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Why We Need Rites of Passage

The last year has been spent outlining the phases of a rite of passage as well as the concepts that define the mature masculine and ought to be taught in liminal space. It strikes me, though, that I have barely scratched the surface on the actually need for a rite of passage. Why should we go through all this trouble to transition our boys to men (and our girls to women)? Why is creating the time and space for separation, reflection, and rejoining necessary? It is needed for several key reasons:

1. To mark the separation between boyhood and manhood. The boy-to-men/girl-to-women transition isn’t the only example of a rite of passage. Marriage – marking the leaving behind of all others for one person; certainly two people have a prior relationship and could even have been living together for quite some time, but the ceremony, the rite of passage of marriage guides the transition into a new one-ness. Fraternity/sorority initiation (an area that I work with regularly) marks the transition from prospective member to actual member. These individuals have been associated with the organization, but they need to undergo the change in status that only the initiation can provide. Lastly, the Presidential inauguration provides a public transition. Certainly, the President is the President by election, but the public oath and declaration establish it in the President and all of America’s minds. Just as in each of these examples the rite of passage provides a marked transition to help move beyond a “holding pattern”, so rites of passage for boys and girls allows them to move from the holding pattern of adolescence into their maturity.

2. To help men grasp their masculinity. This is not in an abusive sense; that they need to lay hold of some power granted to them by their maleness. To do so would actually be the antithesis of masculinity. No, rites of passage are needed to help men develop their identity as mature males. Stephenson (2006) notes that “in traditional cultures, identity was not something to be stumbled into but a gift to be given to young people. It was understood that teens need to be guided into their adult identities rather than left to ‘find themselves,’ as the common saying for adults goes” (p. 12). When I look at the struggles men are having with violence, with depression, and with perpetual “Peter Pan-ish-ness”, I see males who are still trying to find themselves. They have not been guided to explore who they are and have been left to figure it out on their own, to their and other’s detriment.

3. To remind us all what is most essential in life. Monica Wilson notes that “rituals reveal values at their deepest level…men express in ritual what moves them most” (in Turner, 2008, p. 6). Stephenson (2006) continues that “rituals remind us of what is most essential and universal in life” (p. 34). All of the virtues taught in liminal space, all of the exploration a male does as he moves through a rite of passage exist to remind him of what is important to him, what he should fight to uphold and protect. The turning inward that happens during a rite of passage, the self-examination, help men when they are faced with trying times. It helps them see the good and bad of their nature and to incorporate the best into their life. And, it is not just the initiate who receives these reminders. Everyone in the community is reminded of this, of the process they went through; everyone in the community can engage in similar self-reflection and remember what the essentials in life are. These rites help the “givers” as much as the “receivers”.

We need rites of passage to mark the transition. They put bounds on adolescence, celebrate the transition, and educate the receiver and the leaders. They aren’t just a ceremony to be completed; they are a hugely transitory experience for all involved, teaching important lessons and establishing a new man. In the future, we will examine these important lessons and their relevance to the process, the mature masculine, and the community.

Stephenson, B. (2006). From boys to men: Spiritual rites of passage in an indulgent age. Park Street Press: Rochester, VT.
Turner, V. (2008). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. AldineTransaction: New Brunswick, NJ.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2015 in Rites of Passage

 

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Rites of Passage Roadmap – The New Man

Over the past year or so, I’ve described a journey for young men, focusing on their separation from their childhood, their education in liminal space, and the main lessons that ought to be taught to the boy-becoming-a-man. It’s now time for that man to rejoin his tribe, his family, and his community, not as who he once was, but as the man he now is. All of these components of the rite of passage into the mature masculine are important, but none is more important (or more overlooked) than the public re-integration and celebration of the new man.

Why is this public declaration so important?
Speaking of the importance of initiation, Ray Raphael (1988) notes that “[w]ithout the aid of a formalized rite of passage [which includes the public ritual], it is harder for a youth to be sure that he has actually changed from one state to another. His transition into manhood becomes more difficult – and it generally takes a longer period of time. In the absence of assumed ritual, the delineation between boyhood and manhood becomes obscured” (p. 15). Without the public declaration, we see a male who is capable of manly work (he’s become mentally and physically mature) but who has not yet assumed the responsibilities that come with being a man. When we miss out on the recognition, the initiation, all of the lessons that have been learned, all of the drama surrounding the coming of age, is not fully complete. The new man’s status must be publicly affirmed.

