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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 – 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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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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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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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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DNA of Masculinity – Respect

In liminal space, boys are taught what it means to be men. While some aspects of this training will be unique to a particular culture or family, in my research in masculinity throughout varying cultures and times, I have uncovered seven core characteristics that make up the DNA of masculinity: respect, responsibility, reach, reflection, relationship, rationality, and reverence.

As has been noted before, I choose to focus on character traits as markers of the mature masculine rather than physical characteristics, abilities, and interests. The major underlying philosophy of Navigating the Wild is that the opposite of man is boy, not woman. Thus, one might be a man by all physical traits or by pursuing interests defined by society as “male”, but without embracing these character traits, he is no more a man than a three-year-old. With this in mind, let’s delve into the first of seven: respect.

What is respect?
Respect is reflected in the mature masculine in two ways – inward respect and outward respect.

Outward respect is perceiving those around you as having value, even those you may not like. Respect comes from being able to see the world through different lenses and allowing oneself to be open to new ideas. Respect involves setting aside one’s selfishness, arrogance, and me-first attitude, and adopting a sense of care for those around you. A man shows respect to others by listening, by acting with chivalry, by not taking advantage of others, and by “in humility count[ing] others more significant than [himself]”. Respect extends to the environment and to all the world around us; we treat things with care, for no other reason than the fact that we recognize our power in the world and the role we have to treat it and all things in it with respect.

Inward respect is about self-awareness and self-respect. A man with inward respect will conduct himself with dignity and honor; he knows his place and owns it with pride. He understands those actions and behaviors that bring a negative reputation on him and strives consciously to avoid those. He cares for himself; yes, there is a portion of self-respect that deals with appearance. You’ve heard the phrase “no self-respecting man would…”? Those attitudes and actions that might fill the blank are exactly those that the mature masculine eschews.

Why respect?
Think about how a boy behaves. Much of his attitude is focused on himself. His version of respect is one that is demanded, not given. (Think Cartman’s “Respect mah authoritah!”) When a man crosses into the mature masculine, he sets aside all boyish behaviors. This means that at his core, man must set aside selfishness and arrogant pride. As a part of the education in liminal space, a man must realize who he is and his role in the world.

I believe that of the seven aspects of the masculine DNA, respect serves as the foundation; everything is build on respect for others and for self. A man cannot accept responsibility, reach for new heights, reflect on his own actions, seek positive relationships, act rationally, or revere/recognize a higher power until he has learned to respect self and others. A male that does not respect will not act with care and consideration and will not seek to be more than he already is to himself or anyone else.

How is respect taught?
Respect can never be forced. As a boy grows and matures, he must learn to see the world through different lenses; taking him to museums, reading from different perspectives, making a broad spectrum of friends, and exposing him to new cultures all will help provide a variety of lenses to view the world. It is hard to respect that which we do not understand, especially when our understanding is so limited. As we gain understanding, our willingness to respect even those things we don’t understand increases. Finally, this must be emulated. No boy will learn respect for others if he does not receive it and is not shown it in action by his elders and mentors.

Inwardly, a boy learns self-respect by recognizing what he is good at and what he is not good at. Learning limits and discovering those areas he excels allows him to form a sense of self that is aware of all aspects. For some, this may come easier than for others. Just as respect for others comes from experiencing and witnessing, so self-respect is learned as much through watching and seeing what a life could be. If an elder respects his body, his mind, his reputation, the boy watching will learn that self-respect and will emulate it as he moves into the mature masculine.Respect is the foundation of the mature masculine. Respect for others, for their attitudes, abilities, points of view, lifestyles. All other aspects of the mature masculine follow from this.

To building a society where men respect women, their elders, youths, and the very fiber of their being,

MD

For more reading on respect, I highly encourage visiting the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 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 – Liminal Space

As I’ve remarked before, our culture is severely lacking in clear rites of passage for our boys becoming men. This has (and has had) several detrimental consequences, chiefest of which might be a failure to fully grasp the responsibilities and requirements of men in a society as boys are taught what a man is by their peers, popular media, or by older males who happen to be in their lives. This type of education is rarely purposeful, prolongs adolescence, and has led many a male astray into that belief that manhood is the opposite of womanhood, when, in reality, manhood is the opposite of boyhood.What is the remedy, then, for this lack of knowledge about the mature masculine, about what a man truly is? I return to my original premise and thought that we must incorporate rites of passage for young males to welcome and initiate them into the realm of the mature masculine. As a short review, rites of passage to manhood generally incorporate a separation from the “old world”, the world of boyhood, a form of training by one or more elders in what the society or culture or family expects from someone wearing the mantle of man, and a celebratory return to the community to demonstrate that they can now expect a more mature level of behavior from the initiate.This post seeks to describe what that middle step might look like, knowing that the definition and expectations of men is quite wide. Additionally, it should be noted that much of what generally takes place in primitive and ancient rites of passage is intended for boys entering roles as hunters/gatherers/warriors; much of the physical abuse and punishment is no longer necessary.To fully examine this idea of liminal instruction, we must first delve into liminal space. In studies of rituals and rites of passage, van Gennep and Turner both offered the idea of liminal space as the middle period during a rite of passage. This period is one of great ambiguity, one that literally means threshold. In liminal space, everything an initiate knows is discarded or thrown on its head so that he might learn the new rites and requirements of his soon-to-come status in the tribe.

