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NTW – Initiation Message I – Life is Hard

A young male gets initiated. So what? Is it really that important? I argued in my last post that there are definite needs for rites of passage to mark the transition from boy to man. One major reason is the lessons that are taught. Beyond those included during the instruction in liminal space, there are several overarching themes that guide the transition process.

The first of these is that life is hard.

Now, for some of you readers, this seems like common sense. Life is hard. But, many of our males are growing up not realizing the full impact of this lesson. The fact that life is hard primarily calls for one thing.

It calls for us to transform pain rather than run from it. In our modern age, it’s easy to run from pain. Medication offers quick fixes to our physical ails and the many distractions of life can keep us from obsessing over our internal, psychic pain. The running from pain comes from a mindset that life should be easy. When we note that life is hard, we turn into our pain, to conquer and transform it. This message gives the call to young men to control their feelings (to tame the hurricane energy, if you will), instead of being controlled by them. If we don’t learn how to transform our pain, we turn it outwards, harming others as well as ourselves in our efforts to overcome/run from it. Richard Rohr (2004) notes that “if we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it in some form. Take that as an absolute” (p. 37). We must recognize the difficulty of life before we can begin to transform our pain.

How do we teach this? I’m not saying we should overly burden our young men; many of them are carrying far more than we ever could. We shouldn’t create our own ways to teach them that life is hard. But, when they encounter pain, obstacles, issues, we cannot swoop in and solve those issues for them. We must, out of love, let them wrestle with the difficulties in life, with us on the side, coaching and supporting them through the process. Every young male will wrestle and approach these feelings in a different way. We must support them through their struggle.

The best gain we can give our boys through this lesson is to help them overcome their anger, pain, hurt, and frustration. They don’t need to turn these feelings inward (for self-harm) or outward (to harm others); rather, they must learn to overcome this. Through learning that life will be hard, but then understanding how they can approach the hardships in life, we help establish our boys on a path to productive, creative masculinity.

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

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2015 in Rites of Passage

 

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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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DNA of Masculinity – Reason

I started this series almost a whole year ago. It’s been a long time in writing, both because I was juggling work and life and because I was doing my own inner reflection on each piece of the DNA of Masculinity. It’s not an easy task, trying to separate those qualities that separate the men from the boys. There are many things to be considered, many resources and philosophies to consult, and, as we will find in the final piece of DNA, it may sometimes yield a less-agreed-on result. A variety of works have been authored that seek to define what a man is. They generally fall into two camps: a man is someone who doesn’t act like a woman or a man is someone who doesn’t act like a boy (he is mature). It is this second definition that I focus on in Navigating the Wild, because many of the aspects I’ve found that define masculinity really define maturity, instead of separating genders. It is why I refer to the qualities of the initiated male as the mature masculine. In seeking this more direct definition, I’ve identified seven aspects or character traits of the mature masculine. The sixth aspect of the DNA of Masculinity is reason.

What is reason?
For the sake of this discussion, I am defining reason as the ability to make a sensible argument, to be rational in making decisions, and to be able to explain the “why” behind an action. Reason is that quality that allows us to piece through a decision and, using all of the information available and gathered, make what the choice we believe to be best. In the most academic of definitions, reason is the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic. This logic is rarely present in the immature male who acts on impulse, without reflecting on the outcomes and consequences of his actions. Note that reason is not a denial of emotions. In fact, the male who seeks to deny his emotions in making decisions or in acting in life is actually acting unreasonably, for he is denying a part of himself in the decision-making process.

Why is reason an essential part of the DNA of Masculinity?
All of the pieces contained in the DNA of Masculinity are useless if not supported by sound reasoning. Men cannot seek relationship with a reason for it. Men cannot look at their inner self, seek out their shadow, decode their life without some guiding questions or purpose. In order to reach, to strive for the highest and utmost, men need a reason lest they tire or fall short in their trying. To respect, both self and others, men must find reason for this and hold that reason close to their heart, in spite of difficulties. And, to seek out responsibility, to take responsibility for their actions, men must have some driving force behind them that propels them to this sense of responsibility. Reason makes all of these things possible. Without reason, many of our actions would become wandering, plodding about in darkness with no sense of direction. Reason gives purpose; in many regards, it is purpose. Sophocles said that “Reason is God’s greatest gift to man”; going a little further, Edward Counsel shares that “Reasons are the pillars of the mind.”

