Everyone seems to have an opinion these days about what guys really need – materially, physically, nutritionally, pharmaceutically, and emotionally. Most likely, this is related to a culture that is suffering from an anemic kind of manhood and looking for any, and every, possible solution. Recently, and on several prior occasions, this idea of the male need for respect has come across my path. As I have pondered this concept, I can’t help but wonder if we are, once again, missing the point entirely.
I need it … I really need it
“But Dad, I need it … I really need it”, exclaimed my youngest son. Knowing this to be a standard reply for him, I had mine ready to go, “You only need air, food, and water.” After the briefest of silence, came my wife’s voice, “And love … you need love too.” I smiled and quickly conceded that indeed we do also need love and the brief exchange came to a close, but the encounter started me thinking. I could hear the words of Colonel Jessup, the character played by Jack Nicholson in the hit movie A Few Good Men, “Deep inside in places you don’t talk about at parties … you want me on that wall … you need me on that wall.” Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about wants and needs, more so on the topic of needs – what is it that deep down inside in places we don’t talk about at parties that we really need? The other day I read a post by a blogger, who happens to blog on men’s issues from time to time. The concept presented was not necessarily new, but rather an idea that has been circulating around certain circles for some time. The title of the article was, Your Husband Doesn’t Have to Earn Your Respect; as you can tell from the title, his conclusion is that wives have a duty and obligation to give their husbands respect. The author ends the article by stating, “We need respect, and that need is so deeply ingrained that a marriage cannot possibly survive if the man is deprived of it.” It’s not just this blogger, who is proposing this idea; there have been entire relationship improvement systems written on this concept.
Disclaimers, The Bible, and General Backside Covering
I won’t pretend that this piece can be written without some controversy since I know I am taking on a belief system to which many people hold fast. I also want to be careful and clear with my critique of these conclusions and the premises that might have lead to them. At the same time, it’s important to note that Matt Walsh, the author of the article I referenced earlier, is a great writer and advocate for authentic manhood. I’m not singling him out; he is one of many, presenting these ideas. He just happens to have written an article that served as the catalyst for my response. Also, Emerson Eggerichs has helped millions of people. I have read many of his books, including, Love and Respect. I understand his conclusion that, “love best motivates a woman and respect most powerfully motivates a man”, and even affirm that, in many cases, it may well be true. Respect does indeed powerfully motivate a man, but is it the respect itself or is the earning of it – could it be that our true need, deep down in places we don’t talk about at parties, isn’t so much the respect as much as it is the earning of it. Either way there remains a chasm, between the male need for respect and the appointment of a wife as the primary source of that respect.
It is hard to believe that I have now written what amounts to over one hundred pages since starting this project. Not once have I said anything specifically about what women need to do or should be doing. There is one exception in a recommendation I made that applies to both males and females to stop propagating this idea that men are emotional simpletons. Other than that, I’m a guy, and I share my thoughts and ideas about what it takes to make the trip from male to man. How the female(s) in your life respond, or don’t respond, doesn’t much matter to me … this is about you, not them. Which leads to my next point, this argument has nothing to do with my own marriage at all. As I said in my introduction, I am in my seventieth year of Christian Marriage to the most amazing woman in the world and she happens to be exceptionally respectful in our relationship. That being said, this article has nothing to do with a personal defense and everything to do with the interrogation of a particular ideal that, I believe, is doing more harm than good.
If you are a regular reader of The Mantastic Revival, then you know that I am a Protestant Evangelical Christian. I can already hear the questions, “But hey man, the Bible tells wives to respect their husband, what about that … huh, what about it?” According to a recent study by The Barna Group, Americans who identify themselves, as Christians are increasingly “Biblically illiterate.” In the coming weeks, I will post an article titled, “You Might Be Surprised What The Bible Really Says About Marriage.” I’m separating the articles for two reasons. First, it will take a lengthy explanation on its own. Secondly, I understand that many of my readers are not Christians and do not much care what the Bible says on any topic. While I don’t hide the fact that I am a Christian, I’ve never made it the point of these writings to convince you that you should be. While I am open about the fact that I could not be the person I am today without my faith, and am always excited to share this faith with others, I still believe that manhood is somewhat universal and achievable even by those who do not share my exact same beliefs. At the same time, I know that if I do not address the Biblical defense, many of my Christian readers will dismiss this argument, and this is too important to let that happen. Christian or not, I would ask for a one-paragraph indulgence as I summarily address this idea of a wife’s duty of respect in Christian Marriage.