In this public affirmation, assurance of the new manhood occurs. One of the dilemmas of the modern (and postmodern) world is that identity has become very individualized. With multiple definitions of masculinity, coming from the media, friends, and countless other sources, security in one’s masculine identity is tenuous. We very much have a “melting pot of masculinity” which can lead to a young man trying to live up to a variety of expectations for manhood, instead of having his identity affirmed by those individuals who care about him (and whom he cares about).

We see, then, that public re-integration is important for the psyche of the new man. There is something in him that needs to have his new identity publicly affirmed. But, beyond that, this public declaration and acknowledgement does something else: it embraces the power of community for support, encouragement, and accountability. We don’t see this as much in our modern world. Malidoma Somé notes that “[t]he first consequence of westernization has been to make initiation private. In the old days, initiation was a village matter that mobilized the energy of every person” (quoted in Stephenson, 2006, p. 57). When the entire “village” is involved (village standing for those in the young man’s immediate community: family, friends, teachers/mentors, etc.), the seriousness of the manhood he is entering becomes apparent. Declaring publicly in front of the community – “This boy is now a man…and here is what you can expect from him” – gives the community permission to expect more from the new man and gives the new man a standard to live up to, something to strive daily to uphold. Additionally, it serves as a way for all other men in the community to commit or recommit themselves to the expectations of manhood in that community.

What might it look like?
The actually public re-integration/declaration must be tailored to fit the new man and to fit the community. The ceremony can take on a variety of formats. It must contain a few things, though:

– Elders conferring and affirming the new man’s identity. In all of the discussion about education in liminal space, the focus was on the elders sharing with the young male. We find elders playing a major role in the initiation of young males in almost every primitive society. It is a sign of respect, a way to maintain the tribal traditions, and a meeting of male psychological needs (Robert Moore notes that “if you’re a young man and you’re not being admired by an older man, you’re being hurt.”). I can imagine a moment during this ceremony where elders share how the new man has proven himself, what he has attained, and what he will do.

– Acceptance of the new man’s role. After the elders are done conferring this new role, the new man must also accept it. To publicly say “This is who I am and this is how I will behave” puts a level of responsibility and accountability in place. It shows many of the lessons of liminality in action and serves to create a form of verbal contract with the community.

– Articulation of new rights and responsibilities. As a man, we should expect someone to behave differently from a boy. There is something powerful about declaring publicly the rights and responsibilities. Beyond the new man accepting his role, articulation of these rights and responsibilities reminds the community that “this” is how men behave and what you can and should expect from them. There are no excuses anymore; it’s out there.

– New treatment of new man. No longer can childish or childlike behaviors be accepted or excused. No longer can the adults in the community treat the new man like a juvenile. In court terms, he is to be tried like an adult. It will do our new men no good if we initiate them into the mature masculine, then continue to treat them as if they were children. That would take away all their work, all their learning, and cause identity confusion – “Am I a man? Or a boy?”. We must treat the newly initiated differently and, if we are to expect more from them, we must also provide more respect to them.

Imagine the celebration and the pomp and circumstance surrounding a wedding or a graduation focused on affirming a young male’s new manhood and welcoming him back into the community with new rights and responsibilities. This is what is needed to celebrate the new man, the emergence and declaration of the mature masculine. This welcoming will start his life as a true man with the encouragement, accountability, and celebration that it requires.

References:
Raphael, R. (1988). The men from the boys: Rites of passage in male America. University of Nebraska Press.

Stephenson, B. (2006). From boys to men: Spiritual rites of passage in an indulgent age. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.
 
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Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Rites of Passage

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Reverence

As the year draws to a close, so does our look into the lessons that should be taught in liminal space. We’ve examined respect, how a man holds himself and others in regard; responsibility, how a man accepts and embraces accountability for his actions and their repurcussions; reach, how a man strives to better himself and the world around him; reflection, how a man doesn’t just look outward, but also turns the microscope inward to his heart, desires, and reasoning; relationship, how a man cannot go through life alone and must seek out other men to walk with him on his journey; and reason, how a man makes decisions after thought and reflection that can be explained. Now we arrive at the most important aspect of masculinity: reverence.

