Friday, April 30, 2010

Dudes Sharing Feelings with Dudes

Most guys in the gym would never tell their buddy how lucky they feel to know him. Most guys would likely be afraid of being thought of as gay or girlish (it's hard to say which would be worse for most men). And that's sad - why can't one guy tell another guy that he cares about him?

My friend is younger than me, so there is a kind of big brother/little brother thing. I never had a little brother (and always wanted one), but he has two older brothers who, from his perspective, never really understood him.

We share some experience - we both suffer from occasional depression, we both have social anxiety, and we both have ADD. And we both put our health above most other things (in his case, his two little girls come first).

So today he told me that, to him, knowing me feels like a gift - that's pretty damn cool to hear. That's it, a pretty simple statement.

Why is it so hard for guys to share things like that?

Documentary - An Emasculating Truth

This film comes from Documentary Heaven, a great source for all things documentary. While the film begins with a look at the decline in the male hormone, testosterone, in American men, it goes beyond that to ask some good questions about what it means to be a man.

My sense is that masculinity is in transition from older models that are no longer relevant or useful to a more evolved version that matches the current life conditions. But that need not include a decline in testosterone and masculine physicality. Through good health and exercise, we can maintain our hormone levels even while we become more emotionally and spiritually mature.

According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, testosterone is declining in American men at the alarming rate of one percent a year. But why? That’s what Casey Neistat and Oscar Boyson sought to uncover in their film An Emasculating Truth.

Ultimately, the short film goes beyond this question to further the current dialogue about today’s definition of masculinity in light of changing gender roles. Boyson, the film’s producer and on camera emcee, came to some very personal conclusions about what it means to be a man today, turning the camera on himself and asking the question ‘what does it mean to be a man?’

“Masculinity isn’t something people think about often,” said Boyson. “Our goal was to find a cross-section of people and ask them, what does being a man mean to you? This is an issue where there isn’t much middle ground and we wanted to find out why.”

The facts speak for themselves. Men suffered more than their fair share of lay-offs in the past year (80 percent to be exact), so much so that women now outnumber men in the work force for the first time in history. Women also outnumber men in higher education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, with nearly 60 percent of grad school enrollees being women.

Boys – our future men – are failing out of high school at alarming rates, 4.9 percent versus 3.8 percent of girls, and are being diagnosed with ADHD at rates three times higher than that of their female counterparts. In short, manhood is in peril … or at least going through a pretty significant transformation on its way to the new future state.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Your Suggestions Needed for a Truly Masculine Book

A book club leader from London contacted me asking for recommendations for a "real" masculine book. Here is the message from Bella:
I run a book club in London and although we have nearly 30 members only 3 are male!

After reading 'Sacred Hearts' by Sarah Dunant, which the author suggests has no male characters (although there are 2 men in it!), we decided that we would like to choose the definitive 'male' book as a future choice. Not any easy ask!

We had a lively conversation and decided to mull it over until our May meeting.
I have just started a club blog and have posed this very question.

I wondered if you or any of your subscribers at masculineheart.blogspot could help us with this!

There is a link from my website to the blog and I wondered if anyone could post some thoughts tat we could share with the group.
I would love to collect some suggestions here and send them to her. So how about it guys -

What are the best male books you have read?

Please add your choices to the comments and I will pass them on to Bella and do a post here with the one(s) that come up most often.

Art of Manliness - Motivational Posters: Bear Bryant

Paul “Bear” Bryant was a coaching legend. During his 25 year tenure at the University of Alabama, he was college football’s winningest coach, leading his team to six national championships. As a young man he was tough - he earned his famous nickname by volunteering to wrestle a bear at age 13 and played in a game with a partially broken leg during his time as a college player. He carried this toughness over to his coaching where he demanded excellence of his men on and off the field, and looked dapper while doing it. Losing was not an option, and sweat equity made sure of it. The inspiration he doled out applies not just to football but to the grand game of life.
Here are a couple of the images - more at the site.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mike LaBossiere - Being a Man II: Manly Metaphysics

This is the second installment in a series of articles from Mike LaBossiere at Talking Philosophy on what it means to be a man. Part one was Being a Man I: Social Construct.

I thought the first installment was quite useful in its approach, but this piece seems less so to me. On the other hand, the problem to me is not that I disagree with a metaphysical aspect to masculine, that masculinity is a partly a fundamental nature of being a man. I just doubt that Aristotle is the proper approach.

Mike states: "Clearly, whether being a man is objective or subjective is rather important." Yes, but it's not either/or to me, it's both/and - and this is the fundamental element of my own view. Being a man is partly in our physicality, but there is also our psyches and the culture that shapes our understanding of both the physicality and the psyche. We need the bigger perspective.

Being a Man II: Manly Metaphysics

Herma of Plato, Musei Capitolini, Rome

Image via Wikipedia

In my previous post on this subject, I considered that being a man might be merely a matter of meeting certain social norms. In short, perhaps being a man simply amounts to determining the standards set by the group in question and meeting them.

However, perhaps there is more to being a man than that. Perhaps there are objective elements to being a man. One possibility is that being a man is actually grounded in the nature of reality. That is, being a man is a metaphysical matter.

One way to look at this is to go back to the dispute over universals during the Middle Ages. To oversimplify things quite a bit, one option was to believe that metaphysical universals are real. Roughly put, this is the view that individuals are grouped into types on an objective basis and this basis is a metaphysical property. So, for example, all men would be men because they instantiate or participate in the universal of man. This sort of view dates back to Plato. There are, of course, many views about the nature of properties. For example, there are trope theories (sometimes refereed to as theories about abstract particulars).

On this sort of view, then being a man would be an objective matter. A person who has the quality in question would thus be a man. This, if Plato was right, could be a matter of degrees with some men being more men than others. This would be comparable to his account of beauty: objects come in degrees of beauty based on how well they instantiate the form of beauty. On this sort of view, how manly a man is would be an objective manner (although people can, of course, still dispute relative manliness).

This might also not be a simple matter of having a single quality-being a man might also involve having a set of properties and thus be a complex rather than a simple. This is, however, consistent with their being an objective basis to being a man.

The main alternative to this sort of metaphysical realism is known as nominalism. Crudely put, this is the view that individuals are grouped on the basis of names. In short, all men are men because they are called men. This sort of approach is like the one considered in the first blog on the subject.

While there are numerous versions of metaphysical views about the basis on which individuals are grouped into types,the division between there being an objective basis and the denial of such a basis cuts across all the various views. Clearly, whether being a man is objective or subjective is rather important.

On the plus side, this sort of metaphysical realism has a long and established pedigree (with a multitude of supporting arguments). Also, the idea of there being an objective basis to being a man has a certain appeal-if only to provide a foundation for our judgments that goes beyond mere opinion.

On the minus side, the opposition to this approach also has a long and well established pedigree. Also, the idea that being a man involves weird metaphysical entities rather than mundane factors such as character traits or behavior seems to be rather weird. But, of course, weirdness is not a very serious charge in philosophy. Finally, being told that being a man is a matter of instantiating the property (or properties) of being a man does not go very far in telling a man how he should act should he desire to be a man. To misquote Aristotle, what we are concerned with is no so much knowledge of men, but what it is to be a man. Otherwise, our study would be useless.

Thus, while the metaphysics of being a man are of interest, what seems to be of even greater interest is what it actually is to be a man in terms of how one should act.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

David Page - In Praise of the Y Chromosome

File:Y-chromosome haplotype.png

An interesting article from the Harvard Gazette - it's about time the Y Chromosome gets a little respect. Just so we are all on the same page:
The Y chromosome is one of the two sex-determining chromosomes in most mammals, including humans. In mammals, it contains the gene SRY, which triggers testis development if present. The human Y chromosome is composed of about 60 million base pairs. Females do not have a Y chromosome. DNA in the Y chromosome is passed from father to son, thus tracking many surnames. Y-DNA analysis is thus used in family history research.

In humans, the Y chromosome spans about 58 million base pairs (the building blocks of DNA) and represents approximately 2% of the total DNA in a male cell[29]. The human Y chromosome contains 86[30] genes, which code for only 23 distinct proteins. Traits that are inherited via the Y chromosome are called holandric traits.

