First let me just say how ironic it is that I started writing this post by thinking to myself ‘don’t care about people’s feelings, just tell the truth’.
It’s true that men have been taught not to be too sensitive. It’s not just that men are taught, but men are naturally more stoic, more indifferent. They expend more effort to control their emotions. In the least, it can be said that men intuitively recognize the value of stoicism, it resonates with them. Women tend to be more comfortable expressing their emotions.
‘Sensitivity’ has traditionally been considered a feminine trait.
But according to modern wisdom, being overly insensitive is what is now regarded as unhealthy, archaic and dangerous. The modern man now says ‘for us who are ‘sensitive’ guys, stop being so hard on us; we are sensitive and that’s OK’.
In popular Christianity especially, the picture of ‘biblical manhood’ is of the loving, committed, ‘sensitive’ Christian man.
What this really boils down to is an increased emphasis on the importance of people’s ‘feelings’, which is really just a person’s emotional response to external stimuli both physiologically and psychologically.
As we become hyper focused on individual feelings, traditional masculinity becomes obsolete. Traditional masculinity has been superseded in a peaceful society by a more modern view of manhood. This perception of manhood is not just secular; it has made its way into the modern view of ‘biblical manhood’ as well.
We now live in a world where it is the greatest virtue to simply ‘love’ everyone. So far as I can tell, this loosely translates into being considerate of others subjective emotional states to the exclusion of all else.
This has become especially true of Christianity.
Unfortunately Christianity is no longer distinct from the world because it represents the truth; it now exists for the validation of individual personal feelings. Now Christian men who want to be stoic, pragmatic and logical are no longer in touch with orthodoxy. If a Christian man is not considerate enough of other people’s feelings he’s not being a good Christian, and he’s not being a good man.
So what does it really mean to be a sensitive guy?
There are at least two related ideas that are meant by the term sensitivity. The first is related to our social awareness. Our sensitivity can be measured by how considerate we are of the feelings of other people. Secondly, sensitivity can be defined by our personal disposition to the actions and words of others. How do we react and express ourselves to the world around us? The first is what I want to talk about in this post. The second one I will cover in the next. Then I’ll write a ton more about it in the future too.
Just to clarify early on, if a man could care less for the feelings of others, then he’s not being insensitive, he’s being a jerk. But this is not the same thing as being objective and rational. Something that is important to understanding ‘biblical manhood’ is disentangling real virtues of masculinity from those which are motivated by sin and selfishness.
A man is not being insensitive if he dismisses an individual’s feelings in light of a more important consideration, like truth for example. Nor is a man being too ‘sensitive’ when he considers the feelings of others within the broader context of a given situation. What is really important here is a man’s ability to be objective. I don’t think most men have ever criticized actual feelings, they criticized lack of wisdom.
The next point I want to make is that there is a difference between being emotionless, and keeping your emotions under control. The belief that showing emotion is a weakness is not an accident. Women in general tend to emphasize relationships, compassion and empathy. Men on the other hand usually tend toward information, fairness and justice. So men are intuitively more indifferent. That is to say, many men throughout history have often had to make hard decisions no matter how it made some people feel, including themselves.
This does not mean men don’t care. Historically it means feelings get you killed.
Men throughout history have had a lot to gain from cultivating indifference. Just about all men throughout history from hunter gatherers, soldiers, warlords and kings have had to make decisions to survive and thrive in a hostile world where feelings were the least of anyone’s concerns.
Men have built shit (I nearly changed this word to something more innocuous, but I realized I was just being too sensitive). Feelings did not build buildings, forge empires or win wars, knowledge and strength did. Feelings got in the way. The rise of modern technology, industry – planes, trains and automobiles – were not built on feelings, they were built to solve problems. This is as true today as it ever was.
Emotions cloud your judgement.
When men let their emotions get the better of them it leads to poor decision making. This is not so much a matter of not having feelings, but not being their master. This is not difficult to understand. An obvious example is a ‘conflict of interest’ in a professional environment. This becomes a problem due to the fact that individual’s relationships to one another in a personal setting can affect their ability to make objective, unbiased judgments in a professional setting.
One issue arises when men are taught that emotions are always bad, all the time (or this is how they interpret traditional manhood). When I was writing this post I started to elaborate on this point, and I quickly found myself spiraling down an icky psychological rabbit hole, so I’m just going to carefully pick it up and put it in the ‘do later’ box for now. Don’t worry, we’ll be back.
The final point I want to consider is this: strong feelings of emotion are addictive and if we give ourselves over to them we can start to crave them (this is true of men and women). If we don’t learn to keep a check on our emotions, they can rule over us. When we give in freely to them, they will start to control our behaviour. This is especially a problem as Christian men when our behaviour should be motivated by a desire to serve the Lord. Feelings come and go. Maintaining your composure does not mean bottling up your feelings, it means being mature and sensible.
Being a strong Christian man means chasing strong Christian values such as integrity, righteousness and holiness like a blood hound; being more concerned for truth, and good character, than for people’s feelings. Being considerate of people’s feelings is important, but it is not the be all and end all. Of course this has all been said before. The point I want to make here is that ‘modern manhood’ is just an attempt to redefine manhood to be more inclusive, to make it easier to meet its expectations. Instead of being an ideal, or an actual truth, manhood is being reduced to a description of what’s popular.
Being a man does not mean being a totally insensitive brute, but it does mean not being a sissy.
As I begin to put together a picture of true biblical manhood, it’s important to understand that it is not going to be designed to be achievable necessarily. It is an ideal for Christian men to strive for. I’m building a cogent picture of the masculine Christian man; the man that has the wisdom to understand people’s feelings, but not be manipulated by them. To build a character of strength and anti-fragility.
The goal is for Christian men to recognize their need to carve themselves out of wood; not for selfish gain, but for the glory of God, and for the proclaiming of his kingdom.