Tuesday, December 31, 2019

#38 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (masculine cultural DNA #6)

Masculine insularity, isolation, solo-flying, professional expertise….a zeitgeist of the focus of power and influence in an individual, has provided much to the human condition. It has undergirded the notion of pyramidal hierarchies, and decision-making for centuries. It has given us heroes, gurus, mad scientists, political and philosophical wisdom, rockets, and bombs. It has also given us a resoundingly dangerous myth…the power of the individual, as opposed to the community…and now that the community is the globe, and facing the serious and empirical threat of extinction, we are hoisted on our own petard.

Stars, individual heroes, while motivating and symbolically significant to the public relations of any family, organization, community or even nation, leave millions ostracized from the mainstream of the culture. While the public consciousness trumpets stars in all fields of human endeavour, monitors each and every effort at crossing thresholds, frontiers and all ‘outside the box’ insight, acts and even thoughts, the human condition fails to be addressed as a common goal. Certainly it is not considered a common need.

Subsuming individual ambition and the pursuit of individual and heroic achievements to the broader, deeper and much more significant and shared ambition of the whole community, including a definition of that ambition, now reasonably parametered by survival, is not merely a scientifically mandated focus. It is also a long-overdue shift in how we raise our children, how we structure our organizations, how we design our governance, how we ensure our survival and how we climb down from the mountain of human rights to the valley of human responsibility.

How long do we have to listen to horror stories about how siloed each of our ‘institutions’ is from all others. In Canada, and especially in Ontario, we call this protecting the political turf, as if the mandate of an organization and its achievement is a zero sum game, even in the public sector. Private, and thereby departmental competition, and even sabotage of other departments all in the name of the pursuit a finite pot of the public purse, elevates the skill of deceit, histrionics, public relations, and rewards those who “win” while relegating the “losers” to a less-than state.

It happens in the relative position of villages to cities, in the governance of regions and provinces; it happens in the head-office relative to the “field” office; it happens in the board-room relative to the delivery crew; and it happens in the geopolitical sphere in the relationship of the “rich” developed world to the starving underdeveloped world. It also happens within families where the achiever child trumps the “wanderer” who continues to struggle to find his (and it is mostly males) path. We define individuals by their “role” as if their (our) roles were equitable to our identities. And the public consciousness of the power, status, wealth and circle of influence of ranked roles (and let’s face it we all have such a hierarchy in our minds) opens and closes doors every minute of every day in every town, city and organization.

The masculine model (need, expectation, pursuit, ambition, conception and both u- and dys-topia) of the distribution of power depends on the compliance of the powerless in the face of what can only be deemed insurmountable obstacles. Top-down decision-making is at the core of every single social organization in history. And one is prompted to ask out loud, “How is that working for us?” Of course, we protest vigorously, even vehemently, that our social and political and cultural ideals are inclusive, representative, based on the will of the majority (the definition of democracy), and thereby ethically based and ethically operated.

We build in oversight, monitoring, intelligence and even sanctions and procedures and regulations as our attempt to moderate what is considered the human capacity, and even perhaps proclivity to self-indulgence, imaginative deceit, personal ambition and lawlessness. And then we turn away, collectively and individually, and essentially let the system ‘run’ as if we have placed our trust in those “in charge” to protect the integrity of that system. In effect, our deferral, our turning away, our detachment and our pursuit of our private ambitions (those immediate duties, chores, to-do lists, bills, leases, mortgages and job descriptions) leaves the common good to those who step forward into the public arena. And the personal, private ambitions and goals of those people are generally known only to those in the inner circle of those initiatives. So we effectively and rather successfully evolve both a rhetoric and a perception of how the common good is to be dealt with.

Inside our private experience, in the family, in the classroom, in the first job and even in the career appointment, we learn where power resides, how power is expressed, rewarded, sanctioned and punished. And whether that power resides in a single parent, (read alpha male or more recently alpha female), or seems to be a shared concept, arrived at through discussion, consensus and the application of real veto depends on how the family “sees” and “interprets” and expresses some important and real variables: these include, but are not restricted to how time and money, and resources and opportunities, needs and expectations and dreams are deemed. In the west, time, for example, is monitored in nano-seconds, befitting the last two minutes of a basketball game. Technology, another of those ubiquitous and also seductive metaphors of the masculine identity, has developed to such a sophisticated level that even the elements on our stoves now register, monitor and provide  a plethora of heat levels that would shock our grandmothers who worked  with their wood stoves.

Efficiency, and the perception and compliance with the notion of the equation of efficiency with the “common good” is just another of the default social values that come with the dominance of the now corporate, originally masculine, military, pyramidal, top-down social construct. Skill sets, too, have become a kind of holy grail, in the pursuit of children ready and competitive to engage in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. Children whose compliance with such a culture, dependent on high grades, teacher-approbation, social acceptance and engagement, and the elimination of doubt, anxiety, uncertainty, ambivalence and a deficit of confidence are highly preferred over their siblings who are more “complex.” And complexity is not merely a word that we abhor; it is a notion that we all incarnate and our implicit abhorrence of its depth and reality sabotages our best and most honourable efforts to parent, to teach, and the mentor our children and our grandchildren.

We often hear about the social engineering that infused the culture of the Third Reich with justified fear and disdain. It is the degree to which social engineering has become such a dominant and pervasive cataract that frightens this scribe, notwithstanding the histrionic and outlandish display of many ethic, and gender identities parading across our many screens. And the dominance of the private and individual and personal and identity issues, when compared with the insouciance and narcissism that face the common good, is readily easily and reasonable traceable to a dominant gender model, the alpha male.

We collectively and individually rely heavily on experts to advise us on many of the issues facing us in our health, our learning and our expectations of the relationship between the individual and the whole. And this dependence continues and grows in spite of the fact that many experts, including the medical profession,  are still exploring many complex and still hidden ‘combustions’ in the human gastric cavity for one. Our personal perception of our responsibility for our health, including our physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual shapes our individual design and discipline on how important that responsibility is. If we are burdened, excessively by anxiety, scarcity, worthlessness, not matter how we have come to that experience, there is a verifiable empirical relationship between our sense of our worth and our commitment to sustaining our worthiness or not. And while this dynamic relationship impacts both men and women, the access to support, and the notion that to seek support is both honourable and worthy, applies much more overtly to our female partners. Again, the solo, isolated and highly individualistic and independent male leaves himself on the edge of risk, partly as a consequence of how he (we) have been raised, and partly of how the “society” perceives we ought to be.

