9 Lessons in Manhood from John Wayne

To watch a John Wayne movie is to take a course in masculinity. It’s to view the values in action that should be at the forefront of any man’s life. Values that are, by in large, fleeting in a society that’s losing it’s strong, masculine virtues and along with them it’s moral compass and worse, it’s desire to define right and wrong, good and evil and fight the fights that were once considered honorable to fight.

When Willie Nelson asked Jesus to “come on back” and pick up John Wayne on the way, he hit the nail on the head.

Though John ain’t coming back, what he personified can. The man he was, the man he portrayed, the archetype he became, needs to come back if we’re going to be at our best, not only for ourselves, but for our families and our society, our tribes and our clubs and our communities.

Today we’ll go over the lessons that we can learn from John Wayne, the man and the legend; a man who made motion pictures with a clear intent: to give young men the heroes he felt they needed. With his departure from this fine land so went that archetype. We have few strong, gritty, good and honest men in our media, a medium that, whether we like it or not, shapes our culture and our youth and even our politics.

There will never be another John Wayne, but each man should carry himself with a similar, though personal, grace, grit, and grandeur in his own home, with his friends, coworkers, and peers. Hopefully this article and the lessons in manhood we can learn from John Wayne will help.

1. Courage isn’t the absence of fear.

[Tweet “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway. “]

Courage is facing your fear, overcoming it. More than that it’s moving toward your fear, which comes from self-awareness and experience. Self-awareness is a quality that we rarely talk about, but it’s as important as anything else we’ll mention here.

To be self-aware means that you know your weaknesses and your strengths. You understand your fears and your faults and you know that you need work. Any man who is aware of himself is humble, but confident. In adding this ability to move toward your fears rather than turning your back on them and running you become a man with courage, a man who is in the arena of life rather than in the crowd commenting on the lives that others lead.

Have fear, it’s good to have fear. Just face it. Fight it. Wage battle with it and conquer it.

2. Act as if.

If you want to be larger than life, act larger than life. Compare John Wayne’s early movies, the B movies, to those a tad later in his career when he really began to find that character he wanted to portray and how to portray him and you’ll see two different men. One, a tad unsure of himself, the other walking with an unparalleled grace, an unmatched sense of pride and strength, a force to be reckoned with.

John Wayne saw who he wanted to portray and became him. See who you want to be and become him, you. This isn’t another person, you’re not trying to become your role model or your mentor. You can take bits and pieces in this creation, but a copy cat can be smelled from a mile away, it’s only the true originals, the genuine leaders that leave their indelible mark on this planet.

Determine who you want to be 10 years from now and become him today. Act as if you’re already there. Write down “his” qualities, his strengths and his weaknesses for no man is free of weakness. Study him. He’s you, your creation. Live the life you want to live as the man you want to be.

3. There are “manly” values and men need more of them.

We all know that men are biologically different from women, but this biology, the plumbing, the hormones, the musculature and so forth, has also led to men being different than women. We have different things that we deem as being “manly” or “masculine”, and things we see as “feminine”. We can have different purposes that were once dictated by what we bring to the table, to the tribe. These strengths haven’t changed even if our tribes have grown.

Does that mean that a man can’t knit? Of course not, that’s silly, but to deny that we’re different or that there aren’t more masculine or feminine values and virtues and characteristics and strengths is to also be silly and ignorant.

It’s good to have differences, this provides us for things we aim to accomplish, be, virtues we aim to procure and develop. Without this male archetype and without these inherently masculine virtues we have no clear idea of how to be who we are.

John Wayne portrayed these masculine values on purpose, and he wanted to perpetuate them as a means to better his society. If we have more men with good, strong, masculine values, we’ll have a better society. We’ll have more men sticking around for their families instead of leaving their babies and their ladies to fend for themselves.

We’ll have more men who do what needs to be done without complaint. That is, we’ll have more men who appreciate hard, honest work and see the cowardice in holding your hand out and wanting without merit. We’ll see a sea of men who take care of their own and themselves. Our men would stand up and fight rather than allowing evil and cunning men take advantage of the weak or the unsuspecting.

