Key Ring 19 - Male Ego with Nkumbi Steven

1. What do you find to be the major distinctives of the male gender?
First of all we have the physical features although they are not the main part of it in my view. Beyond the physical features are the roles that we undertake or do. These roles are taught to us by our parents and society as we grow up. When growing up we are told that it is a man’s responsibility to look after the home, to take care of the family, to make sure that there is bread on the table. We are also told from scripture that the job of the man in a home is to be the head and to love the wife.

So besides the physical features the man has the role of lead provider, head of family/home, bread winner and I think for me it is these roles that complete the description of the male gender.

2. Are the distinctives you mention inborn or developed?

The physical features are inborn. We are also born with a certain potential. We are born with certain predispositions. These predispositions ensure that a certain time when we need certain physical features they become visible and evident. We are born [I would say] with the “program” and at puberty our hormonal balance will move towards emphasizing certain male features. We grow beards, our voices get deep, our chests expand and so many other changes. Even in societies that have tried to confuse men and women roles, those features will be there and they have to deal with them.
But along with those physical features is a psychological makeup which is also designed to help us cope with the roles God destined for us as men.

3. Is there a particular point in your life when you felt like you had transitioned from a boy to a man?
My upbringing was not the typical upbringing of these days although I was very lucky to have both my parents until very late. My family setting was kind of rural although I was born very close to the city in Kawempe. I say it was kind of rural because we did everything that rural people did. In that context, boys somehow have fairly different roles from girls.

For me however that transition from boy to manhood was not an event, it was a process. And I think what triggered it was when I left home to go to a boarding school. At that time I was moving from Primary 7 and I was going to Senior 1. My primary 7 was very close to my home but my senior 1 was 50 miles away from home - in Jinja. So moving 50 miles from home was significant. It was the first time I was away from my parents for quite a bit of a distance. For the first time I could not say “mummy I need bread or I need water”. So that dependency stopped.

To emphasise that point those were difficult times. Those were the days of Amin. The economy was not doing so well, my dad was also going through some kind of transition from being fairly well off to a situation where our finances were not so good.  So I was away from home but also with minimal provision so it threw the burden of managing my daily life into my hands: how do I make sure I can live through a term away from my parents managing the small resources that I had, keeping a decent appearance with some level of dignity among my colleagues? This was the trigger for that transition.

Of course as I went on and on until I reached S4 it was clear that I could somehow manage on my own. But still I was not a man-I think. I was still between a man and a boy.
For my high school I came back closer at St. Marys College Kisubi. It was closer but by that time I think the dependency links to my parents had reduced significantly so I can say I was close to a man at that time than a boy.

The fundamental change which really determined that I was a man was when I left university. I knew that I was a man because I could not go back to my parents’ home and that made a difference. I could not say to anyone that I did not have what to eat or anything. That transition was not an easy time but at that point I was more of a man.

4. Men are accused of having an ego, would you agree with the accusers?
Both men and women in my view have ego. That ego can be complicated or simple. I think ego is partly self-esteem and partly pride. I think any person worth respect will have some sense of ego.
The real concern with ego however comes when pride is probably much more than self-esteem. In fact I think that this challenge with ego becomes real when it is over blown, when it is out of proportion otherwise every child, every woman and every man should have some sense of decent ego.

Ego is not entirely bad. Some level of ego is good; some level of self-esteem and pride is good. In general people with some level of pride and self-esteem are less likely to indulge themselves in things that will embarrass them; things that will bring shame onto them or their families. However the problem comes when the pride is too much. And this can lead to several things in my view. It can lead to falsehood because you have this image of yourself and that image is probably higher than where you really are and so you might falsify many things. If you are a little younger, you end up borrowing clothes to look good. But when you are older, you end up living a life style you cannot afford. You may get a little money and you buy a big car but you know there is no food at home but you are feeding your ego because you want to fit in a certain class.
I however also find that what is generally considered as male ego is a misperception though it is also true that many men have over blown egos. The stereo types however take those guys of over blown ego and they throw it on all of us. They say men are like that, they urinate by the road side, etc.