It is this “on the edge-ness” that, while for Hemingway brought out the best and most creative and demanding and imaginative responses when the individual man faces the greatest and most immediate threat, that offers foundational justification for all forms of competition, for personal and corporate/political/academic/professional dominance that seems at the core of masculine conceptualizing of our place in the universe. Mastery, as the crowning achievement of a human being, while commendable in pursuit of a technical skill, is hardly a mantra for a healthy existence. And the application of mastery to many of the skills we elevate, reward and promote as aspirational for our youth, while obviously demanding sacrifice and discipline, tends to push all forces that might interfere into the background of the individual and the collective consciousness.

Collectively we call this pursuit of mastery as “excellence” and we reward it in so many ways including the Nobel prize the Giller, the Pulitzer, the Tony, the Globe, the Oscar and a plethora of records of personal achievement. This piece is not intended to denigrate either the awards for outstanding performance or their recipients. It is however, to recognize, however, the other side of the human condition, the out-of-sight, the out-of-mind, the under-the-bridge, the in-the-gutter, the growth of the ‘unconscious’ and the unconsidered and the unworthy aspects both our individual persons, of our families, of our schools, and also of our global community. Even the most creative and extensive campaign of classical conditioning cannot and will not be enough to sustain the hero-reward-denial infra-structure of personal and social cohesion.

We are neither unaware, nor capable of fully denying both our preferred blindness and our chosen insouciance to our lesser selves. And here our “lesses selves” includes every single human being whose life continues to exist outside our consciousness, as if it were non-existent. Our demographic definitions of human groupings is only a part of our cover for our shared compliance in denial of our human responsibility for our own health and wellness, but also for our failed responsibility for the silent majority that continues to grow, both inside our persons and across our shared planet.

It is the divide between our unconscious and our conscious, and the elevation of the conscious to such a powerful and dominant position, partly one expects, to avoid having to confront the complex truths of our own lives, including our fears, our anxieties, our failures, our betrayals, our insecurities and our ‘gaps’ (“we are all filled with gaps,” Hugh MacLennan) that threatens to subvert millions of lives (many of them men, 75% of all suicides in Canada are committed by men) and also to threaten the life of the planet.

Men are in the vortex of a definition of expectations of heroic proportions, with both extremes of the implications of that definition for a full life and a complete self0sabotage. We are turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to our needs, our insecurities, our uncertainties, and the requisite development of those ‘tools’ like words, sentences, feelings, imaginations and beliefs that would value and give expression to these needs and fears and feelings. And we are permitting our brothers, both individually and collectively, to continue to assault our best instincts that know we are participating in a kind of both deliberate and an unconscious sabotage of those best instincts, angels and inner voices.

Our public performance especially those of men, both individually and collectively, serves only to mask our interior truths, and that mask, like the papier mache of those storefronts in the old western movies, cannot withstand the wind and sand storms that sweep across the deserts of our hinterlands. And the storms of our innerlands will only continue to grow so long as we remain adamant deniers of our own inner storms. And, what is worse, our growing dependence on extrinsic ingestions of pills, drinks, distractions, addictions, and even the pursuit of unattainable and hollow goals will only serve to prolong and postpone the inevitable date of our wakening. And while none of us men can hold trump responsible for our personal and our shared fate, nevertheless, we can hold ourselves accountable for our willing compliance in a culture that will not and cannot sustain either our individual lives nor the life of our planet.

Monday, December 30, 2019

#37 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (masculine cultural DNA #5)

It is not only that men have drunk our own koolaid, in pursuit of the “heroic” chivalrous, knight of whatever ‘round’ table, and thereby impaled our gender in a trap whose “shadow” opposite has suffered denial and excessive empowerment, we have also imposed our “cultural strait-jacket” on each and every family, school, institution and government in history.

It can be legitimately argued that men did not commit this nefarious tyranny any more on others than on ourselves. And it is also legitimate to posit that we/they did not commit this original sin as a conscious and malicious and toxic and willful act, we nevertheless ensnared all generations of men, as well as the same generations of women in expectations, duties, and responsibilities.  Taking on more than we ever possibly could or would attain, we (men) incarnated a stereotype of military might, philosophical vision, theological purity and aspiration, medical and scientific experiment, governance principles, theatrical role models, visionaries, artists, poets, revolutionaries, pirates, rogues, lovers and emperors. Each individual life sought to attain more power, more adulation, more wealth, more wisdom, more holiness and more longevity as a way of demonstrating our worth, value and identity.

And while these pursuits, taken in moderation, continue to embody a set of values for young men seeking to emulate their chosen heroes, there is a glaring paradox attendant to this heroic ideal: it is founded on an unacknowledged, disavowed, denied, disparaged, and thereby highly impactful neurosis, fear, vulnerability and especially the more deep and dangerous anxiety of being ‘found out’ for our vulnerability.
It is not enough to paint male characters in contemporary “chick flicks” who come to their senses and realize off nearly too late, that they love a specific woman, having so often run the other way in the face of intimacy.  Nor is it enough to witness more serious scholars like C.S. Lewis, the Oxford English professor and author whose “frozen” exterior thaws in the presence of his new love in Shadowlands. Stereotyping women as the foot-and-heart-warmer for austere, cold, deeply intellectual middle-aged man, like the stereotype of men, is another reciprocal and even perhaps necessary reduction of the feminine.

We have built, deliberately perhaps, yet certainly in epic proportions, a western culture based on a definition of masculinity that sabotages all men, and engulfs most women in a dance of convention, convenience, expectations, and norms. The cold, detached, officious, “Captaine von Trapp’s” of most if not all of our western civilizations, cultures, organizations and literatures like a cardboard caricature of masculinity, has some value for adolescents, who struggle to find their path into social acceptance. However, even at that early stage, the stereotype divides all boys into those valued by peers and those considered alien outsiders. A recent and deplorable example of “the frat boy” emerged in the last year, in the body of Judge Cavanagh, now a permanent member of the Supreme Court of the United States. And it was an army of wannabee “frat-boys” who voted to confirm his appointment.

The church hierarchy, at least in the Christian church, has adopted an entry model for incipient clergy that requires emotional, psychological, and hierarchical prostration to the will, the instructions and the demands of the bishop, or the Pope. In the Roman Catholic church, that prostration is both literal and metaphoric, exemplifying a complete surrender to the will of God, archived in the mind, the heart and the body of the authority figure. Rigid, controlled, monitored and seriously punished compliance, considered benignly as discipline, is not merely expected from clergy; the model of compliance, adherence and discipline to the authority of a military general, an operating room doctor, a chief executive of any organization has been embedded, and then normalized as an integral component of western culture.

Arguments from leaders of such august religious bodies as the evangelical “Focus on the Family” pontificate that a “ship can have only one captain” as if to underscore the principle that the Christian faith requires a degree of discipline that imposes such a trite and inappropriate aphorism on each of its member families. Men, not merely by inference but by actual direction, who adhere to such groups, are expected, trained and inculcated into a simplistic, rule-based application of the designed roles of men and women. Designing men, in a paint-by-number rigid adherence to “the top dog” in any situation, has been a cultural, political, historical, and even organizational “given” for centuries. And the lessons have been prosletyzed not only to men but also to millions of women, as an organizing principle of how the world works.

