I asked a friend to help me identify the Essence of Manhood, and as it might be easier for a her, Womanhood. It wasn’t easy, for me or her, and it brought me to reflect on what criteria I used to define a person. Initially, for woman, the assessment never went beyond the physical features, and for men, whether or not I’d be able to kick their asses.
But the markers of physical form mean nothing in defining Man or Woman. Ingrained in society is the germ of a belief that spreads the shallow categorisations of identity, labelling people based on utility or beauty or other class characteristics. We are known for what we are, versus who we are.
Efforts to improve the condition of things are slow going, and meet with ingrained cultural indifference. This ‘indifference’ is hidden behind a wash of charm, wit, easy entertainment, and competitive glory. Though entertaining, the Employees of the Month or the ‘Accepted Slackers’ of our teen-dream, heartthrob years, do little more than push non-constructive norms and values, seeking to duplicate themselves for elitist gain. In turn, these heroes, though most non-threatening, casually reinforce a threatening lifestyle of social callousness with a narcissistic twist.
I wonder what effect these attitudes have on the values of society, and am morbidly curious what the mix of complacency and a superficial world-view mean to us in terms of real values. Is it a struggle everywhere for people to believe in anything of substance?
I asked my friend if we could name some heroes with a moral message. After a little brainstorming, we decided on activists and trail-blazers, people who stood up and became attacked for their beliefs by societal forces. Depending on your view, the Ralph Naders, Naomi Kleins, Marc Emerys, and others are contemporary moral heroes, if we can deal with their being human. By that I mean, they have their short-comings, so let’s try to take the best of their works.
The people who will be remembered most are the ones who have a lasting, constructive impact on society. Mother Theresa, Gandhi, MLK. These are the people whom history will remember. Though I applaud any efforts at making good works visible in the public eye (recent celebrity interest in Africa, via Madonna and Angelina Jolie), I am of the belief that a progressive society needs progressive leaders. It is time to encourage public figures who will be constant reminders that we can change ourselves, that we will improve ourselves, and that this is the way we should live.