“In ordinary life, a mentor can guide a young man through various disciplines, helping to bring him out of boyhood into manhood; and that in turn is associated not with body building, but with building an emotional body capable of containing more than one sort of ecstasy.”
Inner healing seminars, masculinity conferences, and men’s retreats all claim to have some deeper answer to the masculinity crisis we see in our nation and other nations in the world. Lost youth, increasingly poor performance in school and jobs, loneliness, high suicide rates, and higher risks for addiction and violence have put men on the fronts of newspapers and made them the subject of a number of psychological studies. So these seminars, these conferences, these 48-hour programs seek to dive into the heart of the issue, and arm men for the journey into true manhood.
While I value the search, because it is one that has to happen in light of the crises we see unfolding in front of us, I often wonder as to who defines this manhood. Information is given, but what kind of follow through or practical application can these men be expected to live out in their everyday lives? Can one day or one weekend make up for the damage and darkness men face today? Moreover, what is actually needed to help bring up boys into manhood in an appropriate way in the modern world?
On the other hand, we see the search for masculinity in the ever present and flashy world of advertising. Sex, violence, and danger are the true measure of a man. This is exemplified in gang life in the inner cities of America, where the more expensive your clothes and the more fearlessly violent, the better. Wall Street and corporate America provide similar measures of what a man is really made of. The more money, the more sex, the less emotional, the manlier you are.
The problem with this type of thinking is that it comes out of a culture without an answer to the numerous questions of identity today, much less an idea for, “What does it mean to be a man?” Instead we are each on our own, given monetary help if we’re lucky once adulthood hits, and expected to find our own way. Here’s a news flash: many people aren’t finding their way.
With the loss of a tribe, and a culture obsessed with the individual at the sacrifice of everyone else, the only answer seems to be to clothe yourself in a farse, until you find out how to get what you need on the inside. Men are all playing dress-up, buying the products and the clothes that will help make them feel like they are finally on the right track in life. Need to get fit? Buy these running shoes. Want more adventure? Shop at REI. Need a family? Wear these colors and flash these signs. You’re one of ours. Want to be admired and respected? Make more money.
In my mind, this is the equivalent of dressing up like a bumblebee and assuming that it actually makes you a bumblebee. We all know that fitness requires more than shoes. It requires action, commitment to a process, and often a total lifestyle change. It’s anything but a quick fix and you don’t need to buy shoes to do it. Adventure can’t be had by buying the right brand, dressing outdoorsy, or wearing hiking boots all over town. You simply have to go and have one. Masculinity is not some commodity to be bought and sold on the stock market. It is not magically earned through violence or body building or success, though those routes have been a part of many a journey into manhood. No, masculinity takes time. Growing from boy to man does not happen overnight. It takes place over months, years, tragedy, joys, experience, risk, pleasure, pain, life.
If you buy into anything today, buy into a process. There is not one ceremony, initiation, paycheck, or book you can read that will make you into a man, though those can be valuable parts of the journey. There is no conference that can replace the years of erosion that finally allow the core of who you are to be formed and then displayed to the rest of the world. Masculinity is like a pearl buried in the belly of an oyster at the bottom of the ocean. It is precious, costly, and priceless, and it comes from within. Life presents plenty of opportunities to become the man you want to be. The question is, are you willing to reject the quick fix and fight for yourself for the long haul?
Thanks for reading,