We mentioned earlier that the “fathers” of not only the church, but also of the many several social, governmental, academic, legal, scientific and corporate organizations have been and continue to be primarily men. It is, however, not merely that male bodies, minds and hearts occupy chief executive posts; it is more insidious and ubiquitous truth that the roots of our western culture spreading under the ground of public discourse and consciousness are primarily, if not exclusively, masculine. The very symbols of power, the symbols of authority and legitimacy, including how to approach each situation, how to design the training and education systems, how to design and operate health and justice systems, how to approach problems, glitches, epidemics, illnesses, crime stem from the consciousness of the male psyche.

How we define aberrant behaviour, primarily as illness or evil, stems from a top-down socially and intellectually embedded way of thinking. Evil, as illustrated in the Garden of Evil, is a construct of a male mind and imagination. God, itself, as a male deity, is an obvious and unquestioned male construct. The Greek Gods, too, were symbols of male writers, even though they included female goddesses in their panoply. Much of the justifying rationale for many of these original male images, symbols gods and the processes of thought and investigation emerges from the dominant roles played by men in early civilizations through their academies, their churches, their writings and their histories. If men are “leading” their communities, their camps and their armies, their schools and their theatres, then those men will both consciously and unconsciously plant deeply in the cultural soil of their time, their literal and metaphoric seeds of their creation.

And in order primarily to survive, and to protect the survival of their villages and camps, those men sought to design and impose a kind of order, and a rationale for their order.

Being physically weaker, and having family duties and responsibilities, women over the centuries, complied with the masculine-seeded norms, expectations and the arguments proferred by their male counterparts. Women have for centuries been barred even from opportunities to write serious literature, to vote, to provide a counter-balance to the whims of the men in charge. And it follows that young boys and girls fell in behind the male-dominated, male-led, and male-seeded western culture. Not only does this historic record keep women out of the stream of consciousness of the towns, villages and the institutions. Even the teachers and the nurses, most of whom were women, worked under the supervision, and reported to the authority of male policies, procedures and expectations.

Power, in the hands, minds, hearts and imaginations of men, over the centuries, has and continues to be a two-edged sword: empowering those men in leadership, and placing excessive expectations on those same men. It has and continues to serve to disempower women, building the kind of bitterness and resentment that the last two or three decades have witnessed in the west, as well as providing a rally-vortex for the feminist movement. The need for power, however, is more subtle than the operation of the instruments of power. It is the need for individual, and then distributed power agency that attends the “way the world works” that undermines the very honourable and prestigious and platinum ideals to which men creators have and continue to aspire. The need for power, whether considered “the driver” in a for-profit corporation, or a tyrant in an incipient fascist state, or a director of a military establishment, and not merely the execution of that power, is a cancer that incubates in the roots of that organization, community, civilization.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely (Edmund Burke) is a phrase that has echoed through the archives of libraries. What is missed in this aphorism is the underlying dependence on power, dependence on the attainment of power, dedication and even addiction to the pathways to confronting a dependence on power. Young men witness literally zillions of men pursuing some form of power, (dominance, influence, control, affluence, status, role, activity/skill) as a “given” or even an expectation that serves as a lighthouse beacon for their lives. That beacon warrants only the conversation of which specific “form” or “role” of power the young man seeks to pursue. However, the missing element in these conversations is the dark side of the pursuit of power.

Surrender of independence, surrender of ethical and moral values, surrender of relationships, surrender of identity, in pursuit of the power of “attainment”
 of  a goal, is not the only danger from an excessive and obsessive pursuit of power. The real sacrifice, and it also takes a large variety of expressions, is the sacrifice of something far more important than power, status, wealth, adulation, public acclaim.

And that something is vulnerability, a kind of acknowledgement and acceptance and valuing of that weakness. And there is a difference between this vulnerability and neurosis. Neurosis is an excessive and irrational anxiety or obsession. What we are driving at here is the difference between a kind of expectation of dominance, of mastery, of control, of obedience of others, and the kind of officious deployment of authority that renders all others insignificant, irrelevant and even as serfdom.

Whether operating in a political atmosphere, an academic or for-profit organization, women come to the scene with a much more collaborative, collegial and biologically, psychologically and culturally embedded mind-set than do men. And, although individual men cannot be held responsible for the centuries of history in which men dominated, and inbred the expectation of power among generations of men, there is a much-needed and open opportunity for men to learn about how the world works, from the cultural world view of western women.

Women, too, have considerable adjustment to consider, given the kind of men they encounter in their workplaces, their churches and their social gatherings. We have not done, or attempted, through a motive of malignancy. We have not dominated from the primary motive of abuse. In fact, the cultural expectation that men will take responsibility for specific and agreed leadership roles, has imposed a kind of shackle on millions of men, many of whom either run away from those challenges, or who rush into them in a desperate attempt to prove themselves….and inevitably fail.

Having been supervised by nearly fifty mostly men, I have met more than a fair percentage of weak, insecure neurotic and over-achieving men in positions of responsibility and of authority. Leaders in education, in theology, in academe, in health care and in retail have, in my experience been those who desperately “needed” their position of power. And their need displayed itself in decisions that demonstrated more fear and anxiety than the situation required.

Whether they were:
·                competing (even unconsciously with a more successful twin brother), or
·                attempting to prove their value to a father who disparaged their worth in childhood,
·                over-compensating for some perceived weakness, or they were
·                over-achieving to demonstrate worth to an empty self, or they were
·                desperately pursuing affluence and its symbols in order to justify their           “worth” to a demanding gold-digging spouse, or
·                fulfilling a dream ambition of a Hollywood parent or
·                desperately clinging to power to justify themselves to their family

Many were sadly tragic, ineffectual far beyond their full capacity, jumping to conclusions and perceptions that were highly neurotic, based not on their investigation of the full situation, imposing judgements and sanctions that far exceeded the circumstances, and offering assessments that significantly exceeded their competence and their professional experience. And the most frightened were the least effective. And their plight was and is not to be exclusively assigned to their character. 
The impunity, or willful ignorance or denial of  the roots of personal ambition, and its excessive demands, linked to the avoidance by a system of hiring can and will only perpetuate the sabotage of the institutions in which these leaders are operating. 

We have built a culture that predicts more ineffectual and inappropriate decisions from mostly men whose self is so fragile, and not assessed by others in hiring positions, themselves, nervous of appointing really authentic and self-possessed candidates. And that culture bears eons of masculine imprint

Sunday, December 22, 2019

#36 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (masculine cultural DNA #4)

Denial of an interior, inner, unconscious self, is not an isolated abdication. Whether its basis lies in a profound and inexorable denial of death, as many have suggested, is both reasonable and yet a trifle reductionistic. Our enforced compliance with linear, cause-effect silver-bullet explanations is one of the many complicating implications of denial.