What is reverence?
Simply put, reverence is recognizing/acknowledging a higher power and giving deference to that power. You can be reverent to someone in authority, to a god, or anything else that is greater than you. In my work with fraternity men, I sometimes see the code/creed/obligations of the fraternity being revered. Reverence drives you to act outside of your own interests and desires and recognize the callings/commands/hopes of the higher power.

To speak from my own experience, reverence is acknowledging God as Lord. Once that happens in a person’s life, once it happened in my life, one establishes focus on how to interact with the world. In this relationship, all other aspects of masculinity are portrayed. In this relationship, I seek not my will or glory, but His. Knowing that I must answer to Him for all my actions causes me to consider them that much more carefully. I have a Father at my side all through life, a Friend I can call on in time of need. I seek to do my best, because to do anything less would be to dishonor Him. You can see how this reverence, this answering to God in my own life, doesn’t just draw on the other aspects of masculinity but it drives them to be more fully developed and evidenced in my life.

Why reverence?
In his third book on masculinity, Fight Like a Man, THE book to read on reverence in masculinity, Gordon Dalbey says that a man cannot know who he is until he knows Whose he is. This is all about reverence. Before you can know yourself, before you can act in the world with certainty, you must know to whom you are answering for those actions. And it cannot be you. In Adam’s Return, Richard Rohr (2004), speaking of promises/messages of male initiation, offers “five essential messages a man has to know experientially if he is to be rightly aligned with reality. … [They are:] 1. Life is hard. 2. You are not that important. 3. Your life is not about you. 4. You are not in control. 5. You are going to die” (pp. 32-33).If you analyze the middle three ritual messages, all three point to reverence, to recognizing a higher power that is more important, that your life is about, and that has control.

Knowing Whose you are has an additional affect. Yes, it gives you an authority to look and answer to. But, more than that, you can face internal struggles: “No man will entertain the unmanageable truth about himself until he knows his Father stands by him in it – not to shame him, but to deliver him from its deadly effects” (Dalbey, 2013, p. 207). Reverence is not merely a bowing down, and it’s not a crutch to lean against; it also serves to support us through struggles and trials in life.

How is reverence taught?
Like many of the previous components of the DNA of Masculinity, reverence can and should be taught through modelling. Reverence cannot be forced, however; a young male must choose Whose he will be. But, principles around reverence, how to relate to and respect a higher power, can be shown and, in some cases, taught. A child can grow up attending a church every week, but this is merely exposure to reverence. He must choose reverence; he must choose to bow his heart and will to something greater than himself. When this happens, then further instruction in how to live in this reverential relationship can occur. I wish I had a more steadfast answer than this. Ultimately, though, reverence is modeled to young men and they will adopt it as they are shown more of it in practice.

In bringing our discussion of the learning that happens in liminal space to a close, I must note that the lessons about the DNA of Masculinity do not stop once a young male has been initiated. Each of these aspects will be reinforced, strengthened, and refined as a man continues to exercise them. The way a man respects himself and others will not be the same at 60 as it was at 30. These lessons are merely those that, when learned, will differentiate the men from the boys, will demonstrate the mature masculine.

As we ring in the new year, we will investigate the final stage of initiation – reincorporation or reintegration. I thank you for following me on this journey through liminal space.

References
Dalbey, G. (2013). Fight like a man: A new manhood for a new warfare. Civitas Press: San Jose, CA.

Rohr, R. (2004). Adam’s return: The five promises of male initiation. Crossroad Publishing Company.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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Men’s Empowerment

On the campus where I work, some of the students I advise just finished hosting a Women’s Empowerment Week. We were fortunate to have a grant that allowed us to provide a wide variety of programming – leadership and empowerment workshops geared towards college women, discussion surrounding feminism’s origin and necessity in society today, reflection on how the media portrays women, and exploration of women’s issues in the world. In short, it was amazing and fostered a greater dialogue about how women can support themselves and each other as they go through life.