Let me add that usually when we are grown up, the level of ego we have may be influenced by how we were brought up. If your parents bring you up telling you that you are a “man”, giving you this huge profile, most likely you will pick that up and throw it around. If your parents bring you up to teach you, like we are taught in the Bible, that a leader is a servant,that as a man while you are leading, your biggest mission is to love, to care and to serve, then I am sure that the challenge of an over blown ego will be less.

5. Does male ego affect a man's character in any way?
I think it does. If you have a balanced image of yourself, it plays a big role in living a balanced life. If you have an over blown image (which many people refer to as the male ego), it will also definitely influence the way you live because you make your decisions in the arena of public image. You therefore live your life trying to impress. And we know that the things that impress are of this world-most of them. But even if we are in the service of the church, it can influence the way we live. There are people we know in churches, congregations and ministries who everyone says “that man unless he is the one leading, there is no way he is going to work in a team” You will also find those who basically think that boasting is part of the gospel especially if they subscribe to the prosperity gospel.

In the secular world you find our patterns of expenditure, our patterns of living heavily influenced by this.
Some cultures have been said to be of very economic and business minded people, very entrepreneurial particularly the Asians. And it is said that we Africans regardless of where we live, we do not know business. When you look at that, it might boil down to our patterns of expenditure.

Take for example the Indians, they live very simple lives and wear almost similar looking clothes and that way expenditure on clothes and superfluous things is not encouraged. But we on the other hand, based on this desire to project a big important rich man as a result of our ego, get into expenditure patterns which we might not be able to sustain. We buy clothes we cannot sustain and end up in debt many times. We buy cars we cannot maintain and rent houses we cannot afford, all because we want people to say “that man is rich”. We seek friends whose lifestyles we cannot cope with and yet my observation is that even if you are among rich people, if you tell them that “look guys I am here just for your company and not to spend because I do not have the money”, they do not force you into spending. Problem however comes when you go there and do not tell them that this is my walk, this is my style, this is my life and instead you want to be like them. One can for instance borrow money just to buy golf equipment. So ego can influence us badly.

However, balanced ego is good for our lives. It means that we do not spend time in self-pity. We take responsibility for our lives when we have a decent ego because then one knows that I am a man and need to take care of such and such affairs.

Our egos influence many decisions we take and usually if the ego is over blown, those decisions will be wrong. The degree of wrongness can be huge where you end up in jail or it can be small where you are just exposed at one point.

6. What advice would you give to a man struggling with an over blown ego?
I think the failing of an over blown ego is that it reduces one’s capacity to objectively analyse their situation. 

So it is very unlikely that a person with an overblown ego will wake up and recognise they are in a bad place where their ego is so high and they need to reduce it. But what is most likely to happen is that they will get hit by an issue or challenges. Let us say you have borrowed money so as to finance a big car which you cannot afford. Somewhere the debt catches up with you and they throw you in jail. May be you wake up there and say “what was this all about? Why did I have to buy this car and now that I am in jail, none of all those people that I was impressing is even here”So I think there is a way life can shock you and you say “this is not me, I need to change”

But I think that the best medicine for our over blown egos is our parenting. Unfortunately many people do not have the opportunity to be parented properly even those with both parents. Sometimes we parents have our own weaknesses and challenges and no one really teaches us any of these things. But that [parenting] is the best vaccination.

Otherwise once the error has been made that is it. But I also do not want to blame it squarely on the  parents because there are some people that just find it profitable to have and feed their over blown egos in spite of their upbringing and for such souls, only God can redeem.

7. Can male ego and humility share a man's soul?
I do think yes. As I mentioned before, everyone has some level of ego. And I think a fairly moderate ego is necessary for a person to live decently. Even the most humble men that we have seen have some sense of pride and some sense of self-esteem which make up the ego in them. And for those humble men, that ego is not overblown.

Being able to say no (and leaders have to say no many times) means that you have to have a certain level of confidence, a certain level of pride, a certain level of self-esteem. And I think these are closely associated with ego. So I think they can co-exist.

The ego should however not be over blown because the higher the ego goes, the lower the humility.

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