Creating a New Generation of Compassionate and Sensitive Men
As I mentioned in my recent article, “Sensitive Men Can Save the Planet,” most boys are taught from an early age to act tough and repress their emotions. Males who repress their emotions have created a planet on the brink of disaster, since most male world leaders behave in a bellicose and combative manner rather than exhibiting compassionate and cooperative behavior. We are at a turning point for the planet in which our male political leaders can either continue acting in an insensitive, belligerent manner, risking the destruction of humanity, or choose a new, collaborative, understanding approach to foreign, economic, and environmental policy.
How can ordinary people save the planet from further human and environmental destruction? I believe that one important way to stop the current political and corporate destruction of our planet is through mentoring young men ,who will become the future leaders of the world, to become compassionate and loving to all human beings and Mother Earth. For fathers, uncles, grandfathers, teachers, coaches or any man who wants to help boys become compassionate and sensitive human beings, the time is now to create a new vision for world peace. (Please note that when I mention in this article your boy, it encompasses any adult-child relationship).
Mentoring young men to develop their sensitive and compassionate qualities is definitely challenging in a society filled with gender stereotypes. While there have been some changes in the last twenty-five years, they have been more dramatic for girls than boys. According to Isabelle Cherney, a Creighton University psychologist, "For girls nowadays, it's OK to play with boys' toys, dress like boys and talk like them. Boys have to walk a much finer line, and their fathers tend to be more stereotyped, telling them not to deviate from what's typically seen as masculine."
Women now make up close to half the enrollment in U.S. law and medical schools, up from less than 25 percent a few decades ago, yet men continue to shun nursing as a career, comprising only about 8 percent of registered nurses. Many dads still get upset if they see their son playing with a doll which surely doesn't contribute to men becoming nurturing parents.
William Pollack, a professor in the Psychiatry Department at Harvard Medical School, has written, “Many fathers are torn over gender-role issues, supporting the concept of less rigid stereotypes yet worried that their sons might be ostracized if they partake in activities viewed by their peers as unmasculine: "We still socialize boys to follow their more aggressive side rather than their more thoughtful and caring side. We're basically telling boys that the worst thing they can be is a girl."
Real Men Can Cry and Express Fear
Most men remember incidents from their boyhood when their dad or coach told them to “act like a man,” especially when the child expressed fear or cried. Being shamed for expressing emotions is hurtful for any boy resulting in his repressing all emotions except for anger which is the only emotion considered okay for males to express. A boy needs reassurance from a male role model that he is masculine enough, just as he is. So when a man shames a boy for expressing his genuine emotions, the boy's self-esteem plummets and the boy is given the message that he has to repress his true self to be accepted as a man.
According to authors of Raising Cain, Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, “Dads treat their daughters differently than their sons. Research has shown that fathers treat their infant daughters more gently than they do baby boys. As the children grow up, fathers tend to show their sons less physical affection, correct them more often, and play more competitively with them.” This behavior by male role models definitely doesn't encourage young men to behave in a caring and compassionate manner.
Many men have a difficult time relating to or supporting their boy when he pursues activities that are outside of the act-like-a-man box. One man I interviewed for my book, The Strong, Sensitive Boy, told me, “I wish my dad had recognized that there are different ways of being masculine. When I played clarinet in high school, my mom went to all my concerts, but my dad wouldn't come. Perhaps to get my dad's attention, I finally decided to go out for the soccer team, even though I really didn't like the sport. The only time my dad acknowledged me was when I played soccer, and he actually went to see me play on Saturdays. I guess I learned at a young age that I had to deny my real self to get my father's love.
Men (and women who still subscribe to the outdated belief that boys shouldn't cry or show fear) would do well to let go of the cookie-cutter model of masculinity. Seeing your boy as an individual, someone who will express his masculinity in his own way, will help you feel closer to your boy and help him thrive.
Learn a New Definition of Masculinity
Many men need to question their own beliefs about what it means to be a man and be open to looking at new definitions of masculinity. Men who mentor boys need to be aware of how damaging it can be when very aggressive male behavior is extolled in the media. For example, I recently picked up a book in my local bookstore about how fathers should raise their sons. I was alarmed to read, “Take your son to a hockey game. Boys love the fighting.” While many boys enjoy aggressive, stimulating team activities, I don't think encouraging exposure to violence is ultimately helpful for any boy.
Actually, it's fine for boys to play competitive, strenuous sports like hockey as long as the consciousness of the coaches and players is supportive and caring toward the participants. Unfortunately, we are still living in a culture where “winning isn't everything, it's the only thing,” which could turn any sport, even badminton, into a match to destroy the competition at all costs.
It's important for you to stand courageously against the idea that a real man must always be tough and unemotional. And, as a way to support and bond with your boy, you can discuss with him these notions of masculinity and how and why they exist. Presenting these roles as artificial cultural constructions will help a boy see them as mutable and, ultimately, optional. And, if you'd like to explore these notions more yourself (perhaps so you can discuss the issue more clearly with your boy), you can discuss the hazards and detrimental consequences of stereotypical male behavior with male friends, your wife, a counselor, in a men's group, or by reading such books as The Wonder of Boys, Real Boys, or Raising Cain.
As well as talking often with your boy about the meaning of masculinity and what it really means to be a man, it will be helpful to reassure your boy that he doesn't need the approval of aggressive boys, athletes, or the alpha male to feel good about himself. It's also essential to frequently affirm when your boy expresses compassion, fear, sensitivity and vulnerability.
Be a Strong, Sensitive Man
Make sure that you always defend your boy if others shame him when he expresses his true emotions and frequently praise his sensitive attributes. Model setting limits with others so that he will learn how to set boundaries if he is humiliated for expressing his true emotions.
As a male role model, you need to express your feelings as well as be able to show your vulnerability. Be like Rosy Grier, the former NFL football player, who sang on the record album and TV special Free to Be You and Me, “ It's all right to cry little boy, I know some big boys that cry too.” When you express your full range of emotions, you will be setting an example for a boy that a real man can be a fully functioning human being. Rather than living in that act-like-a-man box, be a model for your boy of the diversity of masculinity, including the “softer side” of being a man.
Once the younger generation learns the truth that love and compassion for all living beings is the most important value every person must imbibe, there will be a veritable leap in consciousness on the planet. Wars and conflicts will become a thing of the past because wars begin in the minds of people, and there is no room for human or environmental destruction in the political or corporate leader with a consciousness saturated with love and compassion for all human beings and Mother Earth.