Men can be brutish and loud. We can be obnoxious and vulgar. We’re very imperfect and incredibly flawed. But if more men would have the values that Wayne displayed on the big screen, that gameness, that willing to stand up for the little guy or the little gal, the desire for real justice no matter what cost to the individual fighting for it, if more men would be courageous, gritty and honorable, we’d be much better off than we are now. And that isn’t to say things suck, they may have never been better, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still improve.

4. It’s all on you.

John Wayne lived in a time and portrayed a time when we were in control of our own fate. Nothing has actually changed about this fact accept our own perception of reality.

Today we excuse ourselves from greatness. We do so because we started off poor or we started too late. We excuse ourselves from taking control of our lives because of perceived disabilities or odds that we label insurmountable. The problem with each excuse that’s under this guise of reason is that there are examples of success and self-reliance from every walk of life, meaning that no matter where you start it is possible to become a self-reliant man and take control of your life.

It may sound lonely, but your life really is all on you. You’re going to have help along the way, but never wait for it. You’re going to be given opportunities, but it’s up to you to find them not for them to find you.

In the stories that John’s characters told, their fate was their own. Your fate is the same. It isn’t in the hands of your government, nor in the hands of the corporate world. There have never been more ways to start a business, more niches to feed and fill and there’s NEVER been more people to help that genuinely need help, nor more people willing to lend a helping hand.

This is where the excuses stop. Within the life you’re leading there are opportunities to help people, to create something that people need, to start your own business or help someone else fulfill their dream by jumping on board with their team.

There are, however, no excuses to take handouts and keep them, never paying them back. There are no excuses to stop growing and pushing, working and hustling. This should be liberating, this idea that there are endless examples of successful people who were born into whatever circumstances you were born into.

Sure they may have had to work harder than everyone else, but life ain’t fair. It’s not supposed to be fair. There would be no greatness if life were fair, no reason to risk more or work harder.

It’s all on you. Start working.

5. We’re all in this together.

John Wayne, the man, ended up becoming eerily similar to the characters he played on the silver screen. As Hollywood moved to the left, he stayed firm and strong with his values on the right, one of them being a patriotism that was inclusive and not an exclusionist political correctness that has infected much of our society today.

A great point that John Wayne, the man, made is in our odd desire to highlight our differences while never praising our similarities. He said something to the effect that there is no Native American or African American or Italian American or Asian American or Polish American, they’re all simply American.

In his eyes, by adding the prefix to our nationality we create a rift, not always intentionally, but we confine ourselves to an even smaller group which is a natural human desire, but in the bigger picture of a nation, it does more to hurt than help. As long as we see ourselves in a different light, as different cultures and races with different desires and needs and wants, we’re not going to be able to work as a collective.

The government does more to hurt this than help the situation. The reality is, whether you’re black, white, brown, yellow, or red, we’re in this together. We’re on the same team. Poverty has no skin color, nor does hatred. To see the world only as it relates to a certain color or creed and to see it from the stance that they are out to get us or against me is to confine yourself and your peers to a clique that will clog the progress that you claim to seek.

Get rid of the hyphen in your nationality, be an American or a Canadian or wherever else you’re from. Keep your traditions alive, wear your bloodlines with pride, but don’t demand anything more than anyone else because you feel you’re owed it because of your skin color or even your birthplace or the birthplace of your parents. You’re here. Work your ass off and be thankful for the freedom you’ve been blessed with.

6. Never back down from a fight.

[Tweet “Don’t pick a fight, but if you have to get in one make sure you win.”]

What can you really know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? Fighting is more than the barbaric, archaic act that society largely deems it to be. Fighting is about developing grit and toughness. It’s enlightening to the self. We learn about ourselves when we get in a fight and if we’re fighting for a just cause and with honorable intent, then we’re fighting for a good reason.

It’s only when you know you have the courage to fight that you can turn the other cheek. But if there’s a good reason to fight, an honorable and just reason to battle, in letting fear pull you away from this honorable tussle you’re letting the coward win and you’re rationalizing it with reason and excuse.

