Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Zach Sumner.
“I only read nautical novels and my own personal manifestos.” – Ron Swanson
If I were to say the word “manifesto,” you might think of either Communists or serial killers. This is understandable; the word has taken a beating over the years.
But what if I were to tell you that writing my own manifesto has absolutely changed me, for the better, as a man?
A Manifesto: Defined
The word manifesto traces its roots to the Latin manifestum, which means clear or conspicuous. A manifesto is defined as a declaration of one’s beliefs, opinions, motives, and intentions. It is simply a document that an organization or person writes that declares what is important to them.
A manifesto functions as both a statement of principles and a bold, sometimes rebellious, call to action. By causing people to evaluate the gap between those principles and their current reality, the manifesto challenges assumptions, fosters commitment, and provokes change.
While manifestos are traditionally public declarations, every man can also have a personal manifesto.
A lot of people already have books or documents that are important to them and that sum up their beliefs. For some, it’s a religious text, and for others it’s the Constitution. I knew one person who’s manifesto was Machiavelli’s The Prince, and I still don’t know what to make of that.
The Benefits of a Manifesto
What makes a manifesto so valuable is the fact that it is a constant source of inspiration to you, and one that can often be easily read every day. I may completely agree with, say, the Bible, but reading it in its entirety every day would be cumbersome.
I read my manifesto every day, before I start my job. It focuses my mind by reminding me of my priorities. I deal with topics like how I want to treat my girlfriend, how I want to work honorably at my job, how I want to vote, and every day I am reinforcing those values. Over and over and over again.
So your manifesto isn’t so much for you to show people, although, if you want to, I know that there are some people out there it could help. It’s more of a medium through which your present self can correspond with your future self.
This may sound weird, but think about it. When I wrote my manifesto, things were going well in every area of my life. I’m not naïve enough to believe that good things continue forever, and it was just a matter of time before new struggles came and old struggles resurfaced. But man…when those rough times did hit again, I knew exactly how I wanted to respond to them because I had already made that decision and commitment.
When you’re going through something tough, isn’t it difficult to have and hold a steady, objective mind? It is for me.
With a manifesto, it’s like you always have access to a calmer, more rational you.
I have no statistical data for this, but I can say with certainty that since I have written my manifesto and began reading it every day, it has made a huge difference in my life.
How to Write a Manifesto
There is really no right or wrong way to write a manifesto; the style of it is up to you. You may want to make it very straightforward or launch into impassioned arguments for why you believe in each principle.
Here are a few of my personal suggestions:
Pick the topics. You first need to figure out the topics you want to write about. These are the areas of your life for which you want to declare your principles. I started off with three: how I want to treat my girlfriend, how I view hardships, and how I view my right to vote.
Set down your principles. Write down your beliefs, motives, and intentions about each of the topics you chose. A manifesto is an opportunity for you to lay your cards on the table. I didn’t realize some of the feelings I had for my girlfriend until I wrote them down and stood back and saw them in a much less abstract fashion than they had been.
Below is a sample of what I wrote in my Manifesto in the section on hardships:
In any situation, regardless of how difficult it may be, I will exhibit strength and control. I will display the courage to stand steadfast in my principles, even in the face of impossible circumstances. I will take the words of Invictus to heart:
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloodied, but unbowed
Now, this is a stance that is personally important to me. It doesn’t matter if you disagree, you should be able to see how I structured it.
Use strong, affirmative language. Notice that I didn’t use phrases like “I want to exhibit strength and control…” I used the more powerful “I WILL exhibit strength and control…” This may seem minor, but if you use active language, you’ll take it much more seriously. You may wish to punch up the language even further, by using the present tense: “I exhibit strength and control.”
Write it down with pen and paper. You should consider writing your manifesto in a physical book. In ancient Israel, the kings were required to write their own copy of the laws down. The physical act of writing on an actual page with an actual pen is symbolically powerful. Sure, you could type yours up in 20 minutes, but there is something special about taking far more time and actually writing it out; as you press the words on the paper, they’re pressed into your mind as well.
I hope this helps, and I hope it inspires you to not only write your values down, but to create a whole manifesto for your life. Not only will it grow you as a man, but it will help you live out those beliefs. And, when all is said and done, one of the true hallmarks of being a man is knowing what you believe, and having the guts to live it.