Monday, July 15, 2013

Shame, Secrecy and Manhood

Monday, July 15, 2013

In case you have not surmised by now I am not the type of person to hesitate to give my opinion when asked for it.  In my opinion there are no golden calves, no untouchables, no castles in the sky high above me (and you) whose existence and value are immune to thorough critique.  If you truly want to be a free person able to realize your greatest potential then you will, at least in my opinion, think for yourself and allow yourself to thoughtfully question not just the choices you make in your own life but also the broader society of which you are an integral part.  Nothing exists in isolation from anything else in this world.  Even a lone tree on an expansive plain (seemingly far removed from a biome of which it might be a natural member) is still soaking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen which will ultimately swirl through the atmosphere of the entire planet.  Everything in our world is connected to everything else.

Some of our deepest connections are those we have with our blood relations.  We learn how to be good (or not so good) human beings through the modeling of behavior we witness in those closest to us.  For good, bad or indifferent our parents can leave a particularly profound imprint upon us.  And this brings me to the topic of my commentary today. 

I believe the United States is in a period of profound crisis today.  And one symptom and simultaneous cause of said crisis is the crisis of what authentic manhood is constructed to be.  Many people in this nation espouse a concept of manhood I personally find to be warped and self-destructive.  You may think it only fair to expect me to quote a volume of sources to substantiate my position.  And I feel such an expectation is quite reasonable.  Perhaps later, once I have been writing this blog for a longer period of time, I will take the time to find supportive sources for my commentary.  At this time, because I do this for free and am quite busy with my own life outside of this blog, I will not be quoting extensive sources.  But you can rest assured I am a talented researcher.  If you want proof ask to see my resume.  Anyhow, I am digressing a bit.

One of the primary shortcomings in the way that manhood is constructed in this nation has to do with expression of emotion.  The tough guy archetype (as embodied in cowboys, aloof warriors, etc) insists that ‘legitimate’ manhood is embodied by men who show minimal if any emotion.  A man is not allowed to express sadness, fear, confusion and pain when one defines manhood in this way.  The expression of such feelings is construed to indicate weakness.  It is also not uncommon for this conception of manhood to be expressed through a fetishism for weaponry, an aloofness that is somehow interpreted to be quiet strength and a coldness that is the antithesis of compassion.  I categorically reject this rendering of manhood.  In my opinion it is outdated conceptions of gender such as this negative male archetype that are partially responsible for leading us to face a number of unprecedented challenges at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

I have been wrangling with personal pain and how men are taught to address their own pain not just since my diagnosis last month but throughout my life.  And I must admit I feel I need to further develop my skill in this arena.  I do not feel I received adequate healthy mentoring from my father in this regard.  Like so many men I stand across a chasm from my father in regards to our ideas of what makes an authentic man.

An inability to confront pain in a healthy way almost automatically feeds a type of behavior that often proves dysfunctional, personally destructive and even dangerous to others.  What is this behavior?  It’s the practice of keeping secrets.  Pain, the shaming of men into disowning their own pain and secrecy are intimately interconnected like the twisted children of one single monster.

I have been witness to the destructive power of virtually blind adherence to a policy of secrecy.  My father used this approach to deal with the fallout from his second marriage in which my stepmother attempted to murder him.  The deceit he practiced led me to feel alienated; my own father could not address his pain in a healthy way at a moment in time in which it was so critical that he do so.  The pain of the past never heals if not adequately confronted.  It will instead in all likelihood fester like a wound never given enough light and fresh air to heal.

Despite some of my earliest life experience with my own biological father I have nonetheless enjoyed the fortune of finding male mentors throughout my adult life on multiple occasions.  These mentors have provided me a positive image of what a healthy man can be.  Among those who have proven most influential in my own life are theologian and creation spirituality advocate Matthew Fox, Aleut elder Ilarion Merculieff, breathworker Christian de la Huerta, Chester Mainard (who once taught classes on behalf of the Body Electric School of Massage) and James Gillon, SJ (my former novice master).   I believe I know these men well enough to confidently say that none of them would have agreed with the conception of manhood as is commonly articulated in mainstream American culture.  Warmaking, greed, deceit and cowardice do not make for authentic men.

As I continue to explore my own interior life and rework my perspective on the world as well as what I shall subsequently do with the remainder of my life it is clear to me how destructive secrecy and the veiling of genuine feeling can be.  I have lived that experience.  We fail the future men of our society when we teach them to feel shame when they express sadness, pain or anger.  As I have already noted these false prophets of maleness are easy to find here in the United States.  To heal ourselves and restore the vibrancy of this nation and its original promise we must address our ideas, both those that are healthy as well as those that are pathological, of what it is to be a man.

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