The human Y chromosome is unable to recombine with the X chromosome, except for small pieces of pseudoautosomal regions at the telomeres (which comprise about 5% of the chromosome's length). These regions are relics of ancient homology between the X and Y chromosomes. The bulk of the Y chromosome which does not recombine is called the "NRY" or non-recombining region of the Y chromosome.[31] It is the SNPs in this region which are used for tracing direct paternal ancestral lines.

Dr. Page is not so convinced the Y Chromosome is on its way to oblivion:
"we realized genes on Y come in pairs, just not from Mom and Dad, but on the arms of the palindrome.” The arms of the palindrome engage in “nonreciprocal recombination,” folding over on themselves to “overwrite” faulty genetic material.

“This implies that the palindrome existed in the chimp/human ancestor 6 million years ago,” said Page, whose lab also sequenced the chimp Y chromosome and discovered that the Y has continued to evolve in the 6 million years since chimps and humans emerged from a common ancestor."

Important stuff for us guys.

In praise of the Y chromosome

Professor says it plays more pivotal role in genetics than suspected

By Elizabeth Gehrman, Harvard Correspondent

Monday, April 19, 2010

In comparison to the X chromosome, says David Page, the Y chromosome is a “demure, rather shy little fellow” traditionally believed by scientists to be decaying or stagnating to the point where some researchers have predicted its eventual extinction.

“I have spent the better part of the last 25 years defending the honor of this small, downtrodden chromosome in the face of numerous insults to its character,” said Page, director of the Whitehead Institute and a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, during a lively lecture Thursday (April 15) titled “The Evolutionary and Genetic Basis of Human Reproduction,” the final talk this semester in the “Evolution Matters” series sponsored by the Harvard Museum of Natural History.

Talking as if he were teaching a class, Page dispensed with the traditional format of holding a question-and-answer session at the end of his lecture, and instead invited audience participation. He began with a “crash course” he called “Human Genome 101,” asking questions such as “How many cells do you have in your body?” (10 trillion); “How many genomes per cell?” (two, except for in gametes, which have one); and the trickier “How old is sex?” (that depends whether you’re talking about bacteria, yeast, turtles, or humans), before tackling gene recombination.

During recombination, he explained, genes usually work in pairs, swapping material to lead to DNA repair and more robust genetic diversity. Every cell in the human body contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, and 22 of those pairs are matched. The 23rd in about 50 percent of people (that is, men) are not a matched pair but an XY pair. The Y chromosome is passed from father to son and contains the genes necessary for forming testicles, and therefore making sperm. Until Page’s laboratory learned differently, scientists believed that the Y chromosome, which has about 80 genes compared with the X’s 1,000 or so, did not pair-swap genetic material, and therefore was a weakened player.

But Page and his colleagues discovered that the Y chromosome does swap genetic material. The twist is, it swaps with itself. The Y, Page’s lab learned, stores DNA as a palindrome that reads the same in either direction — like the name Otto, for example. “The palindromes on Y are spectacular,” Page said. “It has almost perfect left-arm-to-right-arm symmetry,” with only .06 percent divergence.

One thing scientists knew was true was genes on the Y did not come in pairs, which would mean that Y chromosomes are very young, evolutionarily speaking, only about half a million years old. “Now all of a sudden we realized genes on Y come in pairs, just not from Mom and Dad, but on the arms of the palindrome.” The arms of the palindrome engage in “nonreciprocal recombination,” folding over on themselves to “overwrite” faulty genetic material.

“This implies that the palindrome existed in the chimp/human ancestor 6 million years ago,” said Page, whose lab also sequenced the chimp Y chromosome and discovered that the Y has continued to evolve in the 6 million years since chimps and humans emerged from a common ancestor.

Page and his colleagues also discovered that the Y chromosome may be linked to Turner syndrome in women, which is characterized by the lack of one sex chromosome, and can cause short stature, heart defects, and infertility due to ovarian malfunction. The syndrome may be the result of Y chromosome recombination gone awry, Page speculates, when the chromosome inadvertently becomes a palindrome with no gap in the center.

Known as the centromere, the middle space between the two arms of the Y chromosome is key to its health. If two centromeres are inadvertently created, as they were on 18 of 60 patients studied who had low sperm production, there are anomalies of the Y chromosome, or discordance between chromosomal constitution and anatomy — that is, feminization. “It turns out these centromeres play a critical role in passing out one copy of each chromosome to each daughter cell,” said Page. “Ironically, the more Y you have, the more likely you’re a female.”

Here is a lecture by David Page on the Y Chromosome, from the Forum Network.

Evolution of Sex: Rethinking the Y Chromosome

March 27, 2007
David Page director, Whitehead Institute

David Page examines the Y chromosome's architectural beauty, evolutionary dynamism, and critical role in male infertility.

Over the last few decades, the male-specific Y chromosome, the runt of the genomic litter, has been diagnosed as terminally ill. Some scientists declared that in another 10 million years or so the Y will be gone altogether, taking males along with it. But the Y has proven far more resilient than expected. Although it is not paired with another chromosome with which it can correct genetic defects, Whitehead Institute researchers and others have found that the Y has a unique and astonishing capacity to repair itself.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Steven Stosny - Are You Emotionally Abusive?
A lot of men have gotten the message that physical abuse is totally unacceptable, but what about emotional abuse? My guess is that most people (men or women) are not even aware of emotional abuse - and when they are engaged in it - and how destructive it can be both to the person on the receiving end and to the relationship itself.

There is a lot of info in this post - and I hope that both men and women can find some awareness in the material I have collected here.

Here are a few related articles:
The article refers to a quiz - here it is:

Emotional Abuse Quiz

Walking on Eggshells

Millions of relationships walk on eggshells, with the partners in constant dread that the other will set them off - push their buttons - or make them feel disregarded, rejected, unattractive, incompetent, inadequate, or afraid.

There is a proven way out of this painful pattern that eventually destroys relationships. Start the healing process by taking the Emotional Abuse Quiz.

Many of us - maybe most of us - project our own pain and shame and low self-esteem onto others through emotional abuse, but it occurs most often in our personal, intimate relationships. In fact, we generally (unconsciously) choose partners who are likely to push our buttons, those people who possess we traits we feel we lack, or who fill some need we have (for example, "codependent" people are fixers, and they tend to choose wounded partners they think they can fix).

There is no faster way to destroy trust and intimacy than through emotional abuse. The real issue is that most of us are unaware we are doing it - it's an unconscious act until we do the work to be mindful of our feelings and become aware of when we are "hijacked" by shame, anger, resentment, or some other emotion with which we are uncomfortable.

Are You Emotionally Abusive?

Are you emotionally abusive? It can happen to anyone.

It can happen to anyone. That's right; anyone can become emotionally abusive in an intimate relationship. The path to emotional abuse begins at the point where resentment starts to outweigh compassion.

Resentment is a predominant emotional state in our age of entitlement. Because we perceive ourselves to have more of a right to feel good than previous generations, it follows that those around us have an obligation to make us feel good.

Resentment is a misguided attempt to transfer pain to someone else, specifically the shame of failure to feel good, i.e., to create more value, meaning, and purpose in our lives. Blaming this core failure on someone else justifies a sense of self-righteousness, along with low-grade anger, which temporarily feel more powerful. But the temporary empowerment comes at the cost of making an enemy of the beloved.

One problem with resentment is that it builds under the radar - by the time you're aware that you're resentful it has reached an advanced stage. You don't realize how much it has taken over your life until, through therapy or some life-changing event, you become more compassionate and look back on the years you have wasted being resentful. Eventually, with deep regret, you realize the pain you have suffered and the harm you have inflicted due to resentment.

Because resentment makes you feel like a victim - it feels like someone else is controlling your thoughts, feelings, and behavior - it comes with a built-in retaliation impulse. If you're resentful, you are probably in some way emotionally abusive to the people you love. You have devalued, demeaned, sought to control or manipulate and deliberately hurt the feelings of loved ones. But you've been so focused on what you don't like about their behavior that you haven't noticed what you don't like about your own. You probably have not grasped that resentment has made you into someone you are not.

Here's how to tell if you are an emotionally abusive man or woman.


