Do men need purpose more than respect?

An intriguing opinion column in The New York Times this month asked a key question about men of all ages. Do men need more respect or a greater sense of purpose?

Written by David French, he noted “an overwhelming amount of evidence — from suicide, to drug overdoses, to education achievement gaps — indicates that millions of men are in crisis. And simply put, while many men demand respect, what they need is purpose, and the quest for respect can sometimes undermine the sense of purpose that will help make them whole.”

“What men need is not for others to do things for them. They need to do things for others: for spouses, for children, for family and friends and colleagues.”

David French


All genuine purpose must involve serving others in some way. Look at it this way. Even a lion trapped in a cage gets respect for his roar. His every need is met, from companionship to lunch. But, he lacks purpose or a reason to get up in the morning to provide for his pride.

A caged lion doesn’t need to hunt or even attract a mate because everything is provided for him. He’s often the only male in the enclosure, so he doesn’t need to prove himself or feel challenged in any way.

How many men find themselves in a cage living on autopilot doing the same thing day after boring and unfulfilled day?

In the New York Times article, if you can look past all the subtle bashing of conservatives and Christians, David still makes a valid point. “A demand for respect or honor should be conditioned on being respectable or honorable,” he wrote.

For men in particular, they get respect by what they do, not what they say they’re going to do. We may have the best of intentions about conquering the world, but until we put down the remote and actually engage in meaningful purpose, our goals are nothing more than wishes.

David offered statistics showing that for military veterans, often the most respected of professions, the suicide rate for them is up to 2.5 times higher than the rate for civilians.

That’s no surprise. Veterans once had a well-defined mission with specific objectives. Whether they led or followed, they had the camaraderie of a shared sense of purpose. They had goals to achieve for which they received recognition and reward upon attaining them.

Purpose doesn’t need to be life-and-death to be valid. But, it must involve serving other people, especially for men. Without a genuine purpose for their lives, then everyone else’s business becomes their business. Their lives devolve into endless days of watching television, scrolling through news stories and making sure neighbors abide by “the rules.”

Whether men are serving in the military, business, industry or even their own families, their next mission must always have a clearly defined purpose which utilizes their natural talent, learned skills and unique life experiences.

“Virtuous purpose is worth more than any other person’s conditional and unreliable respect,” David wrote. “It is rooted in service and sacrifice, not entitlement. Those qualities bring a degree of meaning and joy far more important than the gifts that others can ever offer. What we do for others is infinitely more rewarding than what we ask them to do for us.”

If you need help identifying a purpose for this stage of your life, let me know. You can connect with me in the Forward From 50 Facebook group or via our Contact page. I’m happy to have a conversation to get the creative juices flowing to identify something to get passionate about in a good way.

The obituary pages are full of biographies of men who once accomplished much, but when purpose was removed, their motivation slowly evaporated. Without purpose, their lives lacked meaning. When men die, many times people come out of the woodwork to offer their respect during the moment. A man’s legacy is defined by what he did to make a difference in the lives of others.

For too many men, their legacy is defined by what they did decades earlier. What a waste of God-given potential, wisdom and experience.