A Father’s Advice to His Son on Becoming a Man, Part Two

[Part One]

The importance of books

 To gain the knowledge you need to be a good man you must train yourself to be a good reader. Even in today’s internet / media age, most of the world’s knowledge and wisdom, the wisdom you need to live a good life, is in the written word.

There’s a reason for that:  Wisdom cannot be learned through music or video. Music and video, although they have their value, are non-intellectual. They cannot communicate ideas correctly. They can suggest ideas. They can reinforce them. But music and video cannot communicate ideas accurately. Ideas can only be communicated correctly by words.

True, a video can include words that communicate ideas. But the communication of ideas in a video is done in a non-visual way. The words are a non-visual addition to a medium that is primarily visual.

Music and video, in fact, are often used to manipulate you, that is, to trick you into thinking or acting in the way that the author wants. Dishonest or evil people often use video and music to manipulate your emotions instead of trying to teach you truth. Instead of using words to teach you, they use music and pictures to get you to feel that something is true, or that something is good, when it really isn’t.

Here’s an example: Most TV commercials don’t try to teach you the reasons why their product is good. Instead, they show you attractive people having fun in attractive locations, accompanied by attractive music. Or they show you a situation that is strange but interesting, which awakens your attention. The commercial is designed to make you feel good when you think about the product so that you’ll want to buy it even if you have no good reason to want it.

Another example:  Many movies and TV shows portray homosexuals as unusually good and attractive people. And even if they admit that there are people who reject the idea that homosexuality is good (and these people are right to reject this idea), the makers of video portray these people as being bad and unattractive. They don’t directly say “homosexuality is good,” nor do they directly say that those who stand up for God’s truth about sex are bad. And they certainly don’t try to prove it. They just try to make you feel that homosexuality is good and that anyone opposed to homosexuality is evil.

So there is only one way to become knowledgeable and wise: you must read. If you don’t read, you’ll eventually come to believe whatever the leaders of society want you to believe. And what they want you to believe is often false.

Of course, many written and spoken words are misleading. Dishonesty does not exist just in the world of video. But with the written word, it’s easier to know when the author is trying to mislead you. With the written word, you can read at your own pace so that you understand what’s being said, and you can stop reading and go look something up in order better to understand what the author is saying or see if he’s trying to fool you.

When you read, you are the master. (Or, at least, you can become the master if you learn to read intelligently.) When you watch, the producer is your master.

[Of course, there is good video, and it is OK to watch video if its producer is showing you something true, good or beautiful.]

And “reading” does not just mean forming the words in your mind. Words have meanings when they are strung together into sentences and paragraphs, and learning to understand the meaning that the author wants you to receive is not easy. This is not the place to explain exactly how one learns to become a good reader, but you must know that it takes constant practice and learning how to think correctly about the words you are reading.

 Beware the media

 As we said above, video is a very effective way to mislead people. And certain ambitious people want to mislead the masses (including you) in order to build up their wealth and power. Therefore ambitious people have made a great effort to develop video, and the rest of the media, into a powerful force for misleading people and sometimes promoting evil.

And we must admit that there is some good media. But that is similar to saying that there are good drugs. This is true, but the wise man must avoid poisonous drugs, overdoses of useful drugs, and becoming an addict.  Similarly the wise man must guard himself against becoming addicted to the media, against exposing himself to poisonous media, and against overdoses of good media.

Whenever you consume what the media produces, be on your guard.

 More about being a good leader

 As we said previously, leadership does not necessarily mean having the official title of a leader such as president, pastor, or CEO. It means understanding how the world operates and then taking responsibility for doing your part to make things go better in your family, your neighborhood, your church, your job, and so on. As a man, sooner or later, you will be looked up to as a leader.

To be a good leader you must be morally good, able to avoid the temptation to do the wrong thing. And since even the best men sometimes sin, you also must be able to confess your sins and repent.

To be a good leader, you must have courage. The ancient wise men identified courage as the most important ability because without courage, you cannot apply your other abilities. For example, if you can tell that an idea which is very popular these days is actually wrong and bad, you need the courage to go against the beliefs of most people and reject the bad idea. This does not necessarily mean going around telling everybody that they’re wrong, because a man must be able usually to live at peace with his friends, neighbors and co-workers. There is no need to cause unnecessary strife.

(On the other hand, there is a time to fight for what is right. Peace should not be your highest goal in life.)

But having courage does mean that you reject bad ideas, even popular ones, in your thoughts and actions. And it sometimes it means that you oppose people who support the bad ideas.

To be a good leader, and a good man, you must be courageous enough not to follow the latest fads or to crave the approval of other people. Leaders sometimes have to make decisions that others don’t like.

To be a good leader, you must also know and love the ways and traditions of your people, for these are a part of the order of the world. And you must work to protect these ways and make sure that they continue. No man is an island, a poet has said, and this means that all men (and women) are connected with their ancestors and with the rest of their people. Many of the blessings of this life that you enjoy were given to you by the hard work of your ancestors. For example, the churches of Jesus Christ, or the existence of our nation, or the great works of music and art, or the scientific theories and technological breakthroughs that make modern life possible, or the cities and towns that our ancestors had to work hard to create, and so on.

Your ancestors were thinking of you when they worked hard and made sacrifices in order that their children and their descendants might have a better life. You should honor them and seek to pass these blessings on to your descendants.

Yes, some of our ancestors were lazy or evil. And they were not thinking of us by name when they did what they did.  But this does not change the fact that we owe a great debt to our ancestors.