There are a couple of key Bible Verses that are most often used in defense of what I call obligatory spousal respect. Ephesians chapter 5 verse 33 and 1 Peter chapter 3 verses 1 and 2. Ephesians 5:33 reads, “However, let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” 1 Peter 3:1-2 reads, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” There are three things you should notice about these Bible passages. First, each selection begins with an introductory adverbial element. A sentence structured in this way points the reader back to prior content, not just the prior sentence, but the prior thought or group of thoughts. Simply stated, a sentence structured in this way cannot be fully understood out of context. Both of these verses have to be interpreted within both the historical and situational contexts. In both cases, these verses are dealing with very significant and broad topics; Ephesians dealing with love and 1 Peter with submission to authority. The second important item is that the word used in these Bible verses isn’t exactly the same as the word respect in our modern English language. The English word for respect is Latin word with no real link to the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek – the primary languages of those who wrote the scriptures. Most of the extant manuscripts of original texts are in Greek, which have been translated from Greek to Latin to English or directly from Greek to English. In the two scriptures mentioned above, some form of the Greek word φοβὴται transliterated phobētai, is a form of the Greek word that we translate from phobos; yes the same root from which we get phobia and eventually the word fear. Linguistically speaking, it’s a stretch to get from any form of the Greek root word phobos to the English word Respect, via the Latin words “re” (back) and specere (Look at). Culturally speaking, an ancient Hebrew or Greek person of that time period would have no concept of respect – not the way we do. That doesn’t make the Bible wrong; it just underlines the degree of care we need to take when interpreting ancient writings without proper knowledge of the culture, language, and context of the writers and readers of that day. Which leads to the third, and final, point that I will make in this article. Which is that each of these passages first addresses what the men should do and, in both cases, the assignments for the men are daunting – it is a very high bar indeed. Not to mention the fact that these letters were written specifically to people who had decided to convert from Judaism to Christianity, which represented a radical change in the way they thought and lived. Paul and Peter, the authors of these passages, were writing to men and women who had made a decision to convert to a way of life that could lead to their brutal persecution and death. More than converting to it, they were leading it, they were fighting for it … the basic starting point here is that these people read these letters with a mindset that almost none of us can fully understand.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find Out What it Means to Me … Sock it to Me
Now what of the emotional need for respect, is it valid or not? To avoid generalization, here is all that I can accurately state. Of the males and men that I personally know, the emotional need for respect ranks high on the list. I would even venture to hypothesize that, in a high percentage of males the need for respect would probably rank in the top ten. It certainly does for me. But how many really know what it means to need respect? To do this this we have to look at what respect really is. We need to demystify it since it seems to have become some kind of magical elixir that we think will fix dissatisfaction with life, jobs, and relationships. Respect isn’t magical at all really. As a thing, that is to say as a noun; it simply means esteem, honor, or certain focus, rights and privileges. As a verb, obviously, it becomes the act of giving respect to another thing. Is it valid? Yes! But is it the really the superior, end all and be all, need that males the worlds around are starving for?
Every need demands an answer. Some can go unmet for a very long time and while we may long for them to be met, we can learn to survive, even grow, absent them. Some needs are so intense that we will stop at nothing to meet them. Perhaps the topic will be clearer if we abstract if from emotional needs for a moment and take a use case from the realm of physical needs. Sustenance, food, it’s as basic as it gets. Our physical bodies crave it only hours after last having it, hunger is a human reality and it is constant and relentless. As humans, we must consume a certain caloric intake to sustain biologic functions. Amazingly, humans can fast for long periods of time, but without food, eventually, we would die. There have been studies on the long-term effects on physical and emotional health of various “modes of sustenance”. Contained in a U.C. Berkeley study on the Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net, is a beginning look into the impact of government support programs that provide food to the poor, primarily the food stamp program. One question that arises from this is, what is the result over a long time period of “giving” a person food that they had no part in earning; no work, no farming, just year after year of free government food. This study only raised the potential concern, and notes that further study is required in this area. We don’t need a study to tell us that access to food that one didn’t work for, one that is fully capable of working, over a long period of time leads to entitlement, laziness, low self esteem, loss of empathy, and an overall breakdown of normal societal structures. I have seen this first had. For a while, I was delivering food to shut-ins with a local aid organization. Because I’m a stacked 6’2” (not to mention that 99.9% of the other volunteers were elderly women), I was given all of the food deliveries in “the projects”. I actually didn’t mind and only felt I was in danger a few times, but I saw the impact of long-term aid with no strings attached. Perhaps even a better example would be to think about what would happen to a child if a parent constantly lavished on them unmerited praise? What if, instead of working with little Johnny, a father just told him several times a day that he was the best baseball pitcher the world has ever seen? “Johnny, you’ll be playing select ball by next season for sure … then the pros … I just know it!” All the while, Johnny can’t throw a fast, straight, or curved ball to save is life. But isn’t praising a child always good and constructive? Perhaps, but excessive and unmerited praise is called flattery which is almost always self-serving.
Which brings us to the next logical question. What would the long-term impacts be of having your need for respect met with “faux respect”? Would it be like removing all real sugars from your diet and only consuming nothing but sugar substitutes? How long do you think you would live that way? You see, if you are one of the men who need respect, who are powerfully motivated by it, then, I would present to you, that the only way satisfy your hunger for respect is with real respect and real respect is earned, not given out of duty or obligation. That respect you so need should come from many different sources. Like your physical need for energy is best served with a diverse diet, the way you meet your emotional need for respect should be just as diverse. Imagine what would happen if you ate only cheese? You’d certainly get all of the protein and calories you need to survive, but I can’t imagine you would thrive under those conditions at all. The notion that, as men, we need respect is accurate. The idea that the primary source for it should be our wives is preposterous! Even more alarming is the damage that obligatory respect is doing to authentic manhood.
