difference
- I am working hard to…
- I am changing the way I used to…
- I am serving others in such great ways by…
- I am improving myself so much by…
- I am loving my new focus on…
- I am…
Regardless of the experts, what each of us does in our personal life is the key to the future. (And are there really any true experts on being a real man, husband and father—except, perhaps, great men, husbands and fathers—and, of course, your wife.)
There are so many things we can do, as men, right now to become better and to improve the world. We can do so much that is fun, that requires strength, that makes us feel truly alive. We can add so much meaning to the world.
Whatever the experts say, I believe we are living in the beginning of a renaissance of manhood. If not, it is time to start one.