  • Does it feel like your wife or girlfriend pushes your buttons?
  • Does she have a way of putting you in a bad mood?
  • Are there times when you don't want to speak to her or be around her?
  • Do you feel like you overlook a lot or swallow a lot, until you can't stand it anymore?
  • Does she frequently "do things the wrong way?"
  • Can you be having a nice time and then out of nowhere she says or does something to set you off?
  • Are you sometimes on edge about having a bad or unpleasant evening?
  • Does it feel like you have to criticize her for not being more efficient, reliable, or a better person?
  • Does it feel like she makes you yell or shut down when you really don't want to raise your voice or be in a bad mood at all?
  • Do you treat her in ways you couldn't have imagined when you first started loving her?

If you answered yes to any of the above, here are some things that your wife or girlfriend probably says about you:

  • He's so moody.
  • He doesn't see or hear me.
  • I feel like I'm his possession.
  • I can't be myself; I have to think, feel, and behave the way he wants.
  • Nothing I do is good enough.
  • I feel like I'm walking on eggshells.


  • Do you sometimes make your man feel like a failure as a provider, partner, parent, or lover?
  • Do you feel like you have to tell him the same thing over and over and over?
  • Does he tell you that you sometimes yell and scream or lash out at him?
  • Do your girlfriends ever remark that you might treat him badly?
  • Do you automatically blame him when things go wrong?
  • Do you resort to name-calling, swearing at him, or putting him down?
  • Do you demean or belittle him in front of other people or your children?
  • Do you threaten to take his children away so he will never see them?
  • Are you often jealous and want to know where he is at all times?
  • Would your family and friends be surprised to know how you treat him behind closed doors?

If you answered yes to any of the above, here are some things that your husband or boyfriend probably says about you:

  • She's a nag.
  • She's so moody.
  • She's so unpleasant to be around.
  • I just want her to leave me alone.
  • Nothing I do is good enough.
  • I feel like I'm walking on eggshells.

In addition to the above, you can take this useful emotional abuse quiz.

The Way Out: Self-Compassion

Self-compassion begins with greater sensitivity to the resentment that causes emotional abuse. It is sympathy for the perceived hurt or loss of self-value that causes resentment. Most important, it includes motivation to heal and improve.

Since the experience of resentment rarely improves and never heals, most resentment - and all acts of abuse - are failures of self-compassion.

As we develop more self-compassion, we are motivated less by temporary feelings and more by our deepest values. As a result, we automatically become more compassionate to the people we love.

The key to a successful relationship is maintaining a sometimes delicate balance between self-compassion and compassion for loved ones.


I think this is a serious issue, so I want to add some more information from Dr. Stosny's website that further elucidates some of the material posted above.

One of the types he mentions below is extremely common in men - the Stonewaller. These are men - and I have been this guy more often than is comfortable - who are uncomfortable with emotions of almost all types. Rather than deal with things, they go silent. The combination of biology and, more importantly, social conditioning and cultural training, we find it hard to feel things, and we are often unwilling to hear or accept the feelings or needs of our partners.

So we shut down, we become dismissive, and we end up with a partner who feels invisible, unappreciated, unloved. I have been working to heal this pattern in myself for years, and I still have work to do.

You Are Not the Cause of Your Partner’s Anger or Abuse

Anger and abuse in relationships are about blame: "I feel bad, and it's your fault." Even when resentful, angry, or emotionally abusive people recognize their behavior, they are likely to blame it on their partners: "You push my buttons," or, "I might have overreacted, but I'm human, and look what you did!"

Angry and abusive partners tend to be anxious by temperament. From the time they were young children, they've had a consistent sense of dread that things will go badly and they will fail to cope. They try to control their environment to avoid terrible feelings of failure and inadequacy.

The strategy of trying to control others fails even if they are powerful, for the simple reason that the primary cause of their anxiety is within them, not in their environment. It springs from one of two sources: a heavy dread of failure or fear of harm, isolation, and deprivation.

The Silent Abuser
Not all emotional abuse involves shouting or criticism. More common forms are “disengaging” – the distracted or preoccupied spouse - or "stonewalling" – the spouse who refuses to accept anyone else’s perspective.

While verbal abuse and other forms of emotional abuse can be roughly equal between men and women, stonewallers are almost exclusively male. Biology and social conditioning make it is easier for men to turn off emotions. The corpus callosum – the part of the brain that connects its two hemispheres is smaller in men, making it easier for them to shut out information from the emotionally-oriented right hemisphere. On top of that slight biological difference, social conditioning promotes the analytical, unemotional male on the one hand or the strong silent type on the other.

The partner who stonewalls may not overtly put you down. Nevertheless, he punishes you for disagreeing with him by refusing even to think about your perspective. If he listens at all, he does so dismissively or impatiently.

The disengaging husband says, "Do whatever you want, just leave me alone." He is often a workaholic, couch potato, womanizer, or obsessive about sports or some other activity. He tries to deal with his inadequacy about relationships by simply by not trying – no attempt means no failure.

Both stonewalling and disengaging tactics can make you feel:

  • Unseen and unheard
  • Unattractive
  • Like you don't count
  • Like a single parent

What All Forms of Abuse Have in Common
Whether overt or silent, all forms of abuse result from failures of compassion; he/she stops caring about how you feel. Compassion is the lifeblood of marriage; failure of compassion is its heart disease.

It would be less hurtful if your partner never cared about how you felt. But when you were falling in love, he/she cared a great deal. So now it feels like betrayal when he or she doesn't care or try to understand. That’s not the person you married. Failure of compassion can feel like abuse.

Harmful Adaptations to Anger and Abuse: Walking on Eggshells
The most insidious aspect of abuse is not the obvious nervous reactions to shouting, name-calling, criticism or other demeaning behavior. It's the adaptations you make to try to prevent those painful episodes. You walk on eggshells to keep the peace or a semblance of connection.

Women are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of walking on eggshells due to their greater vulnerability to anxiety. Many brave women engage in constant self-editing and self-criticism to keep from "pushing his buttons." Emotionally abused women can second guess themselves so much that they feel as though they have lost themselves in a deep hole.

Recovery from walking on eggshells requires removing focus from repair of your relationship and your partner and placing it squarely on your personal healing. The good news is that the most powerful form of healing comes from within you. You can draw on your great inner resources by reintegrating your deepest values into your everyday sense of self. This will make you feel more valuable, confident, and powerful, regardless of what your partner does.

No One Escapes the Effects of Abuse

Families do not communicate primarily by language. That might surprise you, until you consider that humans bonded in families for millennia before we even had language. Even today, the most sensitive communications that have the most far-reaching consequences to our lives occur between parents and infants through tone of voice, facial expressions, touch, smell, and body posture, not language.

Though less obvious than interactions with young children, most of your communications with your older children and with your husband also occur through an unconscious process of emotional attunement. You psychologically and even physically tune in your emotions to the people you love. That’s how you can come home in one mood, find your husband or children in a different mood and, bam! – all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you’re in their mood. Quite unconsciously, you automatically react to one another.

Emotional attunement, not verbal skills, determines how we communicate, from our choice of words to our tone of voice. If attuned to a positive mood, you are likely to communicate pleasantly. If you’re in a negative mood, your words will be less than pleasant.

Now here’s the really bad news. Due to this unconscious, automatic process of emotional attunement, your children are painfully reactive to the walking-on-eggshells atmosphere between your husband and you, even if they never hear you say a harsh word to one another.

Everyone in a walking-on-eggshells family loses some degree of dignity and autonomy. You become unable to decide your own thoughts, feelings, and behavior, because you are living in a defensive-reactive pattern that runs largely on automatic pilot. No fewer than half the members of these unfortunate families, including the children, suffer from clinical anxiety and/or depression. (“Clinical” doesn’t mean feeling down or blue or worried, it means that the symptoms interfere with normal functioning. You can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, can’t work as efficiently, and can’t enjoy yourself without drinking.) Most of the adults lack genuine self-esteem (based on realistic self-appraisals), and the children rarely feel as good as other kids.

When it comes to the more severe forms of destructiveness, purely emotional abuse is usually more psychologically harmful than physical abuse. There are a couple of reasons for this. Even in the most violent families, the incidents tend to be cyclical. Early in the abuse cycle, a violent outburst is followed by a honeymoon period of remorse, attention, affection, and generosity, but not genuine compassion. (The honeymoon stage eventually ends, as the victim begins to say, “Never mind the damn flowers, just stop hitting me!”) Emotional abuse, on the other hand, tends to happen every day. So the effects are more harmful because they’re so frequent.