How is reason taught or shown?
One of the simplest ways to demonstrate and teach reason is to actually provide reasoning. The parent go-to of “because I said so” is one of the quickest ways to remove reason from the equation. Instead, decisions should be supported by a why – “No, you may not do ______, because it might ________.” In my work with college students, I often remind them that if I make a decision, they should always feel free to challenge it by asking why. If I cannot defend a decision with a sound reason, I have no business making that decision. In the same way, elders can model this same behavior. Moving from the elder to the male in liminal space, it is easy to inculcate reason into a young male by asking him to defend his actions. The more he is asked to give a reason for something, the more thoughtful and purposeful his actions will become. (I know that on its own, this may seem like reason could be taken advantage of. Of course, there are many negative actions that can be seemingly justified, but when combined with the other aspects of masculinity, reason must yield positive, respectful, and construct results.)

Reason must be taught to young males in their development. They must embrace it and make it the cornerstone of their decision-making. Mikhail Bulgokov said that “There is no greater misfortune in the world than the loss of reason.” The only misfortune greater would be never to have it at all.

To teaching our young men to think, act, and speak with reason,

MD

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2014 in DNA of Masculinity

 

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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 – 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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Weekend Words – Authentic

“People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.”

Thomas Szasz gets right to the heart of authentic living with his comments. The truly mature masculine is embodied in authentic living, in a life conceived, inspired, and governed not by outside perspectives and opinions but by the knowledge, beliefs, and internal convictions of one’s self.

There are many males and females who will attempt to tell you how a man ought to behave, what he ought to do. Society is full of gender roles and male vs. female tasks, but the error in all of these and the belief that they define masculinity is to assume that a man is defined by what he does. A quick search reveals countless articles and videos stating that real men…don’t cry/eat meat/have no fears/don’t ask for directions…well, you get the point. All of these definitions miss what is truly at the heart of man.

At Navigating the Wild, we take the perspective that man is not defined by what he does, but rather how he does it. Allowing for any outside force to dictate what you do gives away ownership of your life; it takes the pen that you are authoring your life with and passes it off to another. To live a truly authentic life is to author your behavior in a way that is true to yourself while living out the character qualities of the mature masculine. You may not like doing (or be able to do) many of the societally defined “manly things”, but you can still live your life in a manly way, with respect, reverence, and responsibility as defining character traits. We will focus on these traits and others as we expand on the teaching that occurs in liminal space.

We must find satisfaction in ourselves, in living authentically. If not, we allow the world to dictate how we see and define us as men, which will never satisfy and will always keep the mature masculine at arm’s reach.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2013 in Weekend Words

 

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Rites of Passage Roadmap – Introduction

There are a few things that are lacking from our modern society today that have existed and helped males realize and take ownership of their place as men in society. The most visible of these is the lack of a distinct rite of passage for boys to become men. In their book “Wild Things”, Stephen James and David Thomas (2009) tell us that “we cannot emphasize enough how significant these rites and rituals are in the lives of boys. As experiential, spatial, and tactile learners, boys need events and ceremonies to help mark significant moments and transitions in their lives.” (p. 275) A male needs to know when he has become a man, but more than that, he must know what rights, responsibilities, and requirements he has as a man that he may not have had as a boy.

This is where the rite of passage comes in. The rite of passage serves multiple purposes:

  • It provides a distinct mark of separation from one stage of life into another.
  • It instructs those going through it in their responsibilities in the new stage as well as the expectations those already in that stage of life have for them.
  • It offers a celebration of the new stage of life for the participant and the providers.

Each of these purposes is extremely important. David Gilmore (1990), in examining cultural rites of passage for men, offers that “real manhood is different from simple anatomical maleness, that it is not a natural condition that comes about spontaneously through biological maturation but rather is a precarious or artificial state that boys must win against powerful odds” (p. 11). This leads to one of my personal favorite expressions – there is no “bam! You’re a man” moment that happens naturally. We must provide this distinct mark of separation, one that is meaningful for its participants. Failing to do so, I and many psychiatrists believe, causes males to be stuck in a perpetual state of boyishness, never claiming their responsibility as mature men, or to revert back to boyish ways, also known as the mid-life crisis.

Each rite of passage that I’ve examined offers instruction for its participants in the traditions of the culture. Many of these rites of passage come from primitive cultures, so the belief system/religion and gender roles and expectations are fairly rigid. Thus, it becomes essential for the older men to initiate the young males into the secrets of the culture that only the males know (regarding religion, mystical beliefs, and other ceremonies performed by the culture). We don’t have such straightforward educational needs in our melting pot of society, but there are certain expectations and responsibilities that come with the mature masculine that are not expected of boys. We must provide this instruction so that 1) males know what is expected of them as men (more to come on this in future posts) and 2) males are able to exist, interact, and thrive with mature adults, both males and females.