In the wake of this programming, I had to ask myself – what would a men’s empowerment week look like? What kind of programming is even happening to empower men? I know some of my colleagues in the field might share that men are already privileged by virtue of their gender and they don’t need anything more to help them be powerful. But, as I wrote earlier, that’s not the picture that I see. Men need programming and dialogues about their issues as well, so what could it look like? I’ve thought of four overarching areas that we could serve and educate men to help them be better throughout their lives.

Owning and using male power. Men, please hear this – we have power. We have power by virtue of our gender, our size, and our society. And I’m not saying that we are bad people for having this power. Having power as a male is kind of like owning a car; if you own your behaviors and use it properly, you can help out so many people. If you throw it around or use it without regard others who are less powerful or less protected, you will hurt them. This power is something we need to talk about. What does it mean to be stronger (in general) than the female gender? What responsibilities should that place on us? What does it mean to be in a culture that is dominated by males at the leadership levels and how can we use the power that we have to bring everyone up, rather than just “our own”? The HeForShe movement is calling on us to use our power properly. Will we answer? When we own our power in a right and responsible way, when we tame the hurricane energy, we can change the world.

Embracing our softer side. I say softer side rather than feminine, because it’s time to stop calling certain emotions masculine or feminine. Yes, biologies are different, but it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all seek to have both strength and tenderness. Get a group of guys in a room and one of the last things they’ll want to talk about is their feelings and the softer side of their being. But this is essential. If we bottle up qualities like caring (sympathy and empathy), love, and kindness, we lose access to an entire half of our being. We must create spaces where these conversations can happen and where men can feel comfortable acting on these “softer” emotions. This is all about “marrying the queen”.

Building up one another. I wrote about relationship being part of the DNA of masculinity, and it is absolutely essential for us to talk about it. Too many men will go through life without a true friend, a true comrade in arms to stay by them and encourage, sympathize, and challenge them. Instead, what happens for many men is they encounter criticism (to their face or behind their backs) about their worth and qualities as a “man”. We will get no where cutting each other down; we will get everywhere when we treat everyone with respect.

Striving and thriving. Men are catching a bad rap for not performing well in school. They also catch flack for performing well in school. When did it become uncool to strive after a goal; when did it become the norm for males to want success to appear easy to come by? We should be celebrating those men who sweat to make themselves better – be it in the classroom, on the athletic field, or on the job. And we should be finding ways to inspire this same striving and thriving in growing young men. In wanting to make everything look easy, we drag each other and ourselves down.

These are some of the conversations we need to have. As men, we should be coming together to discuss our strength and how we can use it and looking deep into our souls for the tender male that lives inside. We should be embracing one another as friends. And we should be encouraging active reaching for excellence in our daily lives. This is men’s empowerment; this is positive masculinity.

MD

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Dear Men

I love you. I share the same chromosomal makeup, the same, general body design. I’ve gone through struggles you’re dealing with; some have overcome me…others I have conquered. Know that we are in this life together, fellow brothers navigating the world. So, I hope you hear what I’m about to share in the intent that it is given – from a brother who wants you and all of us to succeed. From someone who cares.

We’re in trouble. And we could blame everything around us for putting us down, for being against us, or for failing us in some way. But in all reality, the problem is us. We cause so much hurt in the world, to ourselves and to others, and it’s time to look at what we’re doing.

Bart shouldn’t be our role model.

Let’s start with school. In several books on male development, Dr. Leonard Sax shares five factors that are holding young men back from achieving in schools and in life. He shares that video games, teaching methods, prescription drugs (Ritalin and the like), testosterone disruption, and devaluing of men in the media may be sending boys into a decline as they navigate increasingly uncertain and unfriendly waters. We know these things, but what are we doing to counteract them? These five factors affect boys throughout their adolescence and even into college. I work on a college campus. It saddens me to see the percentage of men attending college slowly dropping (down to roughly 40% of incoming classes this year), with even fewer sticking around to graduate. Even those men who do attend college perform much worse than their female counterparts – I’m talking GPAs 0.1 – 0.3 lower on average. We should be embarrassed by this, but instead we make excuses or dismiss striving for excellence as “unmanly” or “uncool”. If you’ve read any portion of this website, you know that Reach, striving to better yourself and those around you, is a mark of true manhood. Time to embrace that in college. It’s easy to offer excuses and to resist changing to fit how society provides education; what’s truly needed is men looking at how they can overcome or counter these limiting and damaging trends.