Being a good man

 When we say that you must work hard to become a “good man,” we don’t just mean a man who does not do evil, and who does good deeds. Certainly, a good man avoids doing evil and does good when he can. But being a good man involves much more than this. What we really mean when we say “a good man” is a man who does well all the things that a man must do in order to be successful in life. We mean a man who does well what God wants a man to do.

[Note well: Most of the time, when people describe a man as “successful in life,” they mean that he has a lot of money, and that he hasn’t committed any major crimes that would bring shame on him. But this is not what we mean. Earning money and avoiding scandal are only a small part of being a good man. And a man need not earn a lot of money in order to be successful.]

Becoming a good man is difficult, and many men don’t achieve this goal. Some don’t even try. It’s hard to be a good man because all of us, both men and women, are naturally lazy and sinful. Being a good man is hard work, and most men (and women) would rather just relax and enjoy life.

But the problem with this attitude is that both God and other people will not respect you if you’re not a good man. Other people may say they think it’s OK for you to be lazy, immature, ignorant, or even immoral. But even if they don’t say it out loud, inwardly they will judge and condemn you. They won’t want to spend any more time with you that they must, and they won’t want to depend on you for anything.

And this is why you should, to a certain extent, care about what other people think about you. True, you should not do something that’s wrong just because you want other people to like you. In that way, you should not care what other people think.  But you most definitely should want people to think highly of you because you’re the sort of person who can be relied on to do the right thing, who encourages the people he meets, who is skilled at certain tasks, who has wisdom that helps other people understand the world and make good choices, and so on. You should want people to think highly of you because of your abilities.

And God will judge you too. True, God saves sinners from Hell based only on their repentance from sin and their faith in Jesus Christ, but even Christians are subject to divine judgment. And besides, a truly saved man wants to please God by developing a good character.

[Part three is here.]

10 thoughts on “A Father’s Advice to His Son on Becoming a Man, Part Two

  1. Pingback: A Father’s Advice to His Son on Becoming a Man, Part Two | Neoreactive

  2. Alan, it took me the better part of twenty years to convince my wife that being a “proficient reader” as opposed to merely a “good reader” was/is fundamental to basically everything else.

    Notwithstanding, we have, in our eldest son, Jeremy, one of the most theologically knowledgable young men you might ever want to meet for his age. Indeed, I find myself trying to keep up with him nowadays, instead of the other way around. Which, I guess, is the way it should be, in a certain sense.

    • Thanks for backing me up on that one, Terry. Nowadays the printed word has a lot of competition in the battle for the hearts of the young.

      • Yes it does. I wonder, are you aware of a book titled Value of the Bible and Excellence of the Christian Religion, for the use of families and schools, c.1834, by Noah Webster? In any event, certain parts of your advice to your son in the essay reminded of that book, wherein we find the following excerpted paragraphs:

        304. The Bible: As the will of God is our only rule of action, and that will can be fully known only from revelation, the Bible must be considered as the great source of all the truths by which men are to be guided in government, as well as in the social transactions. Other books, if in accordance with the Bible, may be read with advantage. But a large proportion of the books which fill our libraries have little or no bearing on the sound principles of morals and religion. They serve only for amusement, and occupy time in reading that might be more usefully employed. The first and most important duty of man is to furnish his mind with correct notions respecting God, his laws, and human duty; and then to exert his faculties, and direct his knowledge to the benevolent design of making others wiser and better. It was for these purposes, the revelation of God was given to men; revelations preserved in the Bible, the instrument of all reformation in morals and religion.

        305. Dignity of man: The dignity of man, in the view of the world, consists in elevation of rank in society, superior intelligence, and high minded notions of honor. These are qualities which make men respected in society, and are of real value to the possessor. But these qualities may be and often are united, in the same character, with the foulest vices. There is another species of dignity which consists in the abhorrence of every vice, and in aiming at excellence which has a resemblance to the divine perfections. God is the only perfect being, the only model of all excellence; and no man can be possessed of true dignity of character, without purity of heart, and a divine principle which elevates the affections above the love of that which God abhors and forbids. Whatever God forbids is degrading, however fashionable it may be, and however esteemed among men. It is our first duty to seek the honor that comes from God.

        308. The Christian religion exalts the intellect and perfects the human character: The principal object of religion is to correct the heart and purify it from whatever is wrong and inconsistent with the enjoyment of God. But the sublime views of God and of his works, which the scripture exhibit have a wonderful effect in strengthening the intellect and expanding its powers. What a sublime description of the omnipresence and omniscience of God is given in the hundred and thirty ninth Psalm? The sacred writers labor for words to express the character and perfections of God. They transport us to an extent in which we are lost in the vastness of their conceptions.

        Equally effectual are the scriptures in refining our ideas, by representations of the purity and holiness of God. The more we know of God, the more just will be our conceptions of what is ennobling in our own conduct; and every step we take in imitating his perfections is an advance in elevation of character. This purity of mind, and this elevation and expansion of intellect are the beginnings of that ever increasing holiness, and that boundless enlargement of knowledge which are to complete the character and the felicity of the children of God, in another world.

        There are other passages that relate to your advice in the essay, but those are the ones that prompted me to get the book out and find them.The book is available at F.A.C.E. (Foundation for American Christian Education), and includes a section at the back called Advice to the Young, from whence the children and I, as well as they and their mother, read fairly often.

      • I had never heard of that book. Judging by the quotes, I’m impressed with Webster. He was not just a great lexicographer. Thank you for sharing them.

  3. Pingback: A Father’s Advice to His Son on Becoming a Man, Part Two | Reaction Times

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