“Confucius supposedly said that the rectification of society starts with the rectification of its language. This suggests that a careful use of words comes before new laws, new programs, and new leaders. Laws and programs begin in words, and if the words of our leaders are entangled in garbled speech, intoned as nasal whining, bereft of inspiration and wit, and flatter than the commercials that surround them, then we can’t expect the society to prosper….When the magic of language withers, we are left in the desolate condition Charles Darwin…describes as a ‘loss of happiness,’ and our minds become, as he says, ‘ a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of fact.’ He here refers to the literal level of language which gives accurate accounts, as the length of a board or how to put up a folding cot. When (Robert) Frost speaks of as dreary kind of ‘grammatical prose’ and Thoreau, of the language of ‘common sense,’ they are warning about the deadening effect of literal language.” (James Hillman, Language: Speaking Well and Speaking Out, in The rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, Poems for Men, Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade, editors, pp.155-156)
From the same source (p.163), here is a passage written by Henry David Thoreau:
                                            On Being Extravagant
I fear chiefly lest my expression may not be extra-vagant enough, may not wander far enough beyond the narrow limits of my daily experience, so as to be adequate  to the truth of which I have been convinced. Extra vagance!     It depends on how you are yarded…
I am convinced that I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a true expression…
Why level downward to our dullest perception always, and praise that as common sense? The commonest sense of the sense of men asleep, which they express by snoring…
“They pretend,” as I hear, “that the verses of Kabir have four different senses: illusion, spirit, intellect and the exoteric doctrine of the Vedas”; but in this part of the world it is considered a ground for complaint if a man’s writings admit of more than one interpretation. While England endeavors to cure the potato-rot, will not any endeavor to cure the brain-rot, which prevails so much more widely and fatally?
In another section of the same source entitled, Making a Hole in Denial,  Robert Bly writes these words:

It’s possible that the United States has achieved the first consistent culture of denial in the modern world. Denial can be considered as an extension—into all levels of society—of the naïve person’s inability to face the harsh facts of life.
The health of any nation’s soul depends on the capacity of adults to face the harsh facts of the time. But the covering up of painful emotions inside us and the blocking out of fearful images coming from the outside have become in our country the national and private style. We have established, with awesome verse, the animal od denial as the guiding beast of the nation’s life. The inner city collapses, and we build bad housing projects rather than face the bad education, lack of jobs, and persistent anger at black people. When the homeless increase, we build dangerous shelters rather than face the continuing decline in actual wages. Of course we know this beast lives in every country: we have been forced lately to look at our beast. As the rap song has it: “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”…
In this situation, art and literature are more important than ever before. Essays, poetry, fiction, still relatively cheap to print, are the best hope in making headway against denial. The corporate deniers own television. We can forget about that. There’s no hope in commercial television at all. The schools teach denial by not teaching, and the students’ language is so poor that they can’t do anything but deny. School boards forbid teachers in high school to teach conflict, questioning of authority, picking apart of arguments, mockery of news and corporate lies….David Ignatow points out in ‘A First on TV’ that one of the most popular forms of denial now is the agreement television anchors have not to become excited about anything. This coolness is spreading to the whole population…
Our particular denial, the denial practiced in American culture, involves a protection of innocence. Mark Twain talks of “Innocents Abroad.” France knows its history, England its, but we have a passionate dedication to not-knowing. Our wars are always noble, our bombing surgical, intended to make the patient better.
Great art and literature are the only models we have left to help us stop lying. The greater the art the less the denial. We don’t need avant-garde art now, bhut great art. Breaking through the wall of denial helps us get rid of self-pity, and replaces self-pity with awe at the complicated misery of all living things.
A poem that confronts denial has a certain tone; it is dark but not pulled down by evil. It is intense but not hysterical; it feels weighty, and there is something bitter in it, as if the writer were fighting against great resistance when he or she writes the poem….
Eating bitter means to turn and face life, If we deny our animalness, our shit and  death, if we refuse to see the cruelties and abuse by S&L executives, presidents, and sexual abusers, it means we have turned our backs on life. It we have turned our backs on life, don’t be surprised if we kill the poor, the homeless, ourselves, and the earth. Getting rid of denial, then, means getting used to the flavor of “butter,” getting used to have that flavor of bitter truth in the mouth. (p. 195-197-198-199)

Let these words but be misconstrued as an apology for the noxious and contemptible, the racist and misogynistic acts, words, attitudes, beliefs and hatred of the current occupant of the Oval Office. And also, while the words are written specifically about the United States, there is a clear and present danger in their relevance and application to the country on the north side of the 49th parallel. Canada likes to think we are a “polite” and political and racially pure, more moderate and less contemptible version of the United States, borrowing more from our French and British and First Nations heritage. Just a more sophisticated and thereby more deceptive, less visible and less readily noticed incarnation of denial!

The evidence of suppression of radical, intense, even exaggerated expression abounds, especially in those primarily politically correct institutions the school and the church. Telling the truth is subsumed and buried in the protection of the people in charge, from the principal and the superintendent to the bishop who themselves are so deeply in denial of the reality over which they hold sway that they are afraid to disclose its truth.
I once wrote a scathing email to a “suit” in a local service club who had presumed to recruit me for an activity without including me in the decision. Another “senior” officer in the club retorted, “You should not have done that, even though what you wrote was the truth!” A church bishop in a serious and private conversation warned me, “People, you know John, cannot stand too much truth!” as if my pursuit of truth, as a journalist, educator and then apprentice-clergy was inappropriate for the practice of ministry. How dangerously accurate was his warning.

Only a few months later, that same bishop assigned me to a parish deeply writhing in the agony of a previous clergy’s having shot a dog and turned the gun on the owner of the dog. Such highly charged and relevant information was never delivered to this “innocent” who walked blindly into the ‘fire’ of that cauldron, where, on a sunny Sunday morning at six, I was awakened by the sound of shattering glass. Immediately across the street, a young man had used his bare fist to break the windshield of this half-ton, deeply angry and frustrated that he could not find his sun glasses. As a father of four children under the age of six, with another four rifles hanging on the wall of his living room, this man was exhibiting potentially dangerous behaviour. Within a couple of hours, his parents were asking me to “get help” by invoking the service of their family doctor. When I called the doctor, who incidentally had delivered the young man at his birth, the doctor informed me he had no previous indication of the imminent danger. Nevertheless, the young man was admitted to hospital later that day, probably as a precautionary measure. When I discussed the issue with the local child service agency, their report continues to echo in my memory: “We never get any reports of children in danger from that community; they all cover for each other and keep their secrets!”

