Boys need rewiring to become men

September 15, 2013
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By Jasbir T. Singh |

This post you are about to read should be a wake-up call to all men. I just watched an illuminating TED Talk by former NFL player, Joe Ehrmann, called Be a Man, about how boys are socialized to become men with a completely false understanding of what masculinity means. I have to say, the talk has changed my mindset, and has provided me with a new strategy to raise my 3-year-old son. The wool is no longer over my eyes! 

Ehrmann describes how boys, from a very young age, are socialized in such a way so as to repress their emotions, and are told to stop crying, and to "stop being a sissy".  They are essentially taught at a very early age to separate their heart from their head.

He then brilliantly explains how all boys grow up to have a false understanding of what masculinity means. When boys are 7, 8, and 9 years old, they quickly learn on ball fields, playgrounds, and at recess, that masculinity is about athletic ability, size, strength, and skill set. This is the first lie. By junior high school boys have learned that masculinity is associated with sexual conquest, and objectifying women, which literally makes them use girls to gratify their physical needs or to validate their insecurity. The second lie. Finally, men grow up to measure their masculinity in terms of their economic success, job title, power, or amount of possessions they have. The third lie. I think most men would agree (myself included) that this accurately depicts what males go through during the journey from boyhood to manhood.

He later introduces a word that I have never heard of before: alexithymia, which means the inability to put emotions and feelings into words. Apparently 80% of men have it. By being told to repress feelings of emotion, it actually disables men from understanding themselves as well as the feelings of others. Studies have shown that this incapacity to understand emotion can then lead to covert masculine depression, isolation, and the inability to enter into meaningful relationships with other human beings. If that happens, then addictions may set in, e.g. substance abuse, sex, and pornography. This could lead to resorting to violence, for power and control, which stems from unprocessed grief. Ehrmann says,
"Boys who don't cry shoot bullets."
The solution that Ehrmann offers is to literally rewire boys so that their heart and head reconnect. All of their emotions, feelings, and humanity need to be validated. When a boy is seen crying, he should be encouraged to let it out, rather than being condemned.

Finally, Ehrmann provides these two points of wisdom about what it means to be a man, and what people truly care about when you are on your deathbed:
  1. What kind of relationships did you have as a father, son, husband, and friend?
  2. What was your cause in life, or what difference did you make in this world?
For more information on the improper socialization of boys in our society, this podcast is well worth listening to. It's an interview with author, Dr. Gary Cross, about his book, Men to Boys:The Making of Modern Immaturity. I will likely buy it soon as it sounds interesting.

To continue on the theme of rewiring boys to become men, Tarek Saab seems to have figured it out on his own. In his book, Gut Check: Confronting Love Work & Manhood, he describes his own journey from man-boy to manhood, and his discovery about the meaning of life. He says, "The man I want to be...
  • Prays, recognizing that his duty is to God first above all things.
  • Is articulate, communicating his thoughts and opinions intelligently and respectfully.
  • Respects women, directly, through honourable discourse and chaste living, and indirectly, by his thoughts.
  • Defends the innocent, especially children and unborn life.
  • Is not addicted - whether to alcohol, pornography, or entertainment - and therefore truly free.
  • Is healthy, actively maintaining physical fitness and a proper diet.
  • Holds convictions supported by reason and truth.
  • Is courageous, unafraid to defend truth in all circumstances.
  • Educates himself, not for the sake of accumulating factual knowledge, but for advancement in wisdom.
  • Works hard, acknowledging that time is a gift to be used wisely.
  • Sacrifices his needs for the sake of others.
  • Is charitable, recognizing that nothing is truly his own.
  • Is humble, possessing an honesty that doesn't tolerate deception, and a gratitude without envy.
Finally, I'd like to end with some light humour, something I found on Art of Manliness. It's the Brad Pitt Rule when asking a girl out on a date.

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