Once men graduate (if they graduate), they find themselves in the working world, a place where boy’s club and dog-eat-dog mentalities still rein. Rather than working together to accomplish things, men cling to a competitive mindset, where they view another’s success as a personal defeat. All signs point to our society becoming more collaborative, not less. We cannot continue to tear men or women down in our hurry to get to the top. We must be supportive, encouraging, everything our inner caveman doesn’t want us to be. And we must do this for everyone, not just the folks who look like or sound like us. It’s time to extend some of the manly virtue of Respect to everyone.

Finally, can we agree that all persons are deserving of respect? Even if they are *insert any negative descriptor here*, they are still human beings. When I think about respect, the most important issue that comes to mind is respect existing in a relationship. Respect is essential to a healthy, positive relationship, and especially necessary where sex is concerned. Now I know that in the heat of the moment, when your lizard brain takes over, that it’s hard to remember to respect the other person’s wishes and make sure they’re alright. But, just so we’re all on the same page – yes means yes; no doesn’t mean yes; maybe doesn’t mean yes; and certainly, silence doesn’t mean yes. Respecting someone requires you to actually ask, rather than making assumptions about what they want. I promise that having this respect for a partner will make everything in and out of the bedroom so much better!

I’m still a work in progress just as you are; I’m not perfect. But we have to stop hurting ourselves – believing in the “coolness” of not trying, leaving a pile of bodies or careers in our wake in our quest for triumph, and clinging selfishly to our rights in relationships. There are many other ways we hurt ourselves and the world, but let’s focus on how we can repair the world. We have to start Reaching, supporting, and Respecting. Then, and only then, can we begin to solve the problems we see and cure the dis-ease that is in us.

Yours in love,

MD
 
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Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Relationship

Before you really dive into this post, I want you to pause and write down the names of all of your friends you would call if you lost your job and needed help. Now, look at that list and cross off anyone to whom you haven’t spoken in 6 months. And, finally, cross out anyone who doesn’t know your story – your struggles, triumphs, and pain.

How many do you have left? How many are men? Did making that list stress you out a little? Did it inspire you or make you sad?

I begin with this, because while it is fairly easy to make the argument that relationship is one of the marks of the mature masculine, it is also, quite possibly, the hardest for men to achieve and stick with. Relationship not only encompasses a desire to have relationship with others (especially other men who will challenge, counsel, and console you) but also actually forming that relationship with at least one other man.

What is relationship?
It would be easy for me to just say that relationship is a friendship, but it goes so much deeper than that. Certainly, sharing interests and enjoying company is important, but that’s just touching the surface of relationship. When I think about relationship, I always recall my old pastor’s depiction of various relationships. He use the illustration of a house, specifically three parts, the porch, the living room, and the kitchen.

The porch: Remember when houses had porches? And people would sit out on them and greet neighbors as they walked by? The porch relationship is just that. It is one in which you engage with people on a basic level, nothing too controversial or too deep. This is the relationship you have at work, when you discuss sports around the break room or with a friend at the store when you discuss upcoming home improvement projects. It’s nothing special, but it’s the building block of all our relationships. Most people will stay on your porch; some will be invited into the living room.

The living room: This relationship builds on the porch. In addition to all of those conversations, you’ve invited someone a little more into your life. The people in your living room get to see a little bit of who you are: what you enjoy, what your family is like, and how you live. They get to understand you a little more, beyond the polite banter. Your life is more open to them. Fewer people will be allowed in the living room, but even fewer still, if at all, will be given access to the kitchen.

The kitchen: How do you know when you’ve really been accepted by a friend? For most of us, it’s when we feel comfortable enough to walk into their kitchen and, without asking, grab a cold one from the fridge. But, how many people do you feel close enough that you can do this with? The friends you have a kitchen relationship with  are let into the deepest parts of your life. They know your fears, your struggles, and your triumphs. You trust them and live your life, your full life, with and in front of them.