What goes on in liminal space?

In one word, education. Education on the various aspects, expectations, responsibilities, and (sometimes) rites of mature men. As I’ve pondered the distinctions between men and boys, they’ve led me to identify several marks of the mature masculine. We’ll deal with each of them in separate later posts, but I believe that they are the core of the education because they exemplify the expectations and responsibilities of mature men. They are: reverence, respect, responsibility, reach, relationship, reflection, and rationality. Each of these marks of the mature masculine serves a greater purpose in a man’s life and in the lives of those around him. How they are taught should be unique to both the initiate and the elders instructing him, but each should be taught as a separate thought, with connections forming between the four as they are learned.
Who teaches???????????????????????????????????????????
Elders. If you missed that, I’ll write it again – elders. Not males 2-3 years older, not peers, not movies or television. Elders, known to and respected by the initiate, must provide the teaching. They’ve been there. As elders, they also will be the first place society will look when a young male acts out. Thus, they should be placed to teach the requirements of the mature masculine as they will be holding that initiate accountable throughout his life. Finally, these are the men who will be “granting” the title of man to the initiate when he finishes the rite of passage. They must be involved.
Why must this learning happen in liminal space?
We’ve already examined the need to separate as the initial phase of the boys-to-men rite of passage. Liminal space serves as an extension of this separation, but also provides for instruction in an effective way. First, because of the separation, the initiate is prepared to learn in a distraction-free zone. This is highly important; given the distractions and mixed messages that are present in the general world, a space where he can learn and internalize the messages of initiation is important. Additionally, liminal space provides a private place for initiates to learn. Not everyone will be ready or able to learn the roles and responsibilities of manhood at the same age or time. Once in liminal space, the initiate knows that he is deemed ready by the elders, a very important discovery for young males transitioning to mature masculinity. Finally, liminal space gives a very different feel from general instruction, lending a more serious and deep tone to the messages. If the messages learned during liminal instruction truly are meant to guide a male into the mature masculine and lead his behaviors the rest of his life, then they should be conveyed in such a serious space.While each of the three steps of the rite of passage are essential, I believe the instruction that occurs in liminal space is what will define a man for his future. What he learns about himself and the roles and responsibilities of men will determine his beliefs and paths as he begins his journey in the land of the mature masculine. We must prepare him properly to navigate this.To providing education in the wild, to crafting liminal space for boys to learn from elder males about the role of men,
MD
 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Rites of Passage

 

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Weekend Words – Legacy

Everywhere I turned this week, I seemed to find calls or allusions to leading a life concerned with legacy. This week, my work revolved around recognizing fraternities and sororities with awards and around celebrating two of my sorority chapter’s 100-year anniversaries. Each of these occurrences gave me time to pause and consider the importance of legacy in a man’s life.

I think society is misleading men about their purpose and what a legacy truly is. A quote from Pleck and Sawyer in “Men and Masculinity”, remarking on what men are learning at the end of the lives, supports this thought – “Some of these advantaged men are finding that the traditional masculine pursuit of power, prestige, and profit will not fulfill their lives.” Whether we like it or accept it or not, as men, we are privileged, and are called to use that in a way to support others. That is where we will find fulfillment.

This weekend, my college’s president, speaking at a retirement celebration, remarked that “At the end of the day, you won’t be remembered by how much money you made or what car you drove, but by the people you touched.” This is so true.

Men are being sold a false bill of goods, a false set of expectations about what should matter in their lives. Watch even 15 minutes of television and you’ll see advertisements for the next great car, beer, or food item. Nothing about making a difference or touching the lives of someone. We are taught to be selfish, but the true mature masculine is selfless, focused on leaving behind a world better because he was a part of it.

What will your legacy be? Will it be something that can be destroyed in an instant, or will it live on in the lives of those you touched and in the very fabric of our society? Live your life as one focused on a lasting legacy.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Weekend Words

 

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