As a guy, you know if you are respectable or not. If your priorities are all jacked up, your giving your career the best you have to offer while neglecting your family, letting yourself become physically weak, choosing to put your spiritual journey on the back burner, and sneak off from time to time after everyone is in bed for a little “porn” and a stiff drink so you can stand to look at yourself in the mirror … my friend, you are anything but respectable and you know it better than anyone. Take the example further; let’s say you are married to a woman who has been told that filling your respect tank is in her job description and you wake up to her standing over you with a fresh cup of coffee, she looks lovingly at you and says, “Good morning you big strong confident man, I’m so thankful that you are my husband. You take such good care of us and I would follow you to the end of the earth.” Knowing what you know, how much of that respect do you think will touch that place inside of you that so craves it? What if you head to the office where you have been given an office and a title, but knowing that you got it by scratching, clawing, political maneuvering, and manipulation. There you find your team waiting for you to join the staff meeting. The respond to each of your assignments by saying, “Yes sir, I’ll get right on that.” Then you have a meeting with your top employee, who you know is eyeing your job, who tells you that you are such a great boss and have been a mentor and strong influence in his life. Knowing what you know, how much of that respect resonates with you. If you are honest with yourself, the answer on both accounts is none! This can’t be called respect any more than the powder in that little pink packet can be called sugar. Not only is it not giving you what you need, it is attacking you manhood from the inside out.
Many Things We Are … Simple We Are Not!
Much of this argument is built upon the simplicity premise, which presents men as emotionally one-dimensional. These arguments usually get presented with statements such as, “Guys are really very simple, all they need is ___________.” In this case, the blank is filled with respect. Now that we have a proper understanding of what that word really means, ask yourself the obvious question. Is being honored, and having my requests, orders, needs, and wants given due consideration what I really the main thing I need emotionally? If not, then we should take a step back.
Needs can be easily divided into two categories; physical and emotional. Physically things are pretty basic, in that humans really only need air, food, and water to sustain life; at least in the biological sense. When it comes to emotional needs, it seems to be that every person is wonderfully unique. Indeed females tend to have emotional needs of one sort and males tend to have emotional needs of another sort, generally speaking; however, I generally avoid generalizations whenever possible.
As I have written on many times, and specifically in my piece Be Better Than Your STEREOtype, these stereotypical oversimplifications of males are damaging authentic manhood, and I for one am sick and tired of them. Females today rarely tolerate stereotypes, and neither should we. That means that any conclusion which begins with the statement, “What every man needs …” should be categorically rejected since a conclusion of that sort can only come from a premise which has all men being emotional copies of each other. It takes just a basic understanding of logic understand that when the premise collapses, so do the conclusions that flow from it.
Exploring the emotional dynamics of the male psyche isn’t new. King Solomon took a deep dive it over three thousand year ago and a long line of men have followed; Shakespeare, Byron, Keats, Frost, and many others. Recently, books like King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine by Robert Moore as well as researchers like Guy Corneau and Sam Keen are continuing to examine it further. Suffice it to say, the sheer volume of those exploring the male psyche, speaks to the vast complexity of it. So what exactly do men need emotionally? Well that question itself cannot be answered. The more important question is, what do you need emotionally? Guy Corneau writes, “A man is born three times in his life. He is born of his mother, he is born of his father, and finally he is born of his own deep self.” Asking that question is a one of many requirements for the “third birth” – the answers to it will be as diverse as the males who ask it.
And Finally, In Conclusion …
Having addressed emotional over simplicity, The Bible, and given some concrete definitions to our understanding of respect, NOW it’s time to bring this one in for a landing. We’ve established that males need respect but we also need something much more … we need to be respectable. We need to properly earn the respect we are given. Males were designed to live honorably, to be respectable; that is why the need for it is hardwired in each of us. This culture tells us there is an easy way to get fit, an easy way to get rich, and easy way to get wise … we’re always looking for the fast and easy solution. That’s what we’ve done here as well, but there is no get respect quick scheme that will get you what you need the way you need it. If you want to get strong … you’ve got to lift heavy stuff, if you need respect … you’ve got to get respectable. What being respectable looks like might be different for everyone but if you are behaving in a way that makes you the odd man out in our Western Culture, then you are probably on the right track. If you are making decisions based on an absolute set of moral beliefs, then you are probably on the right track. If you find respect coming your way from many different sources, your wife included, then you are probably on the right track. In your journey, remember that the Western Culture has everything backwards and upside down so don’t let that shape you thinking about what respectable looks like. Being respectable doesn’t mean you are perfect; trust me, I am as flawed as they come. Being respectable doesn’t mean you are calm and meek all the time. Respectable men have tempers too, we get mad, and we might even throw a punch from time to time. Respectable and religious sometimes look very different. It’s not about the make and model of your car, your job title or your bank account balance. Being respectable is about doing things the hard way.
So we end exactly where we began. Husband, you do have to earn your wife’s respect. Dad, you do have to earn your children’s respect. Boss, you do have to earn or employees respect. The world today is in desperate need of respectable men and men today desperately need to be respectable.