The other factor that makes emotional abuse so devastating is the greater likelihood that victims will blame themselves. If someone hits you, it’s easier to see that he or she is the problem, but if the abuse is subtle – saying or implying that you’re ugly, a bad parent, stupid, incompetent, not worth attention, or that no one could love you – you are more likely to think it’s your problem.

Important questions to ask of yourself:

  • Do I like myself?
  • Am I able to realize my potential?
  • Does everyone I care about feel safe?
  • Do my children like themselves?
  • Are they able to realize their fullest potential?
  • Do they feel safe?
What Can Help

This chart presents the wheel of abuse - all the various forms that abuse can take in relationships. It's often about power and control - on the outside - but that need for power and control stems from inner shame, low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, fear of vulnerability. It gets acted out through control - if we can control the situation, or the person, then we don't have to face our pain and fear.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Unpacking the Myth of Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett in 1969.

As most music fans know, Syd Barrett was one of the founding members and creative forces behind Pink Floyd, one of the most successful bands to emerge from the 1960s psychedelic movement in music.

Barrett was officially removed from the band in 1968, and the rumors of his drug use (LSD mostly) and insanity (locked his girlfriend in a cabinet) are widely known and mostly untrue. Yes, he use copious amounts of LSD and other drugs, much of the rest of it is not true.

Also well-known are his struggles with mental illness, which have often been blamed on the drug use, and may well be related to the drugs. What is less well-known is that Barrett was always a little bit of an outsider and that he became more so after the sudden death of his father when he was 16 years old.

In Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head by Rob Chapman (not available in the US for a while), the life of the musician and the man is told more honestly, it seems in this review, than any of the previous (and many) books about his life.

My guess is that Barrett suffered from mental illness more than excessive drug use, although the drugs more than likely made things worse. His sister denied that he was mentally ill. Here is the Wikipedia section devoted to speculation about his mental state:

There has been much speculation concerning Barrett's psychological well-being. Many believe he suffered from schizophrenia.[14][41][42] A diagnosis of bipolar disorder (aka manic depression) has also been considered.[43]

Barrett's use of psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, during the 1960s is well documented. In an article published in 2006, in response to notions that Barrett's problems were the result of such, Gilmour was quoted as saying: "In my opinion, his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway. It was a deep-rooted thing. But I'll say the psychedelic experience might well have acted as a catalyst. Still, I just don't think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it."[44]

Many stories of Barrett's erratic behaviour off stage as well as on are also well-documented. In Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, author Nicholas Schaffner interviewed a number of people who knew Barrett before and during his Pink Floyd days. These included friends Peter and Susan Wynne-Wilson, artist Duggie Fields (with whom Barrett shared a flat during the late 1960s), June Bolan and Storm Thorgerson, among others.

"For June Bolan, the alarm bells began to sound only when Syd kept his girlfriend under lock and key for three days, occasionally shoving a ration of biscuits under the door."[45] A claim of cruelty against Barrett committed by the groupies and hangers-on who frequented his apartment during this period was described by writer and critic Jonathan Meades. "I went [to Barrett's flat] to see Harry and there was this terrible noise. It sounded like heating pipes shaking. I said, 'What's up?' and he sort of giggled and said, 'That's Syd having a bad trip. We put him in the linen cupboard.'"[46] Storm Thorgerson responded to this claim by stating "I do not remember locking Syd up in a cupboard. It sounds to me like pure fantasy, like Jonathan Meades was on dope himself."[46]

File:Syd Barrett Abbey Road 1975.jpg

Barrett in 1975 during the recording of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"

In the book Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd, authors Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson included quotes from a story told to them by Thorgerson that underscored how volatile Barrett could be. "On one occasion, I had to pull him off Lynsey (Barrett's girlfriend at the time) because he was beating her over the head with a mandolin."[47]

According to Gilmour in an interview with Nick Kent, the other members of Pink Floyd approached psychiatrist R.D. Laing with the 'Barrett problem'. After hearing a tape of a Barrett conversation, Laing declared him incurable.[48][49]

Gilmour also proposed, in an interview with the National Post's John Geiger, that the stroboscopic lights used in their shows combined with the drugs could have had a seriously detrimental effect on Barrett's mental health if he was a photo-epileptic who suffered partial seizures. When partial seizures occur in the temporal lobes patients are often misdiagnosed with schizophrenia or psychosis.[50]

After Barrett died, his sister, Rosemary Breen, spoke to biographer Tim Willis for The Sunday Times. She insisted that Barrett neither suffered from mental illness nor received treatment for it at any time since they resumed regular contact in the 1980s.[51] She allowed that he did spend some time in a private "home for lost souls" — Greenwoods in Essex — but claimed there was no formal therapy programme there. Some years later, Barrett apparently agreed to sessions with a psychiatrist at Fulbourn psychiatric hospital in Cambridge, but Breen claimed that neither medication nor therapy was considered appropriate in her brother's case.[51]

His sister denied he was a recluse or that he was vague about his past: "Roger may have been a bit selfish — or rather self-absorbed — but when people called him a recluse they were really only projecting their own disappointment. He knew what they wanted, but he wasn't willing to give it to them." Barrett, she said, took up photography, and sometimes they went to the seaside together. "Quite often he took the train on his own to London to look at the major art collections — and he loved flowers. He made regular trips to the Botanic Gardens and to the dahlias at Anglesey Abbey, near Lode. But of course, his passion was his painting", she said.[51][52]

Unfortunately, the people who knew him best - the members of Pink Floyd - refused to be interviewed for this new book.

The biggest issue in understanding the life of Barrett the man is the projections his fans have had about his life. Because he seemed so talented when he gained fame, then burned out so quickly, his life became more myth than man. That's a heavy burden for any man to live with, especially a man who was highly creative, very idiosyncratic, and seemingly set adrift by the death of his father.

To lose a father at such an age (as I well know) is to lose the foundation for growing into maturity. In part, this loss may have spurred his creativity, his willingness to push the boundaries, but it also contributed (in my estimation) to his eventual self-destruction. That is the true loss that I think this new book is trying to understand.

Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head by Rob Chapman

Myths grew up about the drugged antics of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett. The reality was far more poignant, writes Sean O'Hagan

In November 2001, the BBC broadcast Crazy Diamond, a documentary about Syd Barrett, the lost genius of English pastoral psychedelic rock. It featured interviews with members of Pink Floyd, the group that, having jettisoned the troubled guitarist and songwriter in 1968, went on to become one of the biggest acts in the world.

Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head
by Rob Chapman
464pp, Faber and Faber, £12.99

Buy Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head at the Guardian bookshop

Barrett went on to become an unsuccessful solo artist and then a recluse, dogged by mental health problems until his death from cancer in 2006. He watched the documentary in his sister Rosemary's house in Cambridge. "He just said, 'It's very noisy. The music's very noisy,'" she tells Rob Chapman, in one of many poignant moments in this fitfully illuminating biography, adding: "He didn't enjoy it. No. Another life, another person."

Barrett's story has often shaded into mythology. Chapman aims to put the record straight. He pinpoints journalist Nick Kent's epic 1974 NME feature, "The Cracked Ballad of Syd Barrett" as the beginning of the myth of Syd. Among the second-hand stories that Kent passed on was the one about Barrett appearing on stage with his hair smeared in Brylcreem and ground-up Mandrax tablets that then melted over his face under the stage lights. That story, like the one about an acid-addled Syd locking his girlfriend in a cupboard and feeding her water biscuits, were both made up but went unquestioned over the years. Both speak of our need to embellish the lives of even the most extreme characters.

Chapman has unravelled the skeins of rumour, exaggeration and anecdote that have been wound so tightly around Barrett. He questions, for instance, the received wisdom concerning the momentum of Barrett's descent into mental turmoil and offers persuasive evidence that his many acts of sabotage with the suddenly famous Pink Floyd in 1967 were designed to derail what he saw as the group's artistic compromise.

In Chapman's words: "Syd was exploring sardonic gestures of defiance." These included his insistence on playing one note constantly during live shows and the recording session in which he introduced a new song called "Have You Got It Yet?", the structure of which he kept changing each time he played it to them.

Nevertheless, the Floyd were driven to distraction by his increasingly disruptive presence and announced his departure in April 1968. They had, in fact, left Syd behind – quite literally – a few months earlier when, on their way to a gig in Southampton, someone took the decision not to pick him up. For a time, he remained unaware of the full extent of their deceit. "It got really embarrassing," Rick Wright, the group's keyboard player and Barrett's then-flatmate, said years later. "I had to say things like, 'Syd, I'm going out to buy a packet of cigarettes' and then go off and play a gig. Of course, he worked out eventually what was going on."