The desire for and establishment of the kitchen relationship is the relationship that is at the heart of the mature masculine. This relationship is rare and oh, so precious.

Why is relationship so hard?
My mother is a shining example of relationship. Yours might be too. In fact, we can probably think of many women who have deep, caring relationships with other women. But for men to have those kinds of relationships, the kitchen relationships described above, is a more difficult matter. Why? In his book, “The Friendless American Male”, David Smith lists several male barriers to true relationship:

– Aversion to showing emotions
– Inability to fellowship (to share and enjoy the company of other men without needing anything else)
– Inadequate role models
– Inordinately competitive natures
– Inability to ask for help, and
– Incorrect priorities

All of these go counter to both our nature and nurture as men, but we must overcome them.

Why is relationship essential?
It’s natural to say that relationship is essential because it makes us better. This is true. Relationship also can counteract something that is plaguing the American male: loneliness. David Smith shares that “Anthropologist Robert Brain says that unlike any other culture, our acute loneliness must be seriously considered in any search for solution to nagging contemporary societal problems. Loneliness, and a lack of commitment to others, are factors in our high suicide, divorce, alcoholism, drug, murder, rape, and abortion rates.” The New York Time reported last year that the suicide rate for men in the 50s increased 50% between 1999 and 2010. The chief cause? Loneliness.

How can you cultivate relationship?
Two things you can do to cultivate relationship and then model it for those young males around you. Both involve being willing to listen, to be vulnerable, and to share, all things that don’t necessarily come naturally to us in the presence of other men.

1) Seek out at least one male mentor who will speak into your life. Find an elder male whom you trust and with whom you can build a relationship. Invite him into your life (after you establish a friendship) and ask him for advice and counsel.

2) Don’t wait for another young man to reach out to you like above. Find a younger male, in your church, on a team that you coach or play on, and reach out to him. Share the potential you see in him and develop that relationship. As you do this, encourage him to do the same.

Man was not created to live alone, but so often we allow our competitiveness or lack of trust alienate us from true companionship with other men, men who can challenge and live alongside us in our journey. You can’t make it through the wild alone.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Reflection

When was the last time you sat still and thought about your life and your role in the world around you? Or the last time you took a walk and contemplated who you are and how you became that way? In our crazy, always-on lives, reflection gets lost. But, reflection is a key component of the mature masculine. It is in this time of contemplation that we look deeper into our lives and become more acquainted with who we are and why we are that man.

What is reflection?
Reflection is the practice of looking inward, at your thoughts, actions, and beliefs, and using what is found inside to understand you. It allows for you to answer why you do certain things, why you behave as you do, and what you must do to be a better person. The immature male merely acts, no thought follows these actions, no reflection shows him his inner self. The mature masculine seeks to understand itself, but more than that, seeks to act on what it learns through this process.

Why reflection?
Without reflection, growth will be stifled; without understanding what influences you and your past, you cannot move forward. Every person has wounds in their past; areas of hurt that have been done to or by them. And, these psychological wounds, like physical ones, if not addressed can cause further harm well beyond the initial hurt. Reflection allows for these wounds to be brought to the open and dealt with. Reflection allows for a deeper understanding of who and why you are. This is essential to move into the mature masculine.

How is reflection taught?
The simplest way to teach reflection is to encourage journaling and discussion from an early age. Keeping notes on the activities of a day and how it made one feel is a perfect starting point. From there, moving into autobiographical writing, reflecting on one’s experiences that have impacted their personhood, will lead to a continued life of reflection. Encourage young males to process events in their lives; use the “what, so what, now what” line of questioning, coupled with the ever-important “why”. Lastly, like so many of these markers of the mature masculine, reflection must be modeled. The mature male can explain his past in more than just a story; he can delve into the story behind the story.

To continue in the mature masculine is to understand our story and continue seeking this understand through reflection. When you look in a mirror, you see your reflection, but what is behind the man staring back at you? Reflection provides the deeper answers to who we are.

To understanding ourselves and our past, and shaping our future with that knowledge,

MD

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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Wrapup Words – Modeling

It’s been just a year since I started sharing thoughts on men, masculinity, and rites of passage in this space. In reflecting on all I’ve written and all I’ve read in my research, one word continues to come to mind: modeling.

