Growing up as a man in the modern day, I grew up torn between following what society said I should do as a manly guy and what my intuitive spirit told me is right for me as a complete human being.
As a teen, I spent hours in the gym throwing around weights trying to look like the guys on the cover of the stack of Men’s Health magazines covering my bedroom. I worked to develop biceps and a six-pack, even though I knew those superficial characteristics wouldn’t ever equal real happiness.
As I grew older, I calmed down on the weights and learned that as hard as I work to chisel my muscles, this body is just a shell to the far more important spirit.
I like craft beer. I like the crushing feeling of hip-checking a guy into the boards during a hockey game. I still love “the pump,” as Arnold would call it, during bicep curls.
But I also love om, respect my prana, and have found bliss in yoga.
Lately, I’m engaging in purposeful conversations on being a better man and I’m learning that many men feel the same way I do. They just aren’t comfortable sharing it yet. But, hopefully, as more and more men have deep and meaningful spiritual conversations, this will change.
Like sociologist Jean Kilbourne, creator of Killing Us Softly, points out — mass media has a dramatic influence on how we define our gender. We’re so easily placed in boxes of what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman.
We’re living in a gender blender of contradictions that confuses the developing adolescent like never before.
Just as the modern woman is pushed to be both a high-powered CEO that can handle business with a harsh slice of executive prowess and a compassionate and loving mother, men are equally pushed to conform to conflicting expectations.
After spending just a few hours soaking in media (e.g. advertisements, characters in movies/television/books), here are just a few of these contradictions:
- A man is the breadwinner, but should work less hours to be a compassionate father and not an absentee dad/husband.
- A man is an ultimate fighter and defender, but then is sensitive, caring, and full of compassion.
- Men are programmed to think (or fantasize) about women all day long, but not give in to animalistic desires.
And the list goes on….(what would you add to the list?)
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I’m reminded of what Dr. Dan Kindlon discovered about adolescent boys in his breakthrough documentary Raising Cain. His research helps prove that boys are actually more emotional than women, but are taught not to express their emotions and instead bottle them up. Expressing sadness and being vulnerable is too girly in the world of the developing male.
But don’t just take Dr. Kindlon’s word for it. Just spend a few days in a high school and observe male teenage behavior. It’s a testosterone pit full of emotion where boys cat call women in the echo of ethnic norms and boys are told not to cry after being tackled on the football field and suffering a painful injury.
For men, expressing emotions and being open about love are certainly not widely accepted yet.
But, showing true unconditional love is the manliest thing a guy can do. If being a man means taking the heroic journey and donning war gear as one charges into battle, then opening your heart to love is the most noble journey of all.
Opening your heart to love requires you to understand your thoughts and actions. It forces you to analyze why you say what you say and do what you do. It’s a beautiful hero’s journey that more and more men are choosing to walk. And I invite you to join me with them.
Img Credit: Michael Fertig
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