As an example of a peculiar kind of English upper-middle class dynamic in which ruthless ambition is coupled with emotional ineptitude, this, as Chapman points out, takes some beating. But Barrett's betrayal by his bandmates was only one element in a pyschodrama that had much to do with his solitary personality and his fragile sense of self, both of which were assailed by the LSD and downers he took in copious amounts over the preceding year or so.

Barrett carried some heavy adolescent baggage too, though. The product of a solid middle-class family, his youth in Cambridge ended abruptly when his father, Max, died from cancer the week before Barrett's 16th birthday. His friends and associates from the 60s attest to his friendliness and his aloofness, the sense that, even when he was the charismatic centre of things, he was always somehow apart, inside himself. More than one suggests his temperament might have been more suited to painting, his first love, which he returned to briefly but unsuccessfully when he was ejected from Pink Floyd. This, as Chapman says, is one of the many great "what ifs?" of the Syd Barrett story.

Chapman is very good on the array of almost exclusively literary influences that made Barrett such a singular – and definably English – songwriter, citing his debt to Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Hilaire Belloc, Kenneth Grahame and even James Joyce, whose strange love poem, "Golden Hair", Syd turned into a kind of narcotic dream-song. Despite Chapman's pleading on his behalf, I suspect that all but the best bits of Barrett's small body of work remain intriguing rather than essential listening.

If Chapman overstates the case for Barrett's songwriting genius and sometimes writes from the point of view of an obsessive on a mission to rehabilitate his hero, A Very Irregular Head is a consistently illuminating, and often surprising, read. Like most things to do with Syd Barrett, though, it inevitably suffers from his absence – and that of Pink Floyd, all of whom declined to be interviewed for the book.

Syd is a looming presence here, an elusive to the point of spectral figure, who haunts the pages of this, the best book yet about him. It sent me back to the music, to songs such as "Dark Globe" with its almost unbearably plaintive final refrain: "Won't you miss me, wouldn't you miss me at all?" In the grain of Syd Barrett's intensely troubled voice, you can hear the darkness descending and his terrible awareness of the same. It is the sound of a man not shining like a diamond, but sinking like a stone.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

More on Dr. Louann Brizendine's "The Male Brain"

Dr. Louann Brizendine's new book, The Male Brain, is turning out to be much better than I might have guessed. First up, in this video she introduces and talks about the ideas presented in her book.
Dr. Brizendine discusses her latest book, The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think. An article about Dr. Louann Brizendine and her research in her first book The Female Brain in a July 2006 issue of Newsweek started a media frenzy that led to appearances on GMA's "20/20" and "Good Morning America," NBC's "The Today Show" and "News with Brian Williams," CNN's "American Morning," NPR's "Weekend All Things Considered," "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" along with national print reviews and features in USA Today, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Elle, More, Discover, Health, and the coverage has not abated.

Now, Brizendine, founder of the country's first clinic to study gender differences in brain, behavior, and hormones, turns her attention to the male brain, showing how the "male reality" is fundamentally different from the female’s in every phase of life, from babyhood to old age. In The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think, Brizendine overturns the stereotypes about men and boys. Impeccably researched and at the cutting edge of scientific knowledge, this is a book that every man, and especially every woman bedeviled by a man, will need to own.

As you watch or listen to her speak, here is some of the info from the beginning of her book, including a summary of the fundamental brain centers in male brains that differ from female brains. The numbers in the image correspond to the list below.
The Male Brain
Scientists think of brain areas like the ACC, TPJ, and RCZ as being “hubs” of brain activation, sending electrical signals to other areas of the brain, causing behaviors to occur or not occur.

1. MEDIAL PREOPTIC AREA (MPOA): This is the area for sexual pursuit, found in the hypothalamus, and it is 2.5 times larger in the male. Men need it to start an erection.

2. TEMPORAL PARIETAL JUNCTION (TPJ): The solution seeker, this “cognitive empathy” brain hub rallies the brain’s resources to solve distressing problems while taking into account the perspective of the other person or people involved. During interpersonal emotional exchanges, it’s more active in the male brain, comes on-line more quickly, and races toward a “fix-it-fast” solution.

3. DORSAL PREMAMMILLARY NUCLEUS (DPN): The defend-your-turf area, it lies deep inside the hypothalamus and contains the circuitry for a male’s instinctive one-upmanship, territorial defense, fear, and aggression. It’s larger in males than in females and contains special circuits to detect territorial challenges by other males, making men more sensitive to potential turf threats.

4. AMYGDALA: The alarm system for threats, fear, and danger. Drives emotional impulses. It gets fired up to fight by testosterone, vasopressin, and cortisol and is calmed by oxytocin. This area is larger in men than in women.

5. ROSTRAL CINGULATE ZONE (RCZ): The brain’s barometer for registering social approval or disapproval. This “I am accepted or not” area keeps humans from making the most fundamental social mistake: being too different from others. The RCZ is the brain center for processing social errors. It alerts us when we’re not hitting the mark in our relationship or job. During puberty, it may help males reset their facial responses to hide their emotions.

6. VENTRAL TEGMENTAL AREA (VTA): It’s the motivation center—an area deep in the center of the brain that manufactures dopamine, a neurotransmitter required for initiating movement, motivation, and reward. It is more active in the male brain.

7. PERIAQUEDUCTAL GRAY (PAG): The PAG is part of the brain’s pain circuit, helping to control involuntary pleasure and pain. During sexual intercourse, it is the center for pain suppression, intense pleasure, and moaning. It is more active during sex in the male brain.

8. MIRROR-NEURON SYSTEM (MNS): The “I feel what you feel” emotional empathy system. Gets in sync with others’ emotions by reading facial expressions and interpreting tone of voice and other nonverbal emotional cues. It is larger and more active in the female brain.

9. ANTERIOR CINGULATE CORTEX (ACC): It’s the worry-wart, fear-of-punishment area and center of sexual performance anxiety. It’s smaller in men than in women. It weighs options, detects conflicts, motivates decisions. Testosterone decreases worries about punishment. The ACC is also the area for self-consciousness.

10. PREFRONTAL CORTEX (PFC): The CEO of the brain, the PFC focuses on the matter at hand and makes good judgments. This “pay total attention to this now” area also works as an inhibiting system to put the brakes on impulses. It’s larger in women and matures faster in females than in males by one to two years.
From here she goes on to list and describe the basic neurotransmitters and hormones that shape the male brain differently than the female brain.
(how hormones affect a man’s brain)

TESTOSTERONE—Zeus. King of the male hormones, he is dominant, aggressive, and all-powerful. Focused and goal-oriented, he feverishly builds all that is male, including the compulsion to outrank other males in the pecking order. He drives the masculine sweat glands to produce the come-hither smell of manhood—androstenedione. He activates the sex and aggression circuits, and he’s single-minded in his dogged pursuit of his desired mate. Prized for his confidence and bravery, he can be a convincing seducer, but when he’s irritable, he can be the grouchiest of bears.

VASOPRESSIN—The White Knight. Vasopressin is the hormone of gallantry and monogamy, aggressively protecting and defending turf, mate, and children. Along with testosterone, he runs the male brain circuits and enhances masculinity.

M√úLLERIAN INHIBITING SUBSTANCE (MIS)—Hercules. He’s strong, tough, and fearless. Also known as the Defeminizer, he ruthlessly strips away all that is feminine from the male. MIS builds brain circuits for exploratory behavior, suppresses brain circuits for female-type behaviors, destroys the female reproductive organs, and helps build the male reproductive organs and brain circuits.

OXYTOCIN—The Lion Tamer. With just a few cuddles and strokes, this “down, boy” hormone settles and calms even the fiercest of beasts. He increases empathic ability and builds trust circuits, romantic-love circuits, and attachment circuits in the brain. He reduces stress hormones, lowers men’s blood pressure, and plays a major role in fathers’ bonding with their infants. He promotes feelings of safety and security and is to blame for a man’s “postcoital narcolepsy.”

PROLACTIN—Mr. Mom. He causes sympathetic pregnancy (couvade syndrome) in fathers-to-be and increases dads’ ability to hear their babies cry. He stimulates connections in the male brain for paternal behavior and decreases sex drive.