Modeling is an essential part of the quest for mature masculinity. If you think about the quest young males go through (in both the Iron John path and the generic rite of passage outline), both involve a male mentor, a male model. Young males can’t imagine what the mature masculine looks like; they have to be shown it. They need their fathers to show them; they need teachers, coaches, pastors, and heroes who will show them what it means to live in the mature masculine. Without a model, our young males will flounder in liminal space because they are not being taught their roles, rights, and responsibilities as they enter manhood.

Who can a young male look to to model respect, responsibility, reach, reflection, relationship, rationality, and reverence? Their peers are still (for the most part) still struggling to learn these for themselves. So, we, the older males, the ones who have been initiated into the mature masculine, must model it for them. We must show them what it means to tame the hurricane energy and to marry our inner feminine. We must embrace the multi-faceted roles of manhood – of warriors, lovers, friends, and kings.

Are you concerned about erring? About being a poor model? Don’t worry; I think it’s a fear we all have. But, fortunately for all of us, there is a model that is without error, Jesus, God made man. In Jesus, we can see all sides of the mature masculine, all markers of the DNA, all four of the pillars/dimensions of masculinity. In Him, we see the strength of the warrior, used to defend and build up, not to destroy. In Him, we see the tender compassion of the lover, calling little children to Him and caring for His mother even as He hung on a cross. In Him, we see the friend, wandering Israel for years with 12 men at His side. And, in Him, we see the King, conqueror, ruler, now and forever, providing for His people.

As we end this year and start the new, whom will you model mature masculinity for? And whom will you look to as your own model of mature masculinity? I hope to continue to provide guidance and thoughts along the way as we all quest to more like the ultimate model of manhood.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2013 in Weekend Words

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Reach

In the quest for the mature masculine, how do you know if you have reached it? One method of knowing is to look for certain traits that appear in the mature male but not in boys. These traits make up the DNA of mature masculinity and are generally taught and enforced/reinforced during a boys time in liminal space. We have already examined two of them – respect and responsibility – now we look at a third: reach.

What is reach?
Reach could encompass many things. It could describe a man’s relationship to those around him – reaching out to gain and give help. It could describe a man desiring things well outside his grasp – a reacher would seek things he cannot afford or feasibly gain. But, for our purposes here, reach encompasses the spirit of man that seeks to constantly better himself and better the world around him. A man that reaches is never satisfied with where he is (this doesn’t mean he’s not content) and knows that he ought never stop improving.In work, this is the man who doesn’t settle for status quo, who always challenges and pushes things to be better.

This is the man who, while a promotion would be desirable, is more focused on making himself and all he touches better. At home, this is a man who takes the pride in his house and family that he looks for new ways to provide for and help them. This is the man who conducts home, self, or other improvement projects rather than serves as an armchair football coach. In the world, this is the man who is involved in the community and in his children’s schools, hoping that by some contribution he might be able to make things better for those around him. Lastly, this is the man who is never satisfied with his relationship with his God and Creator. He is constantly thirsting that he might know his God more; this is the man exemplified by Paul writing in Philippians 3:10:

“[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power outflowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death”

Why reach?

First and foremost, reach is a part of the mature masculine because the mature man knows that he is never done learning and growing. Imagine, if you will, a man who, after he has been initiated into masculinity, just stops trying; if this happens, the initiation has failed him. The mature masculine is won once, but maintained by exhibiting this and other characteristics of it. Thus, a man must constantly strive to be better, and the mature man will, knowing what is at stake in his life and the world.

How is reach taught?

The teaching must begin in childhood. Much has been said about encouraging children to do their best. We must also encourage them to be better. In the beginning, we must provide and model reach for them, continuing to read and exercise and practice and get better ourselves at those things we have in our lives. As young boys grow, we must provide ways for them to get better, subsidizing their reach until they are able to begin reaching themselves. This will occur naturally, as the boy finds his passions, but he must also be taught that reach is a matter for the whole of life. Again, modelling is key here. Pity the young boy who does not have someone sharing and showing a desire to get better and make better.