Not incidentally, I learned about the “dog shooting” and the “gun turned on the owner” from a fifteen-year-old while sharing lunch in the local McDonald’s, while his mother visited the rest room.

And then there is the story, in the same parish, of the religious “right” whose proponents occupied the self-appointed gate-keeper role, one of whom vigorously told me to leave when I resisted the showing of a religious-right video that I must leave. This was at a time only a few months after my arrival, and only after a promise of ordination from the bishop had been cancelled on the nefarious and devious report of an interim clergy opposing my renting of an office as a needed and planned and affordable escape from this parish. And the story of the warden-wannabee, a daughter of the ‘founding family’ of the church, who when I deferred and appointed a relative new-comer, a spiritually grounded woman, took revenge against me with the bishop in secretly agenting a private letter of complaint against me.

There is also the story of a feminist Toronto priest in whose employ I served as an honorary assistant, pinch-hitting for her while she attended the UN Womens’ Conference in Bejing. Immediately following the election of the Mike Harris government, we all learned of the government’s significant reduction or cancellation of funding of the Wheel-Trans service in Toronto, a needed service for all physical and intellectually challenged seeking work and health care. I challenged the government’s decision in a homily and learned later, after the cleric returned, parishioners reported to her, “We can’t have him criticizing the premier we have just elected!” The cleric held a secret kangaroo court of some fourteen church members, and asked them to vote on my retention. Although the vote went 9 in favour, 4 opposed with 1 abstention, I was nevertheless relieved of my duties, I later learned, partly because one parishioner told the clergy unknown to me, “He’s a leader and you’re not!” When I confronted the bishop about the failure to assign me to former parish duties, informing him of my considered view, “You know she hates men!” I heard these words in reply, “I have never seen that from her.” This is the same clergy who deployed the Myers-Briggs test on the congregation, and then designed her homilies to comport with the dominant “sensate” demographic sitting in the pews.

Perhaps an apprenticeship in journalism covering municipal politics for more than  a dozen years in a city caught up in the drama of local political manoeuvres and personalities, from which platform I openly criticized both decisions and the processes whereby those decisions were taken does not prepare one for a quixotic journey into ministry. I once assessed that the political deal-making, back-stabbing and betrayals of the council paled in comparison with the back-stabbing, gossiping betrayals that, like tornado winds sweep over every church in which I served. The only difference, from this observer’s perspective, is that inside the church, such toxicity is literally never challenged, while in the backrooms of politics, it frequently, if not always, is.

Making nice, as Canadians are globally reputed to have inscribed in our DNA, is nothing more than a cultural mask, covering more than a century of overt, passionate, denial-based policy and language of racism, and the hypocrisy that sustains such racism. Land claims unresolved, boil-water orders, defective educational opportunity, social unrest linked to spiking suicide rates among the young and the dearth of health and social services all give evidence of a gestalt of what can only be called apartheid of the north. Deeply implicated in this national shame are the Christian churches, through their exaggerated defining of native customs as heretical, and in serious need of conversion, not to mention the piles of evidence of sexual abuse, reparations for which continue to spawn public debate.

Accepting denial, whether inside the churches, the House of Commons, the corporate board rooms, in academe, or on the playing field of both amateur and professional athletics, has been, is and will continue for too long, to represent a significant layer of the masculine consciousness needing unpacking, confronting, remediating and transforming the lives of individuals, families, and nations. Additionally, the shared spectre of an existential threat from rising temperatures, rising ocean levels, parched growing fields, starvation and tidal waves of refugees can no longer be denied by any of the many players needed to address the threat.

If men are unwilling and unable to confront the denials in our own lives, and in the exercise of our own professional and career theatres, there is little hope that denial will be etherized upon the table of the spiritual, ethical, moral and corporate pathologist’s table. Following that etherizing, denial then needs to be submitted to the crematorium reserved for the many life-defying and bogus myths that infect our masculine consciousness, with the impunity of denial itself.

Friday, December 20, 2019

#35 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (masculine cultural DNA #3)

Asking men to acknowledge their individual unconscious has be more than a little quixotic. Asking men to pay more attention to their emotions, learning the nuances between and among them, articulating them in mature and reasonable language without inferring insults, an effeminate nature of them, or a fear of being considered an inferior male also has to be quixotic. As for intuition, well that is a case all by itself.
An unconscious, emotions, an intuition….these are as important attributes of men as well as of women, whether men are willing and able and free to acknowledge their existence and importance or not. So why is there so much resistance?

A masculine epistemology begins and end in many cases with the empirical facts that mount a case before the senses of any man. Sensate and dedicated to mastering the details of what the senses experience and require, in order to proceed to “intervene” in whatever the situation might be, in order to generate more empirical evidence that justifies the original “premise” or “diagnosis” or “assessment” of the situation is not only the preferred approach to any situation, it can be judged as the “default” position of most men. Whether “dominance” is an innate and determinative trait of masculinity or not will be a subject of debate for eons. Nevertheless, there is at least more than adequate support for the notion that the exercise of power, including power “over” whether based on the needs of the dominant male or based on the needs of the exigency is a starting point for many if not most males in their assessment of how a situation is, has been or will be handled.

The capacity and willingness to compare the relative “strength” of an argument, a person, a policy, an agency or organization, an education/university degree, a product/service seems to be the sine qua non of the vernacular of practical sense. Consumers do it, teachers do it, doctors do it, lawyers do it, accountants do it, employers do it, employees do it, even husbands and wives do it…we all do it!

Comparing the “strength” of anything/person/idea/value/belief/nation/language/ethnicity/history/economy seems to drive most conversations in most venues. Practical sense language motors the transactional engine operating in by far the vast majority of interactions on the personal, organizational, academic, jurisdictional, national and international stages of human lives. It is the perception and language of our individual and our unconscious lives that “spooks” the prevailing dominant language of practical sense. In the domain of the unconscious reside words/notions like motive, attitude, sensibility, emotion, fear, dream, intuition, belief, memory, bias, prejudice, love, contempt, self, God, death, reputation….

And the significant difference between the “sensate” language/perception of practical sense and the notions of the unconscious is the capacity to contain, measure, evaluate, assess and compare and regulate them. In the sensate category, notions are measureable, predictable, comparable, and rendering the concept (belief?) that they can be controlled, managed. This capacity to control renders the user “in charge,” a state in which most men feel more comfortable. However, the unconscious nevertheless continues to hold sway, whether it is recognized and accepted or not. The degree to which it is denied, paradoxically, and ironically, elevates the level of its influence to sabotage. And self-sabotage, while not restricted to men, (women are also subject to its deceits) continues to plague the lives of millions of men.

How do men commit acts, beliefs, perceptions, words and relationships that illustrate self-sabotage?

