I value relationships with as much passion as I do my happiness. For the most part, they are one and the same thing. Try being happy when the most important relationships in your life are a mess! You'll see what I mean. I believe that part of being a better man means learning how to take better care of these relationships. They account for too much of my happiness for me not to pay better attention to them.
Out of all these relationships, it is the ones that I have with the women in my life that needed the most attention. Whether it is as a boyfriend, a brother, a friend, or even a colleague, I have found it essential to re-examine these relationships frequently.
By the time I was a young adult, I knew a lot more about what it was like to be a man compared to what it was like to be a woman. As natural as that might sound, for me it was the main problem with the female relationships in my life. When you live your life in a bubble of your own wants and needs, it becomes very hard to relate with people who have different experiences from you. Even harder, is building meaningful relationships with them.
Until I understand what it is like to grow up in a society that systematically oppresses my own gender, I will always be part of the problem. Being a better man means being a better learner. A better listener. So as soon as I was ready to listen, I was surrounded by voices that were willing to teach.
The voices came in all shapes and sizes. Some came from female colleagues who shared how much harder than me they had to work to be noticed by the boss. Some came in the form of writers who challenged the dangerous idea that having a penis gives me the birthright to make final decisions in my marriage. Sometimes it just made me sad that her colleagues would only respect my ridiculously talented sister if I spoke up on her behalf.
I can only be happy if I know I am doing the best for these relationships. Doing the best means walking in their shoes, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me. Even if it means finding out things about myself that are unpleasant. Even if it means admitting to some of the advantages my gender has afforded me. As a younger man, my excuse for not being more considerate with the women in my life was that I didn't know any better. It is an unacceptable excuse now.
I know enough to make an impact on not just myself, but also on the men who value my input. Now it is a lifetime goal of mine to always approach oppressed voices with an attitude of learning. To learn from women who have something to say and teach the men in my life who are willing to listen. To practice what I have learned in the relationships I value most.
I don't do it for a misplaced sense of righteousness. I do it because a world in which everyone is treated with respect and loving-kindness or compassion is a better world than the one I live in right now. If there were ever anything worth fighting for, it would be exactly that. I know the little I do counts because I have seen it manifest in my own happiness. I have seen it strengthen my own relationships and I have seen it make me a better man.
What do you think makes a man better?