Reach is what enabled man to fly. It’s what led to the discovery of new medicines and medical techniques. Reach in a man pushes him; no longer is extrinsic motivation needed; the desire to get better comes from the mature masculine inside. There is no need for a partner to push him; he feels and acts on his internal reach on his own. The mature masculine calls us to constantly be better – reach is the internal characteristic that drives us there.

To making ourselves better men and making the community around us better by our actions,

MD

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2013 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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DNA of Masculinity – Responsibility

There are many traits that separate the men from the boys, the DNA of mature masculinity if you will. In liminal space, a boy ought to learn these and begin to exemplify them before he is reintegrated into society and heralded as a man. While there are probably countless lessons and character possibilities, we are focusing on seven, the seven R’s of masculinity: respect, responsibility, reach, reflection, relationship, rationality, and reverence. All of these contribute to the actions that typify a man and show that he has embraced the mature masculine. Continuing to examine these, we come to responsibility and will answer similar questions to those we answered surrounding respect.

What is responsibility?

Responsibility is, quite simply, owning your life, choices, and actions. At a higher level, it is also noticing how your choices and actions affect those around you and taking measures to positively impact them. We can divide it into personal responsibility and social responsibility.Just like respect ought to be turned inward, so also should responsibility. I should be willing to take the consequences of any action I take, not attempt to brush off the action on another or skirt around/avoid the consequences. You see, children (remember, manhood is the opposite of boyhood) try to get out of something, running away from damage they’ve caused or lying about who did what. The mature masculine doesn’t do this. He knows to say “I’m sorry, I did that…I won’t do it again.”

Social responsibility builds on the ideas of personal responsibility and of respect. When we respect others, we also begin to act in ways that look out for them. Social responsibility means that we examine how our actions are affecting those around us and seeking out ways to have a better impact on the world. It is social responsibility that drives us to do service, to give philanthropically, and even to raise and support our families emotionally and financially.

Why responsibility?

When I was first thinking about the process of becoming a man, I informally asked my older male friends when they knew they had become a man. Within each response was the concept of responsibility. Many mentioned when they first got their own apartment or moved away from their parents. Others talked about their first job out of college. Still others mentioned beginning a family. Each of these is something that generally requires a man to take responsibility for something (finances, work, others).In the cycle of transition from boy to man illustrated in “Iron John”, Robert Bly mentions the first two phases of male initiation as connection to and separation from the mother and the father. There is a level of assuming responsibility present in these steps – when a young male separates, through his becoming independent, he must develop responsibility.

Historically, too, there is a precedent set for responsibility being a trait of an initiated male. In ancient cultures, hunting was reserved only for those males who had been initiated into manhood. Moving forward chronologically, we find that societal respect for a man in America in the 18th through 20th centuries stemmed from his land-holding and work ethic (read demonstrated responsibility). Now, this idea of responsibility is reflected in men seeing one of their “rites of passage” as being financially independent/living on their own/providing for a family. You can see that its not just a cultural trend (which we try to stay away from here…if masculinity is defined by culture, then if culture changes, is that form of masculinity moot?); rather, it is a timeless pattern that has proven itself throughout generations.

How is responsibility taught?
We are fortunate with this trait because responsibility is something that can be taught over time. Even as boys are still developing, we can teach responsibility through small jobs, giving them pets, involving them in clubs and sports. Even if they don’t fully grasp responsibility, they are learning what it is like to have something expected of them. This will translate later into the responsibility of the mature masculine.In the same vein, parents must also hold their children accountable and allow them to make mistakes. Rather than attempting to defend a child who was in the wrong, or standing up for them in their place, parents ought to let the children work things out and take responsibility. Working in higher education, I receive many calls from parents who still want to solve their son or daughter’s problems. My response is almost always the same: “Your son/daughter needs to work this out…they need to learn how to solve this.” Essentially, I’m saying they need to learn responsibility.

The mature masculine is founded on respect for self and others. Respect lived out requires responsibility. As men with much physical, political, and societal power, especially, we are called to responsibility, because as Spiderman taught us “With great power comes great responsibility”. (You know I couldn’t leave that out.)

To a culture of men who own their actions, who care for themselves and others,

MD
 
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Posted by on June 21, 2013 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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