Well…..where to begin?

For starters, we live involuntarily in homes in which too many parents consider us “weak” if we cry when we are injured, or offended. We also live in homes in which physical affection and attention from mothers is exaggeratedly dedicated to daughters, on the premise that mothers fear raising “unmanly young boys”. It is not that we individually initiate these attitudes and behaviours but more that they establish a “platform” on which we build our perceptions of ourselves as young boys. The sensibility of our sisters, being valued highly by our mothers, by inference, paints young boys as “less humane” and “less compassionate” and “less caring” and “less empathic.” Significantly, too, our fathers in too many instances are either ignorant of these exchanges of boys with their mothers or remain silent in their face, thereby assisting in their perpetuation, normalization and embedding in the conventional culture.

The history of men deferring to their female partners, in matter of emotions, intuition, sensibilities, even love (especially in our use of language to express how we feel) is legion. Whether our rationalization scrapes the bottom of the barrel, like a family medical doctor who declared “women do it so much better” when confronted with the notion that men can learn to express their/our emotions, or whether we “excuse” ourselves from the language of the unconscious, including our loves and our fears because we are overcome with their power and afraid to acknowledge that truth, or whether our reticence has a different base, men nevertheless resist conversations that even might expose their/our interior life. Intimacy, as we all know and recognize, is both a primary need and an elemental fear. Our fear, however, for men, too often tends to prevail over our “need” in another of our unconscious self-sabotages. Considered simply “the way men are” (awkward, shut-down, shy, private, self-possessed, ‘the silent type,’ focused on task/profession, protectors, defenders, rescuers, “head” of the house, strong, a fighter, no push-over), our culture continually and persistently endorses the “alpha” male model of masculinity.

And when a culture endorses a stereotype like this, including endorsement by the vast majority of women, whether that endorsement is expressed overtly or covertly, men make it a significant ideal to aspire to attain. Men, by our persistent, collective silence and commitment to present ourselves as “alpha” males, however we feel that “characterization” fits our sense of our self, risk self-sabotage either in silence or open commitment. And in organizational structures, even the most simple act or word that “smells” of strength will be noted and repeated immediately by those men in power by a new recruit. The blinding paradox of supervisors/employers/hiring agents who overtly express a strong preference for “strength” (alpha male) while silently, secretly and imperceptibly, even unconsciously demanding total obedience of even the most minute rule or regulation seems baked into the cake of men relating to men. And, more recently, women executives, ambitiously climbing the corporate career ladder, have demonstrated a similar divided-self.

Hunters, fishers, mountain climbers, adventurers, pioneers, policemen, firemen, builders, surgeons, astronauts, fighter pilots…professional athletes….there are so many obvious examples of roles for men seeking “power” to fill. Social endorsement of the roles especially focused on the risks, the dangers, the drama, the urgency and emergency of many of these roles is especially seductive for many young men who see themselves through the lens of the culture around them. Uniforms, rank, hierarchy, income, status, and then “public respect” are highly motivating sensate rewards for aspiring young men. Traditions built on many of these rewards, including the total obedience to a “code” as another pathway to perfection, are also highly influential for young men who “want to make something of themselves”…and avoid the kind of social derision and contempt they witness directed toward those who “got a job,” “bought a truck,” and “liked their booze (or their preferred medication) too much.”

And therein lies another of the hidden ways by which men sabotage ourselves: we too often divide into two options the road ahead. We are sadly and tragically hard-wired, it seems, to reduce our options to one of two, especially as young adults driven by the need to decide. After all, deciding, and not being uncertain, is another of the dangerous stereotypes that happen to define normal masculinity. I recall, as a junior undergrad, encountering the family doctor on the street, in the midst of a serious cold. I asked if he could recommend an over-the-counter product to address the symptoms. After providing the name, he immediately jabbed his tongue into my eyes, “When are you going to decide what it is you want to do?” as if my failure to announce a decision demonstrated my failure as a man. Uncertainty, ambiguity, probing, and even deferring decisions, as well as “not know the answer” are all signs of weakness, as portrayed by the conventional culture. The sooner a young man decides, and then announces that decision, or enters a visible role, the sooner he is considered to be a “good young man” in the eyes of the local community.

And then, in the performance of the duties of whatever vocation, the capacity to see clearly the issues that have to be faced, reduced to a minimum of two options, and then deciding on which option is preferred, such executive capacity seriously supercedes the public assessment of whether it was the best/optimum decision. Men are enculturated to be decisive, ambitious, clear-thinking, clinical in our pursuit of clear goals and objectives and thereby responsible. And responsibility trumps creativity, imagination, taking into account multiple variables in assessing situations, and prevarication and indecision, procrastination and “impotence”. We have all read, at least superficially, Shakespeare’s Hamlet and learned about the tragedy of being indecisive and then impulsive and prone to be rash. Similar to the futility of Quixotic ambitions, considered out of touch with reality, men in literature like Heathcliff, Willy Loman and his sons Happy and Biff, and the dominant characters in novels like Golding’s Lord of the Flies, we men are inoculated into perceptions and attitudes that illustrate a preference for “responsibility” and “dependability” as opposed to models that illustrate any sign of unpredictability, authentic rebellion and creativity, and even irreverence for authority.

The recently disclosed human insults and abuse by men of young hockey players illustrate the depth of both the secrecy and the self-sabotage of men by men, themselves sabotaging their exercise of their responsibilities as coaches. It is not only that emotional and physical abuse occurred; it is more significant that such abuse remained closeted inside the hockey culture that merely reflects too much of the corporate, institutional culture of secrecy.

Raised in dysfunctional families, many men know all too well when to keep their/our mouths shut about what is really going on inside our homes. Undoubtedly, young adolescent men historically refrain from disclosure of the conditions under which they live, while young women are more likely to seek “support” from their peers. For young men, such “sharing” would be a nefarious act of betrayal of the honour of the family, and would also indicate a degree of weakness leading to social contempt for being a whiner, a complainer, and a wuss. It would shine a kleg light on one of the most detested of masculine fears: tattling, whistle-blowing.

So, locked between the leg-iron of obedience to the honour of the family, transferred later to the “honour” of the boss and the institution, and the vice of truth that would expose serious malfeasance of the parent, corporation, church, school or repair shop, fully aware that to break the “silence” would bring irreparable harm, even violence from the responsible authorities. It is not a surprise that protecting the whistle-blower is a law only recently enacted, and still not enforced full-heartedly, by those in power, manly men, who fear exposure of their worst attitudes, words, behaviours and prejudices.

Silence, adhering to the “code of silence” applies to a plethora of public roles. We are, as a culture, literally and metaphorically, terrified of exposure of our weaknesses, our failures and our betrayals. Finding safe space in which to unburden ourselves of such pain grows increasingly difficult; friends, especially men, are wont to reveal the details of their/our private life to another man, given our early life of preserving the confidentiality of our homes. We worry that such information will not remain secret and sacred between the two “friends;” we also fear that in disclosing our pain the other will consider us either or both lying or effeminate/weak.