CORTISOL—The Gladiator. When threatened, he is angry, fired up, and willing to fight for life and limb.

ANDROSTENEDIONE—Romeo. The charming seducer of women. When released by the skin as a pheromone he does more for a man’s sex appeal than any aftershave or cologne.

DOPAMINE—The Energizer. The intoxicating life of the party, he’s all about feeling good, having fun, and going for the gusto. Excited and highly motivated, he’s pumped up to win and driven to hit the jackpot again and again. But watch out—he is addictively rewarding, particularly in the rough-and-tumble play of boyhood and the sexual play of manhood, where dopamine increases ecstasy during orgasm.

ESTROGEN—The Queen. Although she doesn’t have the same power over a man as Zeus, she may be the true force behind the throne, running most of the male brain circuits. She has the ability to increase his desire to cuddle and relate by stimulating his oxytocin.
These basic differences set the stage for the rest of the book. I think one of the real strengths in her book is that she acknowledges and does not pathologize the essential differences in male brains, especially in boys where there are some real innate differences in how boys play, relate to others, and so on.

Likewise, she seems to allow that biology is not destiny, and she acknowledges the role that socialization and upbringing can have on shaping male behaviors. For example, the way that men and women express emotions differently may be partly genetic, but there is a huge learning element to this that begins in early, early childhood so that men suppress expressions of emotions almost unconsciously:
From childhood on, males learn that acting cool and hiding their fears are the unwritten laws of masculinity. And especially since his testosterone surge at age thirteen, Neil had been practicing his guy face to be sure he kept his emotions to himself. For a man to physically strike a pose of self-confidence and strength, he must train his facial muscles to mask his fear.

Because facial muscles are controlled by the brain’s emotional circuits, scientists have been able to learn about emotions by measuring these muscles. Researchers in one study placed electrodes on men’s and women’s smiling muscle—the zygomaticus—and on the anger/scowling muscle—the corrugator. They recorded the muscles’ electrical activity as the men and women viewed emotionally provocative photos. Much to the scientists’ surprise, the men, after seeing an emotional face for just one fifth of a second—so briefly that it was still unconscious—were more emotionally reactive than the women. But it’s what happened to the men’s facial muscles next that helped me explain Neil’s guy face to Danielle.

As the experiment proceeded, at 2.5 seconds, well into the range of conscious processing, the men’s facial muscles became less emotionally responsive than the women’s. The researchers concluded that the men consciously—or at least semiconsciously—suppressed showing their emotions on their faces. Meanwhile, the women’s facial muscles became more emotionally responsive after 2.5 seconds. According to the researchers, this suggests that men have trained themselves, perhaps since childhood, to automatically turn off or disguise facial emotions. The females’ expressions not only continued to mirror the emotion they were seeing on the face in the photo, but they automatically exaggerated it, from a grin to a big smile or from a subtle frown to a pout. They, too, had been practicing this since childhood. (p. 134-135)
Anyway, I highly recommend the book.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Thoughts Toward a Developmental Model of Masculine Identity, Part Five - Environment and Nature in Development

[Part one looked at some racial identity models as a foundation for how to construct a gender identity model, part two looked at the existing literature of male development (and the lack of anything comprehensive), and part three looked at how attachment styles might impact masculine identity. Most recently, part four looked at horizontal and vertical dimensions of individualism and collectivism.]


I've recently been watching and listening to Richard Louv (founder of the Children and Nature Network), whose book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder has been getting renewed attention. His basic premise is that children need to be in nature, especially as an element of unstructured play, to be happy and develop properly.

It's important to understand that our history has been spent out of doors - it's only in the last 20-40 years (television, computers, video games) that children spend more time indoors than out of doors (and doctors will tell you they see fewer broken bones and more repetitive use injuries). Our evolutionary history was spend out of doors, in nature:
I'll plead guilty to romanticising certain parts of my childhood, that tree house was pretty neat. But, when you think about it, for all of human history and prehistory, children went outside and either played or worked in nature for all of their developing years. That has been changing radically just within the last three decades. You can make the case that industrial revolutions certainly had an effect and the invention of agriculture certainly had an effect and this began a long time ago, but for the last three decades that pace of change has been much faster. So I don't think it's an exercise in nostalgia when you think that 99% or more of our history and prehistory as a species has been spent outside, particularly children, and that's how they learn. (Richard Louv, All in the Mind interview)
That sums up the crux of the issue. So let's expand on these ideas.

The following is a quote Natasha Mitchell used to open her recent All in the Mind show featuring Louv (as well as former preschool teacher Deb Moore, who recently completed a Masters in Education focusing on "the secret business of children's secret places"):
If when we were young we tramped through forests of Nebraska cottonwoods or raised pigeons on a rooftop in Queens or fished for Ozark bluegills or felt the swell of a wave that travelled a thousand miles before lifting our boat, then we were bound to the natural world and remain so today. Nature still informs our years, lifts us, carries us.

For children, nature comes in many forms. A newborn calf; a pet that lives and dies; a worn path through the woods; a fort nested in stinging nettles; a damp, mysterious edge of a vacant lot. Whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. Unlike television, nature does not steal time, it amplifies it. Nature offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighbourhood. It serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture's fantasies.

Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses. Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of that confusion. Nature can frighten a child, too, and this fright serves a purpose. In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.

These are some of the utilitarian values of nature, but at a deeper level nature gives itself to children for its own sake, not as a reflection of a culture. At this level, inexplicable nature provokes humility.

I agree that this is an issue, and I think it is an issue for boys even more than it is for girls. So let's define what exactly Louv means by Nature Deficit Disorder (via Wikipedia):

Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, refers to the alleged trend[1] that children are spending less time outdoors,[2] resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.[3] Louv claims that causes for the phenomenon include parental fears, restricted access to natural areas, and the lure of the screen.[4] Recent research has drawn a further contrast between the declining number of National Park visits in the United States and increasing consumption of electronic media by children.[5]

Richard Louv spent 10 years traveling around the USA reporting and speaking to parents and children, in both rural and urban areas, about their experiences in nature. He argues that sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally "scared children straight out of the woods and fields," while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors "safe" regimented sports over imaginative play.

In recognizing these trends, some people[6] argue that humans have an instinctive liking for nature; the biophilia hypothesis, and take steps to spend more time outdoors, for example in outdoor education, or by sending young children to forest kindergartens or Forest schools. It is perhaps a coincidence that Slow parenting advocates sending children into natural environments rather than keeping them indoors, as part of a hands-off style of parenting.[7] [Citations at the bottom]

Louv suggests that this void in nature-time for children leads to a variety of problems, not least of which is ADHD. But even the slighted exposure to nature can effect change in symptoms.
Richard Louv: Frances Kuo and others at the University of Illinois have done work on attention deficit disorder and found that just a little bit of time in nature, a walk through trees, a view from their room of nature rather than a man-made environment will reduce the symptoms of attention deficit disorder. And there's much more going on in terms of the research, finally.

Natasha Mitchell: I guess to push the point home, at one point you said that the woods of your childhood were the Ritalin of your childhood.

Richard Louv: Yes, the woods were my Ritalin. And that's true. I'm sure that I would have been placed on some kind of stimulants like Ritalin or something else as a child. I was the kid that sat in the back of the room and daydreamed watching the trees move, and I was the one that was too active in class and had to move around a lot, and I was also the kid that went down and found snakes underneath the hedge at the school and really came alive when I was outdoors in nature.

I can tell you that over the last few years, moving now internationally, I cannot tell you how many parents and teachers have come up to me and said that Johnny and Judy are different kids when you get them into nature. And oftentimes the teachers will say the troublemakers in class become the leaders in a natural setting, and I've heard that over and over. That's anecdotal, but the research would certainly indicate that that's based on a reality that's out there.

I'm not against pharmaceuticals, I'm not a radical on Ritalin, some kids need medication. But in the US, in some schools 40% of the boys are on Ritalin. What are we thinking? What are we doing? Surely that may have least some of those instances may have something to do with the fact that we took nature away from them in the first place. (All in the Mind)

Considering that we see four times as many diagnoses of boys vs. girls for ADHD (although, in fairness, some suggest that as many as 75% of cases in girls go undiagnosed), Louv's perspective adds a crucial element to our understanding of what can result from an isolation from nature.