Wayne’s characters rarely went out looking for a scuffle, but when a fight found them, they won it.

If you’re fighting to defend someone else, you should be proud that you have the balls to fight. If you’re fighting for your values and with honor, again, be proud that you’re courageous enough to do so. Today, you’re one of a select few.

7. There are no valid excuses.

Excuses, be they in the form of complaints or reasons, are useless. They serve neither the individual nor those around him in any beneficial purpose, and the more John Wayne movies you watch you’ll see how never using excuses makes you a much tougher and stronger and grittier man.

Not only did Wayne’s characters not provide excuses for their faults or wrong-doings, but they demanded that others didn’t either. His characters wouldn’t accept excuses and he’d condemn anyone who used them.

Where’s the lesson for our own lives?

Excuses do you no good. They never do you any good. Consciously move away from using excuses. When you start to make them, stop, identify the weakness, stop this cancer before it metastasizes and evolves into something bigger and more dangerous, a coward. Fight this internal battle, in order to do this you have to be self-aware and alert, know what you’re looking for and root it out.

8. Life isn’t fair.

There’s a myth that’s perpetuated by every bleeding-heart, small picture softy that does more harm to us on an individual level and to the collective, the myth that we’re all equal at everything.

Ideally we would live in a true meritocracy where what is gained is earned by hard work and sacrifice and talent, but those that want to push for equality by bringing everyone down to a lower level get in the way of this. And what’s worst is that it creates more discrepancy, it destroys ambition, and creates an entitlement society on steroids.

We are not equal, while we may be in the eyes of God, we’re not all gifted with the same strengths and weaknesses. The great equalizer is, however, effort. It’s effort, not hand outs, that will help you become better at something. It’s effort that will bridge the gaps between classes, if anything can ever bridge these gaps.

What we need is this meritocracy. We need to be taught that we’re in a meritocracy, not pandered to or patted on the back for trying, but awarded by what we’ve earned, and earned with intelligence, talent, and grit. John Wayne is rolling in his grave as we award our children participation awards, as we raise their hand rewarding them for not working as hard as the kid who wanted to win.

Winning is important. It’s important to be a winner. Winners help people, they create jobs, they fight evil, they win in the real world. By rewarding everyone we’re training our youth to see success as something that isn’t gained by effort, work, and sacrifice. We’re training them to see success as something that just happens.

John Wayne saw these handouts for what they are, methods not to strengthen the weak but sustain them and keep them where they are. His movies portrayed this same meritocracy where success was earned, not awarded without merit, and there was no perpetuation of this myth that feeds our weaknesses and creates cracks and chinks in our armor.

A quick note: If you want to get great at something, align your interests with your talents, and hustle. When you’re interested in something you tend to pick it up quicker and with greater ease. Work and effort become something other than what we understand them to be, they become fun, the focus of said effort becomes a problem that we must solve, that we’re excited to wake up every day to solve.

9. There’s right and there’s wrong.

You do one or you do the other.

We’ve gotten away from this definitive look at right and wrong, this clear black and white idea of right and wrong that comes from both common sense and good values. We live in a far-reaching grey area where we look at the reasons for the wrong rather than calling it what it is and punishing it as it must be punished.

We do our best to justify the deed, the discrepancy, failing in the process to root out the evil, to call it evil, and to take a stance in defiance of said evil.

In John Wayne movies there was a clear stance between right and wrong. It was simple, if wrong was done it was punished and good people and honor were fought for, defended. Life is better when it’s simplified. Our motivations and intentions and our course of action become much more clearly defined, and this is a very good thing, but it comes back to courage.

We all have a compass, a moral compass, a basic idea of what’s right and what’s wrong. It doesn’t need argument or debate, it needs defense. Have the courage to use this compass. If you see wrong being done, stand and fight it. If you see yourself doing wrong in your own life have the courage to stand against it and change your ways, and have that self-awareness as well.

There is right and there is wrong, you do one or the other. If men lived life so simply this world would be in much better hands.