While I have not always been cognizant of it, I have spent the vast majority of my life as an example. As the oldest of five siblings, every choice I make has repercussions far beyond myself. My mistakes are examples of what not to do, and my successes forge potential paths for the rest of my family.
Outside of just being the first to attempt everything (for better and for worse), I also have to be a continuous example of what it means to be a good man. I do this not just for myself but for my siblings, who need to know what they deserve from other people and what others deserve from them.
My two brothers, Lliam and Aengus, have applied my decisions, and the consequences that follow them, to their own lives. They’ve morphed into reliable, responsible individuals — qualities you can’t exactly teach but can model. Throughout my life, I have strived to be accountable for my actions. I have become a go-to person when someone else has a problem. Now, I see this in Lliam and Aengus as well. While both young men have very different lives — Lliam studies theater at New Mexico School for the Arts; Aengus is taking classes a year early at Santa Fe High School — they live out the idea of manhood in their own ways, and I’m proud to call them family.
My sisters, Wiley and Freya, are still in elementary school, but both of them have grown into people who are comfortable with being generous and selfless, as I’ve tried to model for them. In a family of five siblings, personal property is a figment of our collective imagination, and as such, all of my belongings are shared with my siblings. While my sisters are still young, I am amazed at how well they share with each other and those around them.
Being the oldest male sibling in a large family, I believe the phrase “be a man” is more destructive than constructive. That’s because the conventional “man” is not always a good person. The man in “be a man” is often aggressive, emotionless and driven by anger.
It is good to stand up for yourself, but not to put others down. It is good to have a set of beliefs, but not to the point that you are closed to change. It is good to be strong against challenges, but not suppress emotions of sadness or romance. Ultimately, being a man means being comfortable with yourself and extending that comfort to help others. The world needs more men who are sympathetic, vulnerable and warmhearted. I do my best to remind my siblings that these qualities are not weaknesses.
At its core, being a good man is the same as being a good person. The traditionally admirable characteristics in anyone — respect, honesty, integrity — are not and should not be exclusive to a gender. What I want for my siblings is for them to discover for themselves what their version of manhood means, so long as that does not conflict with being a good person.
To all the men in the world: A good man leaves the world better than he found it. Start with the people around you.
Harvey McGuinness is a senior at Santa Fe High School. You can contact him at email@example.com.