However, even if the numbers are skewed, boys are more likely to stand out in class than girls because of differences in how the "hyperactivity" manifests. Even when comparing equal numbers of boys and girls, boys are more likely to have the hyperactivity variation of ADHD, with more disruptive behaviors, greater inattention, more externalizing problems, and higher impulsivity. Girls are generally more inattentive and suffer lower cognitive function in their expression of ADHD (Gershon, 2002).

Again, supporting what Louv says, Psychology Today (March/April 2004) reported that children with ADHD who spend regular time engaged in outdoor activities such as walking in the park, hiking, or in other ways being outside, display fewer symptoms generally associated with ADHD - the article cites the same author Louv mentions above.
Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances Kuo, researchers at the Human Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have found that spending time in ordinary "green" settings—such as parks, farms or grassy backyards—reduces symptoms of ADHD when compared to time spent at indoor playgrounds and man-made recreation areas of concrete and asphalt. The findings were consistent regardless of the child's age, gender, family income, geographic region or severity of diagnosis. (Lawson, para. 2)
The link to improved attention is seen with simple physical activity, as well:
Attention, an aspect of cognitive functioning that involves inhibition and impulse control, is highly valued by parents because of its ability to enhance learning. The emergence of this aspect of cognition in young children, for example, permits group learning—listening quietly with others to the reading of a story or taking turns with others in a shared activity. In a recent national survey of 500 public school teachers and 800 parents, 90% of teachers and 86% of parents believed that physically active children are better able to learn and are better behaved in the classroom.18 While there has been research linking physical activity in children with the development of sensory-motor integration,19 there has been little research in children examining the relationship between physical activity and attention or other aspects of cognition. (Burdette & Whitaker, 2005)
These authors cite similar benefit in affect for children through unstructured play: "free play has the potential to improve many aspects of emotional well-being such as minimizing anxiety, depression, aggression, and sleep problems."

Who we are: Biophilia

I think what I have presented so far is only one possible manifestation of the absence of nature in our children's lives. There is some who believe we are hard-wired to need and appreciate nature.

The eminent entomologist/biologist E.O. Wilson proposed an idea a few years back called Biophilia (see his book for more: Biophilia) which suggests that human beings have an innate "tendency to focus on life and lifelike process" (Prologue, 1).

He explains this point a little more:
From infancy we concentrate happily on ourselves and other organisms. We learn to distinguish life from the inanimate and move toward it like moths to a porch light. Novelty and diversity are particularly esteemed; the mere mention of the word extraterrestrial evokes reveries about still unexplored life, displacing the old and once potent exotic that drew earlier generations to remote islands and jungled interiors. That much is immediately clear, but a great deal more needs to be added. I will make the case that to explore and affiliate with life is a deep and complicated process in mental development. To an extent still undervalued in philosophy and religion, our existence depends on this propensity, our spirit is woven from it, hope rises on its currents. (Prologue, 1)
Here is another version of the same idea, from Stephen Kellert:
Assuming that the human affinity for nature is partially genetically encoded-a product of our having evolved in a natural rather than an artificial world-the importance of childhood must be recognized as the period when this contact with nature first occurs. Even for the human animal, which' appears uniquely capable of constructing its world and learning throughout its lifetime, the fundamental development of any biologically rooted tendency is likely to occur during childhood. (Kellert, 2005)
So, if we are hard-wired - genetically encoded - for this experience of nature, is there any evidence of what happens when we don't have it? Or, rather, is there evidence of how contact with nature impacts development, especially in children?

Nature and Child Development

According to John Davis (of Naropa University and School of Lost Borders), there are many developmental benefits to childhood nature experiences:

A) Kellert (2002) reviewed the literature on nature and child development and concluded that cognitive, affective, and moral development is impacted significantly and positively by direct contact with nature. By "direct" contact, he means contact with wild nature unmediated by significant human manipulation, in contrast to "indirect" contact (e.g., parks, zoos) or "vicarious contact" which is mediated by technology (e.g., television nature shows or books). See Kahn & Kellert (2002), Chowla, Sobel, Nabhan & Trimble, and others.

B) Kellert & Derr (1998) reviewed programs by Outward Bound, National Outdoor Leadership School, and Student Conservation Assn (N=700+ adolescents), both retrospectively and longitudinally, with surveys, in-depth interviews, observations, and qualitative analysis. There were some differences related to program orientations, but major positive impacts were observed in all three programs. Furthermore, these impacts increased over time following participation. "A large majority" of participants reported the experience as one of the most important in their lives with positive benefits for personality and character development. Specific benefits included self-confidence, self-concept, self-esteem, autonomy, and capacity to cope. There was a clear carry-over of effects from wilderness to urban settings. Results also indicate a strong increase in respect and appreciation for nature. Other, more qualitative, impacts included reports of increases in compassion, wisdom, guidance, and inner peace. See also reviews from Wilderness Research Center at University of Idaho (Hendee, Russell).

C) Edith Cobb (1977) conducted a large-scale retrospective study of the role of nature experiences in childhood. She reports positive developmental influences of nature that endure and grow into adulthood.

The list goes on, but it includes this crucial point:
E) The positive effects of nature are strongest in middle childhood (ages 6-12; in modern western cultures at least). While some research indicates that adolescents take a "time out" from nature, Kaplan & Kaplan (2002) argue that nature experiences for adolescents are significant and desirable as long as they also include the particular needs of adolescence, i.e., peer support, autonomy, and the opportunity to develop and demonstrate skill and strength. I would add that wilderness experiences offer opportunities to leave one's family, familiar community, and the roles that go with them, to try on new social roles, and to return with new self-images, behavior potential, and ways of relating. This is especially important during adolescence. (Davis, no date, section III)
Kellert (2005) divides a child's experience of nature into three types: direct, indirect, and vicarious (or symbolic) experience (p. 65). Direct experience is, obviously, the most immediate interaction with nature, the one where we are immersed in its leaves and dirt and water:
Direct contact refers to interaction with largely self-sustaining features and processes of the natural environment. These forms of direct contact include plants, animals, and habitats that function mostly independent of human input and control, although they may sometimes be affected by human activity. Direct experience of nature is often spontaneous and unplanned, occurring in relatively unmanaged areas, such as a meadow, a creek, a forest, or sometimes even a park or a child's backyard. Ecologist Robert Pyle describes these settings as places where "kids. . . [are] free to climb trees, muck about, catch things, and get wet." These areas include "watercourses, such as creeks, canals, ravines, and ponds, a big tree, a clump of brush, bosky dell, or hollow; parks, especially undeveloped ones; and old fields, pastures, and meadow." (Kellert, 65)
Equally important, at least for urban dwellers, are indirect experiences of nature - which we find in urban parks, zoos, botanical gardens, nature centers, arboretums, or museums. This can also include domesticated animals (pets such as dogs and cats, but also horses, reptiles, or birds), plants, or other natural elements brought into the highly managed human world.

Finally, there are vicarious, or symbolic, experiences of nature that do not involve contact with living creatures or environments but, rather, "with the image, representation, or metaphorical
expression of nature" (66). We are exposed to all manner of symbolic nature, including teddy bears, Lassie, Winne the Pooh, films such as Free Willy or Never Cry Wolf, shows on Animal Planet, or National Geographic specials. Interestingly, Kellert suggests that these vicarious experiences are ancient, going all the way back to first cave art.

Kellert goes on to suggest that direct experience of nature greatly enhances cognitive development (using Benjamin Bloom's six stages of intellectual development):
Stage one: Knowledge. The first stage emphasizes the child's emerging capacities to understand basic facts and terms and then apply this knowledge to presenting ideas, rendering broad classifications, and expressing a rudimentary understanding of causal relationships. Stage two: Comprehension. The second stage involves the child's developing capacity to interpret and paraphrase information and ideas and then extrapolate these understandings to other situations. Stage three: Application. The third stage stresses the child's maturing capacity to apply knowledge in generating ideas, concepts, and even principles applied to a wide range of situations. Stage four: Analysis. The fourth stage involves the child's evolving ability to examine and then break down knowledge into constituent parts and then use this understanding to elucidate underlying relationships. Stage five: Synthesis. The converse of analysis (stage four), the fifth stage emphasizes the child's ability to integrate and collate knowledge from discrete parts, organize it into structured wholes, and then use this knowledge to identity and understand relationships. Stage six: Evaluation. The final stage in cognitive development involves the child's ability to form judgments about the functional significance of parts of patterned and structured wholes based on carefully examining evidence, impacts, and outcomes. (Cited in Kellert, 67-68)
Exposure to nature aids children in naming, sorting, and classifying information and ideas. With comprehension and application, children develop the capacity to use information in other situations. Elizabeth Lawrence proposes the term cognitive biophilia to suggest that images and symbols of nature can be instrumental is human communication and maturation. Kellert goes on to examine the successive stages and how they interact with the experience of nature.