Finally, the rite of passage provides a celebration of new life. I see many males in my work afraid to take full hold of the mature masculine in part because it is not celebrated, but rather seen as a burden, as a set of responsibilities without much carefree life they live currently. Providing the celebration of this new phase gives them something to look forward to. It allows them to see that just because they are embracing the mature masculine and taking responsibility for their life and actions (one aspect of the mature masculine) does not mean that their life is forever ruined. Additionally, this celebration allows for everyone to see that ______ is indeed now a man, and you can celebrate with him, encourage him in his masculinity, and know what you can expect from him as a mature male.

What do rites of passage look like and how can we re-incorporate them into our society? In the posts that follow, I will explore the three most common steps of rites of passage – separation, liminal space, and reintegration – and offer ideas on how these might look in a modern society and how concerned males and females might work to provide safe rites of passage for younger males.

To providing positive rites of passage and safe, impactful initiations into the mature masculine for young males,

MD
 
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Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Rites of Passage

 

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Tools for the Journey – The Companion

Man cannot walk through life alone. Humans are social beings; we need friends around us. In this, the journey to the mature masculine is no different; it is a journey that should, no, must be taken with friends by one’s side. Here at Navigating the Wild, we call them companions. Why do we need both companions and guides? I’ll answer that question and provide some additional guidance in the following.

Companions stick by your side through the journey. When I think about companions, my mind instantly goes to that diminutive duo of the big screen – Frodo and Sam from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In the beginning of their journey, they had a guide, then two, in Gandalf and Aragorn. You see Aragorn teaching Frodo and Sam how to fight and survive and leading them through the wilderness up until the group of nine had to separate.

It is at that point that we see the true value of a companion. The two hobbits make the trek of their lives together, supporting each other. In true friend-fashion, they have disagreements, but they reconcile with one another and continue on to their final destination. As companions through the journey, they don’t just provide support for each other; they laugh together, encourage each other in the darkest of times, pick one another up, ponder paths with each other, and, ultimately, inspired themselves and others to do and achieve greater things.

The roles that Sam and Frodo played in each other’s lives are the roles a companion plays – supporter, encourager, helper, challenger, and inspirer. Some companions will play only one role; the best one, the one to keep in your life forever, plays all five (and, most likely, some I’m not mentioning; comment and fill me in). In your quest for and evaluation of companions, let the following qualities guide you:

  • Trust – Do you trust this person? Will they share your secrets or give you bad advice? Trust should be the bedrock of a relationship, especially when you are going through the trials and navigating the unknown territory of masculinity.
  • Accountability – Will this person hold you accountable? There are so many danger areas and ways we can slip off the path or get sidetracked or lost in our development as men that we must have someone to hold us accountable. In like fashion, we must also be able and willing to hold them accountable. Remember that although this is a shared journey, you may know one leg of the trip, but they know others. If you’re not willing to hold them accountable, or they cannot do it for you, one of you may wind up being lost or delayed on the journey.
  • Common goals/beliefs – If you don’t believe the same things, if you don’t want the same things, then your paths may look totally different. What might be acceptable to one person may be completely foreign or repulsive to you. You don’t want a companion who might lead or encourage you in a direction that doesn’t match your goals or beliefs. Thus, clarifying this and seeking out those shared essentials is a must.
  • Perseverance – A good companion never gives up. Have you had a fair-weather friend? One who is there for the fun, but bails when you need him most? Why would you want that person on your journey with you? No, the companion you want is the one who toughs things out, who is willing to forgive and ask for forgiveness, and who seeks to overcome life’s challenges. This same perseverance is shown through a desire for growth, as we shall see next.
  • Growth – Ideally, you and your companion will begin the journey together at roughly the same level. You don’t want to have to pull him along with you or feel like a burden to him as you navigate life’s trials. But, while you might begin at the same level, you also want to grow. Many a male has been held back and kept from maturing because the friends he keeps don’t want to move from their boyish lives. You must seek out companions who desire to grow and mature as well. With them, when trials come, they won’t flee but, rather, will see it as a chance to grow.
I haven’t said much about gender for companions, but I believe that many of the trials a male will face are best shared with other males. Trials and issues shared are often of a kind that only other males can understand. Additionally, the level of intimacy a male can develop with his companion is one that, with a woman, is, in my view, only suited for marriage. Lastly, if we are to live in harmony with other men, we must know how to relate to and love them.

If we walk through life without a companion and merely rely on guides, we rob ourselves of the self-discovery we gain through experience and overcoming life. A guide has already lived what we’re going through; a companion lives it with us. While the guide’s foreknowledge is important, our experience and growth as men and the support we receive from companions during it is essential. We have to reach out, reach over, and find a companion or companions who will live life with us and join us in the journey.

To finding companions to support, encourage, help, challenge, and inspire us on our journey to the mature masculine,

MD

For further reading, I highly suggest the following:

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Tools for the Journey

 

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