And an aversion to weakness, vulnerability, failure, imposing unwarranted conditions on others whether they are employees, colleagues, associates, betrayal of colleagues saturates the culture of all organizations. And this aversion, this almost absolute refusal to acknowledge responsibility, for fear of being discarded, punished in an inordinate manner, avenged and scarred forever now pervades our culture. It says here that the roots of this aversion are entangled under the western tree of masculinity.

Our shared refusal to come to terms with our unconscious, to find the safe places in which to bare our unconscious in safety and in confidence, and to confront wrong when it is emitted by those in positions of responsibility serve as a cultural entanglement from which we will have to engage all of masculinity in order to escape.

As a professional sycophant to bosses from mid-teens to mid-forties, I was mis-construed as a “company man” whether I really was or not. Specifically, I learned to comply with the culture of an Ontario private school where old boys occupied “board” seats had more power and influence than a young faculty member. Did I protest? In the other way available, I left, after three years. I also accepted whatever curricular timetables we assigned by principals, in the belief that I had no other options. I more than over-compensated a sense of unworthiness by throwing myself into multiple extra-curricular activities, as a way of distracting from having to face my own demons, my own fears and my own unfulfilled ambitions. I deferred from domestic conflict almost imitating Hamlet, uncertain of the outcome of full-throated confrontation until I exploded in defiance and termination. In the church, of course, I was baked into the culture of total compliance and absolute obedience of the hierarchy, even if and when they/he failed to discharge the responsibilities of orientation to the full truth of any assignment, and/or failed to support in the performance of necessary decisions when trying to “right-the-ship” of parishes that were almost certain to flounder on the shoals of unacknowledged and unresolved vengeance, jealousy or fear.

Only much later was I able and willing to face my own failures of omission (self-sabotage) and of commission in how those failings impacted others, for which I am deeply sorry. There is no way to separate one’s self-sabotage from the impact such behaviour/attitudes/words/perceptions impact others, including one’s most intimate family.

Whether men can or will see the limits of our individual and our shared perceptions remains mute. That we can and will, however, is clear. This petition calls for a conversation among men about how we might more consciously acknowledge and accept our sack of memories and traumas we have been secretly lugging around for too long.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

#34 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (masculine cultural DNA #2)

It is not only that the “fathers” of medicine, law, engineering, science, governance, and theology are all masculine. The mind-set, the approach, the methods and the philosophies that undergird all disciplines that continue to dominate the academic curriculum today come from the minds/hearts/psyches/imaginations/vulnerabilities of men.

While many of the discoveries were, are and will continue to be laudable, highly significant for the survival of the culture, including the institutional structures, and humanity on all continents, including all religions, ethnicities, languages and reigning powers, in terms of the impact on individual men has also been enormous.

Mastering a “field” of investigation, documenting its findings and applications, and then seeking and executing methods of deployment and sustainability of each of the respective mine fields, all of them treasured and stored in vaults in archives around the world has undoubtedly taken a toll on individual males. Focusing on the “task” in front of him, (all of the thousands of “him’s”) has destroyed many families, the lives of many children and has imposed a set of standards, expectations and even rules and regulations that have also imprisoned males of all ages in cells of fear, anxiety, detachment, excessive ambition, heroism and highly complex and perpetually tied and re-tied gordion knots of gender relations. Individual, solo-flights, in private labs, garages, studies, attics, and even on street corners have generated many of the highly complex and deeply insightful observations, reflections, formulae, policies and road-maps (including the roads themselves) in whose pathways we continue to trod. There has even been considerable thought given to the notion that only by individuals’ thinking, speculating, observing, reflecting, writing and erasing, scribbling, sketching does anything new and worthy about the universe come to light. Committees, it has been argued, produce “group-think” which, according to this perception, does not achieve the depth, clarity and insightful vision of individual penetration of the cosmos, the physical, the biological, the anatomical, the economic, the scientific, the theological, the legal and the ethical.

Risk-taking, even that of risking one’s life, has always accompanied deep penetration into the unknown, given the human predilection of aversion to change. New discoveries, announced in whatever forum, will inevitably attract the most severe critics (and their often legitimate criticism) as well as the occasional cheer-leader. Similarly, on the battle-field, on the cusp of a new procedure in the operating room, as well as on the cusp of an innovative defence strategy and tactic, and with the proposition of a new theological/ethical/economic/chemical/pharmaceutical finding, the trapeze artist’s risk (without a net) is not merely implied but clearly evident.

 Cutting-edge advances, based on an indestructible determination to explore the limits, for no other reason that the limit is there challenging the most “brave” (quixotic, naïve, impulsive, deluded, disciplined, heroic). Whether it is to climb the peaks of Everest, sail the seas of the Arctic Circle, lead the Crusades, discover “the” cure for X, Y or Z, design the economic theory of capitalism/communism/globalism, conduct the most original research design, design and execute the building of an empire, design and execute the destruction of an empire, men have been not only willing to step forward.

In many cases, they/we have plunged headlong into the challenge….often at our peril.
Icarus, son of Daedalus,  in order to escape imprisonment, flies by means  of artificial wings but fall into the sea and drowns when the wax of his wings melts as he flies too near the sun. Don Quixote, the literary character in Cervantes novel, having set out to restore chivalry, ends up tilting (fighting) at windmills for the mistaken reason that he thought they were giants oppressing the people. In fact, chivalry itself, a romantic ideal of masculinity, embedded itself into the psyche of Renaissance literature, including the model of platonic love as another of the several masculine ideals, modelling “high” and highly moral and ethical ways of being a man. And then there are the lengthy lists of male role models, each and everyone of them based on an achievement of some kind: Ghandi for his ethical witness, Einstein for his “messing around” with energy, Michelangelo for his creative paintings and his “messing around with design,” Solzhenitsyn for his courageous opposition to the gulag and the list fills many discs.
More recently, too, sports and athletic figures have attracted more than their share of attention and adulation with names of intellectual and scientific giants receding into the pages of academic journals unless and until there is some startling news about a discovery that could curtail scourges like cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes or aging itself.

Men, it seems, bear the gift and the burden of defining ourselves in our work. Our relationships with family, in many cases if not most, serve as a support for our life’s work. Bringing home the bacon, climbing the ladder of success, winning the championship,  achieving Dean’s List honours, attaining a Rhodes scholarship, grasping the brass ring, (however that ring is envisioned in each family and community)….these are the mantra’s of millions of families in the west, (perhaps also in the East). And the supporting cast and system of announcing, promoting and then disseminating the good news about these achievements grip the heartstrings of every audience, reader, viewer and spectator.

