Sunday, July 3, 2011

Niobe Way - Why Men Act Crazy

Interesting, if a little too simple. Here is the key quote for me:
Our modern notions of maturity and manhood, with its emphasis on separation and stoicism to the exclusion of connection and vulnerability, are at the root of why men treat themselves and others so poorly.
Until that changes, men are likely to often act like little boys, both in how they treat others (especially women) and how they raise their sons. We need to begin breaking the chain for more boys.

One of the interesting things in Way's book is that boys have very intimate friendships until they reach their teen years and then it changes - the hormones kick in, it's boy against boy, and no one wants to lose or be seen as weak, especially in front of girls. In so many ways, these are the critical years if we want to change masculine culture.

In some ways, team sports (with a good coach) are important in these years. In my experience, team sports foster a kind of tribal kinship with one's teammates, which creates a bond between boys that does not exist as strongly in other venues. Of course, this can also go terribly wrong when hypermasculine traits are encouraged (homophobia, misogyny, and so on).

Sometimes, films can be great tools for learning - in this case, watch Remember the Titans and pay attention to how the coach uses strong boundaries and teaches personal responsibility to his team - in SDi memetic terms, the healthy structure of Blue is crucial to transforming the ego and power drives of immature Red.

Some of what we see in Anthony Weiner, Tiger Woods, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (to name only three, the ones in the article below) is that impulsive, power-driven Red ego energy lacking containment and structure. The big piece here that Way does not mention is that we do not teach boys how to talk about these issues in a healthy manner - that too needs to change.
Why Men Act Crazy

- Professor of Applied Psychology, NYU; author, Deep Secrets: Boys' Friendships and the Crisis of Connection

This morning, my 11-year-old son asked me what Anthony Weiner had done that put him on the front page of the news last week. I told him. He asked me whether that was similar to what Tiger Woods or Arnold Schwarzenegger had done. I said yes. Why, he asked, do men "act so crazy?" I told him that I would tell him a story about what happens to boys growing up in America, drawn from decades of research, that would help him understand.

Once upon a time in the latter part of the 20th century, a little boy named "Allboys" was born. Like all boys, Allboys had a tremendous capacity for empathy and kindness and a desire for a rich emotional life filled with loving relationships. For the first few years of his life, his capacities were fostered and his desires were fulfilled. His mother arranged playdates for him, encouraged him to share his toys with his friends and be sensitive to their feelings. His father would give him a bear hug when he came home and his mother would snuggle with him at bedtime.

As Allboys grew older, his emotional and social capacities and desires remained but they were no longer fostered or fulfilled. When he expressed his concerns to his parents about these changes, they would say things like: "you are no longer a little boy," "big boys don't cry" and "be strong." They no longer spoke about thinking of other people's feelings, or sharing. In fact, they no longer had intimate conversations with him at all. His father told him this was all a part of becoming a man.

Allboys still, however, had a best friend with whom he shared all his deepest secrets; he knew he could count on this friend for anything. Yet as he reached the age of 16, the closeness in this relationship also diminished. He didn't really know why, but was aware that others thought the friendship was "weird," "gay," and "girly."

Allboys grew up to be a successful businessman with a loving wife. Yet, oddly enough, he found himself doing things that were crazy, risking his marriage and his career but doing it anyway. He didn't understand why. He just knew that he was acting crazy. Eventually he lost everything that mattered. The end.

When we raise our boys to be men in the most stereotypic of ways -- when we raise them to believe that they must separate from those they most love (parents and friends) and not feel their own feelings or those of others -- we are raising them to go against their nature. Thus, they grow up to be men who act "crazy." Data from a wide range of experts, from neuroscientists, developmental psychologists to primatologists and evolutionary anthropologists, indicate that empathy, close relationships, and love are not only human capacities and needs, they are at the root of why we have thrived as a species. Yet we continue to make valuing close relationships and being empathic into something girly or gay rather than simply human and critical for well being.

Furthermore, researchers, including my own over the past twenty years, find that gender differences in our social and emotional capacities and needs have been greatly exaggerated. Boys are, in fact, more emotional in the first year of life than girls (e.g., they cry more easily) and they are just as relationship-oriented as girls. In addition, they are just as likely as girls to seek emotionally intimate same-sex friendships. It is only with age, as boys become men, that we see dramatic gender differences with boys becoming less empathic, less likely to have close same-sex friendships, and more likely to commit suicide.

Our modern notions of maturity and manhood, with its emphasis on separation and stoicism to the exclusion of connection and vulnerability, are at the root of why men treat themselves and others so poorly. According to the research, if we were to value, instead, empathy and kindness and emphasize the importance of maintaining loving relationships with family and friends for both boys and girls, men and women, we would end up with lower divorce rates, better friendships, lower rates of bullying and drug and alcohol use, longer life spans, and fewer men who act crazy. That seems like a worthwhile investment for ourselves and for our children.

1 comment:

DB said...

Why are you again going through this phase of citing the worst of Ken Wilber (Boomeritis? Really?) and Spiral Dynamics ("mean green," "the Spiral has chosen George Bush," I'm more second-tier than thou) when it is unnecessary to making your point?

You've done a lot of serious, hard-won work thinking your way out of that Wilberian baggage, for which you deserve a lot credit. It's frustrating to see you cycle back to that material in what seems an uncoordinated and overdetermined way. I understand they're familiar reference points for you, but I think the Wilberisms compromise your arguments and the integrity of your positions without adding any real clarity, power or precsion. There's a lot of social and political ugliness that comes attached to them, and you can't simply will that away. Why invoke it when there's no need?