More importantly perhaps, Kellert looks at how nature impacts affective development, where he uses an emotional maturation model developed by David Krathwohl and his colleagues:
Stage one: Receiving. The first stage focuses on the child's developing awareness of and sensitivity to facts, information, and ideas, and the willingness to receive and consider this information.

Stage two: Responding. The second stage emphasizes the child's capacity to react to and gain satisfaction from receiving and responding to information, situations, and ideas.

Stage three: Valuing. The third stage involves the child's ability to attribute worth or importance to information, ideas, and situations, reflecting a clear and consistent set of preferences and commitments.

Stage four: Organization. The fourth stage emphasizes the child's ability to internalize and organize preferences and assumptions of worth into a consistent, stable, and predictable pattern of values and beliefs.

Stage five: Characterization by a value or value complex. The final stage reflects the child's ability to integrate values and beliefs into a coherent worldview or philosophy of life.

Only the first two stages of this taxonomy are considered here in examining children's experience of nature in affective development. Stages three through five are treated as a separate growth process that is neither entirely affective nor cognitive but, rather, is a combination of the two. In other words, values are viewed as a combination of intellect and feeling. (p. 70)
This is where we start to get to the crux of why nature is crucial to development. The first two stages, according to Kellert, help children to develop intellectual maturity as they generate emotional interests that can inspire them to explore and understand information and ideas. These emerging feelings are "building blocks" for the cognitive development defined above. Kellert cites psychologist Leonard Iozzi, who suggests that "the affective domain is the key entry point to learning and teaching" (70).

Randy White (2004) summarizes some of the benefits of children's experience of nature, or the detriments in a lack of time in nature:
Research provides convincing evidence of the more profound benefits of experiences in nature for children due to their greater plasticity and vulnerability (Wells & Evans 2003). The findings indicate that:
  • Children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are better able to concentrate after contact with nature (Faber Taylor et al. 2001).
  • Children with views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. The greener, the better the scores (Faber Taylor et al. 2002, Wells 2000).
  • Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often (Fjortoft 2001, Grahn et al. 1997).
  • When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse with imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills (Faber Taylor et al. 1998, Fjortoft 2000, Moore & Wong 1997).
  • Exposure to natural environments improves children’s cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills (Pyle 2002).
  • Nature buffers the impact of life stress on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits (Wells 2003).
  • Play in a diverse natural environment reduces or eliminates anti-social behavior such as violence, bullying, vandalism and littering, as well reduces absenteeism (Coffey 2001, Malone & Tranter 2003, Moore & Cosco 2000).
  • Nature helps children develop powers of observation and creativity and instills a sense of peace and being at one with the world (Crain 2001).
  • Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder (Cobb 1977, Louv 1991). Wonder is an important motivator for life long learning (Wilson 1997).
  • Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other (Moore 1996).
  • A decrease in children’s time spent outdoors is contributing to an increase of children’s myopia (Nowak 2004).
  • Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children (Moore 1986, Bixler, Floyd & Hammutt 2002).
  • Outdoor environments are important to children’s development of independence and autonomy (Bartlett 1996).
For a full list of the articles cited here, the article by White is available online.

Applying this information to a Developmental Model of Masculinity

So this is a lot of information, and I haven't presented it in the most organized way - but all it weighs on how boys develop into men.

The most important parts to me are the following (some of these have not been fully discussed but come from the list by White):
1. Being in nature encourages cognitive and emotional development.
2. Being nature generates curiosity and more creativity.
3. Natural environments encourage social behavior between children.
4. Spending time in nature reduces the symptoms of various developmental issues, including stress, ADHD, and depression.
5. Increased self-confidence, self-concept, self-esteem, autonomy, and capacity to cope - all of which allow men to be less reactive and more emotionally balanced.
6. Children who grow with regular access to nature may express more humility.
7. We are biologically connected to nature (Biophilia) through our entire evolutionary history - we need that connection to be mentally healthy.
For boys who do not get to experience nature growing up, there will be cognitive, emotional, and social deficits as a result. These young men will not grow up to be mature men capable of individuating from their embeddedness in the reigning cultural ideals of what it means to be a man.

Importantly, boys who spend time in nature grow up with increased self-confidence, healthier self-concept, greater self-esteem, more autonomy, and a higher capacity to cope (Kellert & Derr, 1998) - all of which allow men to be less reactive and more emotionally balanced. These men are more likely to develop an individual sense of identity that is less constrained by cultural limitations and definitions. Because they have greater self-esteem and a healthier self-concept, as well as a greater sense of autonomy, they are more free to be masculine in the way that best fits them as individuals.

I'm not suggesting that being in and around nature is the be-all-and-end-all for children, especially boys, in their development - a serial killer to-be often spends time in nature mutilating animals. Nature cannot undo abuse and neglect, but for some boys it can help to mitigate their impact on the developing psyche.

Part of what I am proposing here is that the traditional models of development - which seem to stop at the boundary of our skin - are inadequate to explain healthy human development. A whole human being not only develops in the cognitive, affective, interpersonal, cultural, spatial, and kinesthetic lines (to name a few), but he also has an ecological self that stems from and defines his relationship to the natural world.
What if, from the beginning of life, nature were perceived as teacher, guide, source, as important to us as our families? How differently would we live? (Barrows, 1995, p. 110)
I suspect we would be quite different - and there would be fewer hindrances to healthy masculine development.


Barrows, E. (1995). The ecopsychology of child development. In Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, healing the mind. Roszak, Gomes & Kanner, Eds. New York: Sierra Club Books.

Burdette, H.L. & Whitaker, R.C. (2005). Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children Looking Beyond Fitness and Fatness to Attention, Affiliation, and Affect. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159:46-50. Cobb, E. (1977). The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, New York, Columbia University Press.

Davis, J. (No date).
Psychological benefits of nature experiences: Research and theory (with special reference to transpersonal psychology and spirituality). Accessed on 4/23/10 from:

Gershon, J. (2002). A meta-analytic review of gender differences in ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders;Vol 5(3), Jan 2002, 143-154.

Kahn, Peter, Jr. & Kellert, Stephen. (2002). Children and nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary investigations . Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kaplan, R. & Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of Nature. Cambridge Press.

Kellert, S. & Derr, V. (1998). National study of outdoor wilderness experience. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Kellert, S.R. (2002). Experiencing Nature: Affective, Cognitive, and Evaluative Development, in Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Kellert, S.R. (2005) Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Lawson, W. (2004). ADHD's Outdoor Cure: Finding relief in wide open spaces; Playing outdoors may curb the disorder.
Psychology Today; (March 1): p. 26-27.

Mitchell, N. (2010). Nature Deficit Disorder: the mind in urban combat. All in the Mind: 17 April 2010; Accessed 4/23/10

White, R. (2004). Young Children's Relationship with Nature: Its Importance to Children's Development & the Earth's Future. White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group:; accessed 4/23/10

Wilson, E.O. (1984).
Biophilia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wikipedia Citations:
  1. For more children, less time for outdoor play: Busy schedules, less open space, more safety fears, and lure of the Web keep kids inside by Marilyn Gardner, The Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 2006
  2. U.S. children and teens spend more time on academics by Diane Swanbrow, The University Record Online, The University of Michigan.
  3. Are your kids really spending enough time outdoors? Getting up close with nature opens a child's eyes to the wonders of the world, with a bounty of health benefits. by Tammie Burak, Canadian Living.
  4. Stiffler, Lisa (January 6, 2007), "Parents worry about 'nature-deficit disorder' in kids", Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
  5. "Is There Anybody Out There?", Conservation 8 (2), April-June 2007,
  6. Kellert, Stephen R. (ed.) (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Island Press. ISBN 1-55963-147-3.
  7. Hodgkinson, Tom (2009). The Idle Parent: Why Less Means More When Raising Kids. Hamish Hamilton. pp. 233. ISBN 978-0241143735.