On the dark side of this equation, where men take their own lives, where they live on the street, many veterans of foreign wars for whom restoration into the families and communities has been forgotten and/or forsaken by the rest of the community, where the lose their jobs and simply cannot tell their spouses so they rent motor homes with other “losers” to avoid sharing the guilt and the shame that necessarily come with firings…there is a collective abyss of really knowing how to address the blight on both our streets and our consciences.

Just today, The Atlantic’s feature story is dedicated to the concept that America is not teaching its boys how to become healthy, self-respecting men. And only yesterday, former President Barack Obama was reported to have told a Singapour  audience that the world would be a far better, safer cleaner, and healthier place if women were in charge. “Women are better leaders than men!” ran the headline in the African edition of the BBC. While acknowledging women are not perfect, he declared that they are undoubtedly better than men as leaders.

This moment, today and this month and this year, to hear the former U.S. president declare such applause for women as leaders, is not to be taken as an indictment of men. It is rather to take note of the dominant traits of the feminine, when compared with the thousands of years of evidence of the dominant traits of the masculine.

Team players from a very early age, as compared to young boys who themselves dream of scoring the winning goal (basket, touchdown), young women know deeply and intimately that they are dependent on other women, as well as on the men in their community. Men, on the other hand, incarnate that proclivity for solo-flights, for solo-accomplishments, for solo-experiments, discoveries, and the ownership of those discoveries, from a very early age. These solo flights, as a pattern, bring with them a fragility of the ego, an ego that seems to need the accomplishment of heroic deeds in order to justify an existence which, in his/our mind is continually being compared with other men.

Comparison with other men, is a phenomenon of career aspirations, social status, political and artistic/academic achievement; it is also integral to the notion of finding, and then attracting a partner. Stories abound about men who “played the guitar” because it attracted girls, or who signed up for the school football, hockey, basketball team because such “notice” garnered the attention of the female cohort in the school. The ostrich comparison, with bold black and white colouring to attract a mate, is no accident. When they are ready to mate, the male’s beak and shins turn red, and the female’s feathers turn silver. And the coupling motive, innate to both genders, seems to generate different behaviours and attitudes between men and women.

The physical difference in size, however, is never to be considered a “power imbalance”over the female in any other area, especially by the male. Intellectually, socially, culturally artistically and certainly from the perspective of enduring pain, women are more sophisticated and committed to the breadth of existence, their own and their children, than men seem to this writer to be. Ironically, paradoxically and often sadly, however, some women continue to consider physical size and muscular strength to embody an emotional stoicism of which they are neither capable nor envious. And, given the frailty of the male emotional infrastructure, men are loath to disabuse their female partners of that truth.

In fact, it is the male tendency to deny, avoid, defer from, distract from, obfuscate, and even lie about our insecurities, our fears, our anxieties and our failings that can be so self-sabotaging. And this includes our resistance to death: (quote from an elderly man at dinner on Saturday evening: “We were always told not to worry about getting old because it wasn’t going to last that long!) Charging into the enemy rifles, gas bombs, horse-guards and even into the enemy’s weakest Achilles heel (physical, metaphorically, politically, ethically, economically) has been and continues to be leave an indelible mark on both history and culture from which men seem incapable of escape. We avoid doctors like the plague, offering instead a plethora of rationalizations that only serve to underscore our fragility and our resolute determination to avoid having to face that integral component of our nature. It is thereby a double-whammy of self-sabotage: we deny our illness and we deny that we are denying our illness.

Not only will we not take the kind of care of ourselves, but we also resist the expression of care from our partners. So we do damage to the truth both of our physical (emotional psychological, spiritual) condition and to the relationship in which we are engaged. And this damage comes with a deeply quizzical and even frightened emotional response from our partners. They are not only unwilling to be complicit in our denial; they are also unwilling and intolerant of our resistance to their expression of care. “Like a bull in a china shop” is a phrase that describes many of our (male) attempts to accomplish whatever it is that we are determined to accomplish. And, bulls neither attract nor accept help!

Only through a resigned determination have many teams of executives taken form and succeeded in accomplishing their goals. Lincoln’s team of rivals, for example, is touted as an example of an America hero who was unafraid to wrap his political arm around his political foes in forming his cabinet. And his evolving integrity on the issue of slavery (from support, to doubt to opposition) serves as a rare example of an American male leader whose example has not been accessed by generations of succeeding presidents. In fact, the American public, so fixated on their lack of trust in a leader who changes his mind (“he was in favour of the idea before he was opposed” as the kiss of death for John Kerry, from the Texans who opposed his candidacy for the presidency), have made it virtually impossible for an American leader to evolve his position on any public issue of import. Obama’s evolution on same-sex marriage serves as a striking, and rare, example.

Locked into an image of an archetype, to which no self-respecting, honourable, integrous, ethical/moral, spiritual and ambitious male could attain, men are the victims of much of our own success: success in terms that the public notices and accepts, while at the same time, fails to acknowledge the “back story” of our Shadow.
In  fact, even the academic community is averse to integrating the unconscious, emotional, spiritual aspects of the human being into the pursuit of truth to which it aspires. And it is our individual unconscious, as well as our collective unconscious that holds much of the influence over our beings and the ways in which we live our lives, both men and women.

The very fact that women are conscious and deeply connected to those unconscious stirrings within, while we continue to resist, gives them an advantage over us, in the pursuit of the fullness of their identity, as individuals and as a feminine community as well as offering an implicit and understated model of strength in the psychic, emotional, spiritual and political senses of that word.

The real question for men is not whether we are as “good” as women.

It is also not whether women are as good as men.

It is a question of if, how, when and whether men can finally remove the pirate’s eye-patch from both our eyes (metaphorically, psychically, spiritually, emotionally) and acknowledge both our strengths and our frailties as real, and as potential gifts. It is in the trap of our own fears that men have ensnared ourselves for centuries, and then surrounded ourselves with God, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, philosophies and institutions that support our fear. And only if and when we come to face the full truth of our own doing can and will we free ourselves from that cage.

There is no God worthy of the name who insists on our captivity; there is no woman worthy of our partnership or her name who supports or insists on our captivity; and there is no political, philosophical, ethical, moral or legal code worthy of the honour of respect that is based on male (and human) depravity, fear, unworthiness and anxiety.

We are not made noble, honourable, worthy and respected by or through our false humility, our mendicant subservience to false gods, bishops and popes, or the pursuit of idols of our own making. And no uniform, armament, degree, accomplishment, corner office, billionaire portfolio, Muskoka mansion, chasabule or mitre can or will make us real men. Healthy masculinity is not a “suit” to be put on; it is an identity to be walked inside of and to share with all other men we meet, each of them struggling just to be real, as we are.