Catharsis is the purging of the emotions of pity and fear through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration. It is a metaphor originally used by Aristotle in the Poetics, comparing the effects of tragedy on the mind of a spectator to the effect of a cathartic on the body. (Wikipedia)
One of the most obvious blind spots in the North American male psyche is the refusal to “emote” especially when tragedy strikes. Burying the fear and the pity somewhere deep in the unconscious, while providing an exterior veneer of stability, pride, “manliness” and strength, nevertheless, also deprives the man of the release that his psyche needs. Turning to drugs or alcohol, or some other over-whelming obsession/addiction/diversion/distraction that “medicates” the pain not only does not relieve the pain, but exacerbates the psychic turmoil even more, enhancing the risk of additional “medication”.
There is not a male alive who would attempt to counter a blocked bowel. Somehow, the consciousness of an observable physical obstruction offers, through merely common sense, the opportunity to ‘do something about it’. And yet, although originally posited by the Greek MALE, the notion of the need for a release, unless and until the situation results from war (P.T.S.D), then too many males will simply carry on. At the same time, those same males will express open and ugly disdain for their female partners or companions who seek to release their deep emotional pain without the use of illicit drugs or alcohol or some other chemical medication. Distinguishing male from female, after nearly a quarter century of aggressive and often abusive feminism, has provoked what some would call a ‘melodramatic’ and even neurotic push-back.
Men, through nature, were and always will be different from women, and not only from a physical perspective. And that difference is not, and must never be considered, an excuse for discrimination of either gender by the other. However, the easy and glib slide into derision and even contempt for the other gender is often seeded in some painful early experience about which it is relatively easy to generalize. My father (mother) did this, so all men (women) have the potential for a similar behavior.
It is this precise type of rationalization that replaces a considered, balanced and guided psychic walk out of the forest of pain into a more healthy perspective. Displaced anger stalks our culture, generating more hate and more contempt and more anger than would result from a cultural perspective that began with an authentic tolerance and appreciation for each gender by the other. Both genders, and all individuals in each, have experienced abuse from the other, and in too many instances, have failed (or refused) to let go of the bitterness generated by the trauma. Both genders experience trauma differently, and each can and does access different paths of release and treatment. However, we men have to own the fact that we are much more likely to self-sabotage than our women colleagues, friends or partners.
Pete Seeger has a quip that distinguishes the difference between education and experience. He says, “Education is what happens when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t!” Males are much less likely to read the fine print, unless that fine print is telling them how to fix the carburator, the lawn mower or the car’s exhaust system. The fine print that might shed light on the intimate details of their/our inner life, are tragically avoided and left to their/our women ‘because they do that stuff much better’….or some other rationalization/avoidance/denial/escape.
Men generally would prefer to leave the emotional/psychic/spiritual side of life to the poets, the artists and the otherwise “unmanly” of their gender. This is just another branch of the same ‘thought-and-attitude-tree’ in which men are impaled. If it smacks of sensitivity, sensibility, tenderness, beauty and the potential of a compassionate, empathic or caring attitude (on the surface) men ‘take to the hills’ fearing, their worst fear, that other men will consider them “effeminate”….a sin worse that any other among men and also, sadly among too many women.
And this attitude tree, in which male monkeys take refuge, has monstrous consequences: massive military spending, massive neuroses/psychoses if their “mask” shows a crack of vulnerability, profound insecurity and over-compensation through bullying, excessive and lethal competition as ‘normal’, excessive power and control needs leading to acts like rape, physical and emotional abuse, and other venal and often uncontrollable expressions of desperation. It also supports an excessive build-up of intelligence and security apparatus, and the core belief that ‘if I don’t win, the other guy will’….and that will be the end of me…and my ambition, dream, aspiration and utopian vision (personally and politically).
This is not to assume or assert that women are not competitive, and do not compete. It is to assert that men compete to the death, while women, often more petty and picky about the issues in their conflicts and also the methods deployed, can and will hesitate before sabotaging themselves, if the numbers of outsides, outliers, deviants and criminals is any indication.
We have, both men and women, created a culture in which judgement, punishment, hard power and its excessive use (in parenting, in schooling, in law enforcement, in international relations, in economic treaties) come out of deep-seated fears, and shame rather than a culture in which the authentic and irrepressible goodness of each person is both nurtured and celebrated.
And in so doing, we have historically, and from a limited vision onto the future horizon, hoisted ourselves on our own petard, as the vernacular puts it. Habeus Corpus, as a legal principle, may hold back the ‘rush to judgememt’ that attempts to protect an accused, until whatever evidence available is presented in a formal, and hopefully objective manner and culture inside the courtroom. However, our historic commitment to demonstrate our dark side, as the dominant and prevailing aspect of human nature, whether of men or of women, is counter-intuitive, counter-productive to our own survival, and counter-intuitive to our spiritual growth and development.
Paying lip-service to kindness, generosity, compassion, ethical exceptionalities, and sharing attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and even laws (the Good Samaritan Law, forbidding punishment for a medical doctor who offers emergency assistance, for example) is a gross reductionism from which our culture suffers and will continue to suffer. Patronizing attitudes in support of our better angels, will forever perpetuate a hierarchical value with evil, violence, contempt, denial and avoidance in all of their many forms at the top of our collective tribal totem pole.
Is it not long past time for us to acknowledge that our current value system, including our tokenism and patronizing of all that is good, strong, ethical, moral, and life-giving as weak, silly, effeminate, artsy, even “gay” and thereby easily dismissed and dismissable is and will continue to yoke us to a kind of serfdom, over which money and political power wants to triumph, and out of which our freedom and our full opportunity to live and breath in true confidence, and in full creative expression will forever be strangled and thwarted.
So for men to wake up, and to accept our unconscious feminine side, and to shift our priorities from fear and the abuse of power in all of its forms, to more life-sustaining attitudes and beliefs and perceptions is our only hope. Women are out in front of us waiting for us to catch up.