What the Heck is a "Good" Man Anyhow?

06/29/2011 05:45 pm ET | Updated Aug 29, 2011

The fact that goodness is elusory makes it all the more important to talk about.

There have been many times I wished we had left the "good" out of our title. "The Man Project" would have worked just fine. Or even "dudes," or "why," to play off our genetic code.

But from the start "good" has been our cross to bear. With so many men in the public eye called out for bad behavior, men and women both seem to have a thirst for a different paradigm of manhood -- something fresh and real and, yes, good. Thus, our project was born.

The problem, of course, is that talking about "goodness" is like asking an eskimo to describe snow -- it's nearly impossible to pin down. "Goodness" is harder to define than "badness," which may be one reason why as a culture we have been spending so much time talking about men being bad rather than good. Things get even muddier when you start talking about "good" husbands and "good" fathers. The slope towards righteousness is slippery indeed. People might assume that I am writing about goodness and therefore, believe myself to be better than you.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I have no claim to the high moral ground. Still, the expectation of many readers is that if you are going to found a project around goodness, you better at least have a working definition to follow.

That's the fundamental rub: how to talk about goodness without coming off like God and without judging others. Especially when my own life has been filled with mistakes along the way.

Goodness is an aspiration. It's something you can see in others and follow. But it comes in as many different shapes and sizes as there are people. You can't name it once and for all. That doesn't make it any less important. The very elusiveness of goodness, I would argue, makes it all the more important to think about and sort out on your own terms.

I have often said that my own definition of being a good man is loving my wife passionately, showing up for my kids and doing something to help somebody else. But that still leaves out a lot. To me, another part of being good is the discovery of seemingly completely random gifts. For example, I can get pretty much any kid under the age of two to fall asleep in my arms. I dove into a lake at summer camp when I was 10 and beat a field of well-trained swimmers by more than a body length over 100 yards. In business school our statistics professor would fill board after board with mathematical equations. Everyone else looked confused. For a reason I can't explain the symbols made perfect sense to me.

None of these are things I had to learn. In fact, I had to unlearn what I had been taught in order to allow the innate gift I was born with to flourish. In grade school I was told that I was slow at math. I felt loving babies was unmanly. Swimming wasn't as macho a sport as football. In a way, goodness required shutting down the thinking, self-critical, part of my brain to break through the limitations imposed from the outside. "Goodness" in the sense of being really good at something required a discovery process that had nothing to do with moral judgment and everything to do with the thing itself. It had to do with a letting go of some preconceived notion of who I could be and allowing a truer version of myself, a fundamentally better one, to emerge.

Along with goodness as a gift has come a sense of "good" as exuberance. I am reminded of a whole company founded around the phrase, "life is good."

Good in this context involves the actual feeling of a baby nuzzling into my neck, or the sensation of propelling my 6'3" frame with huge hands and feet through the water likes submarine. It the everyday experience of eating something delicious.

"Damn, that is GOOD!" we all say.

It's this last sense of the word good that I'd encourage you to consider as it relates to whatever being a good man means to you. It has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with living life to its fullest, enjoying the hell out of whatever brings you meaning as a man.

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