There Is No Indispensable Man

Men and women are equal. It’s not disputed by any means, but there are still those who think otherwise. This article will explore the arguments for why men should be considered indispensable in society and how that is detrimental to equality overall.

The “there is no indispensable man meaning” is a quote by John Maynard Keynes. In the book, “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,” he wrote that there is no such thing as an indispensable man.

Poster by Art of Manliness about "There is no Indispensable Man".

My great-grandfather, William M. Hurst, self-published a brief memoir of his life called Thinking Back before he died. I liked reading about his adventures growing up in Utah at the turn of the century, working as a ranger for the US Forest Service for over 40 years, having three children, and even witnessing Rocky Marciano in the ring when I first read it. But it was how my great-grandfather decided to finish his memoirs — with an anonymous poem called “The Indispensable Man” — that struck me the most.

When you’re feeling important; when your ego is bursting at the seams; When you take it for granted, you forget that you’re the most competent person in the room: When you feel as though your departure would leave an unfillable void, Simply follow these easy guidelines and watch as your spirit is humbled.

Fill a bucket halfway with water. Put your hand in it all the way up to your wrist. If you take it out, the hole that remains is a reflection of how much you’ll be missed. You can splash as much as you like when you enter, and you can mix up a lot of water, but if you stop, it will appear exactly the same as it did before.

The conclusion of this charming story is to do your best, to be proud of yourself, but to remember that there is no such thing as an essential guy.

Memoirs are about me, me, and I – what someone did, who they were, and why their life mattered. But it was at this point that my great-grandfather chose to finish his life story by basically stating, “Sure, I accomplished all of this, but in the end, I wasn’t that significant.”

It struck me as a keepsake from a bygone era of humility, as do other treasures uncovered in ancient literature. A vivid evocation of a bygone mentality.

This sensation was heightened when I learnt that Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star general, Supreme Allied Commander, and US President, had a copy of the poem in his pocket. Instead of waxing poetic about his role in executing one of the most monumental military operations in history, Ike returned to Normandy for the 20th anniversary of D-Day and was asked to give a speech at a dinner commemorating the invasion. Instead of waxing poetic about his role in executing one of the most monumental military operations in history, this man of singular eminence chose to read — “The Indispensable Man.”

We are prone to think that the poem is unduly satirical nowadays. Isn’t it true that everyone of us has a distinct purpose on this planet? But I don’t believe it invalidates the concept. There are things that each of us can accomplish that no one else can; we can each make a difference, and we can each leave a legacy. Nearly everyone of us will be missed in some manner, by someone, when we leave this world. The poem isn’t implying that you can’t be irreplaceable; rather, it’s implying that no one is actually essential. That is, if you leave your job on a daily basis, someone else will be able to take your position, regardless of how effectively you performed your job, and the firm will continue to operate. On a larger scale, after you die, the globe will continue to revolve; civilization will continue to function; people will continue to get up, go to school, work, eat supper, and sleep. Almost everything will continue to work as it did previously. “Graveyards are full with individuals the world couldn’t live without,” as an ancient adage goes.


All of this may sound dismal, but it’s really rather freeing. Too many individuals say yes to things they don’t want to do and continue in miserable relationships, employment, or volunteer positions out of guilt, anxiety, and the ultimately egoistic concern that others would be unable to survive without them. It makes me think of The Onion’s satirical title, “Man Leaving Company Unsure How to Break It to Coworkers Who Don’t Really Care Whether He Lives or Dies.”

The world isn’t always that apathetic about us, but the fact is that it can still function without us. When you take your hand out of the bucket, the water starts to pour back in. To be sure, it’s a humbling blow to the ego, but it’s a healthy, liberating one. 

As Eisenhower responded to a reporter’s question about whether the widespread “belief that you are necessary to a party win” would affect Ike’s choice to seek re-election, he said:

“Did you ever consider what would happen to civilisation if there was such a thing as an indispensible man?” What would happen if he went the way of all flesh? Isn’t it going to be a disaster?

I don’t believe we should be concerned.”



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