Much has been said of this essay series since it first began. Some have been critical of the series, questioning the wisdom of drawing attention to men’s issues when men in our society already receive the lion’s share of attention. Some have voiced misgivings that the series promotes gender binaries, deferring to male-normative and hetero-normative points of view. Many have praised the series as a forum capable of presenting a wide diversity of opinions. Many have also welcomed the initiative as an opportunity for individual and communal reflection, in which we challenge ourselves to be more articulate about our feelings related to masculinity. It has been observed that masculinity is an important topic to discuss here precisely because we so rarely discuss it elsewhere, and because many men have never taken the chance to process their feelings regarding their own masculinity.
I appreciate the diversity of reactions to the series, just as I welcome the range of voices heard within the series. Whether or not people agree, they are engaged, and what makes this project so engaging is that its driving question is inherently normative. The purpose of each essay is to respond to the question: “What does it mean to you to be a good man?” This prompt requires writers to be explicit about their values, their sense of goodness, and their feelings towards masculinity, and almost every essayist I have worked with has found this a very difficult challenge. I would like to discuss three aspects of this prompt as a way of reintroducing the series for winter term and helping people better understand its purpose.
“Good.” I have a desire to be good. I want to be good at what I do; I want to be a good student, son, human being, etc. But what does it mean to be good? Does it mean different things in different contexts? What standard am I using to judge moral excellence? In the world I do not know of more important questions than these.
“Man.” The question has come up with regards to this series, “Why not ask what it means to be a good human being?” My response is philosophical: none of us are merely human; rather, we access our humanity through its particular forms and identities. I am a student, a son, a brother, an American, an artist, an athlete, a man, and more. Each of these identities is tied to a community, and in the context of my communities I come to understand my place in the human world. Thus, in order to answer the question of what it means to be a good human being, I must also be able to say what goodness means in the context of each of my identities, including my manhood.
“To you.” This crucial clause often gets overlooked. Not only would it be dangerous to assume some universally true answer to what a good man is, it would also be boring. The project does not invite people to dictate to others what manhood ought to be. The purpose is to hear and share personal experiences with goodness. The prompt ought to read, “What does it mean to you to be a good man?”
With this reintroduction, I hope you will continue to read and enjoy this series. This term you will see a rich array of essays, coming from a range of generations among faculty, staff, alumni, and students. And I hope you too, dear reader, will consider writing an essay yourself.
-Chase Kimball is a fourth-year student
If you would like to have your own reflections published in this series, please respond to the question “What does it mean to you to be a good man?” in an essay of 400-800 words and e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.