Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Boys Don't Cry ... and Other Lies We Tell Men. Why Developing an Inner Life Is Essential to Healing Men from the Explosive Violence Bottled Up Within

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Boys Don't Cry ... and Other Lies We Tell Men. Why Developing an Inner Life Is Essential to Healing Men from the Explosive Violence Bottled Up Within

Article excerpt

WE ARE GETTING USED to the troubling news reports of men who kill their whole families, their wives, their children, or their fellow workers. We are, of course, appalled and saddened, and suspect that these men must have been mentally ill or drunk or on drugs. They often are, but more often the "reason" is probably even deeper and less obvious than addiction or illness.

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I have no exact statistics, but my assumption is that this has been on the increase since the recent economic recession, loss of jobs, and all the insecurity and fear that goes with it. I surely would not want to blame it just on these factors, but let me also suggest a few others at a deeper level. Men as a class appear to be "at risk," maybe even high risk.

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We are certainly seeing this in the return of many soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year I was invited to give a retreat to the Army Chaplain Corps, and they are genuinely overwhelmed by the high incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, among their men and women. Edward Tick's influential book War and the Soul makes the case that many men seek some kind of initiation in joining the armed forces, only to be massively disillusioned.

After 20 years of working with men on retreats and rites of passage, in spiritual direction, and even in prison, it has sadly become clear to me how trapped the typical Western male feels. He is trapped inside, with almost no inner universe of deep meaning to heal him or guide him. Historically, this is exactly what spirituality meant by "losing your soul." It did not happen later unless it first happened here.

For centuries, males have been encouraged and rewarded for living an "outer" life of performances, which are usually framed in terms of win or lose. Just listen to boys talk--they have already imbibed it, and usually with the encouragement of both dad and mom. The world of sports, contests, American Idol, video games, and proving oneself is most males' primary "myth," through which he frames all reality. I challenge anyone to claim that is an overstatement.

In such a worldview there are only winners or losers, no in-between, and little chance for growth or redemption once you are deemed--or deem yourself--a loser. In the West, even the gospel is largely taught in terms of a giant reward/punishment system, which I guess made sense to a largely male clergy. It is the way we prefer to frame reality. Here there is little talk or concern for healing or growth or inner spiritual development. "Why would I need healing?" I have heard men say outright. The word is even strange to many men; it sounds "soft" and "needy"--and this rejection is a surefire plan for having an absolutely huge shadow world and an unconscious agenda that largely calls the shots. Are ongoing political, Wall Street, and church scandals really a surprise?

By "shadow world," I simply mean all of those aspects of our own memory and hurt that remain hidden in our unconscious, those things that we're not prepared to deal with at the moment. They highly influence us, but we have no conscious control over such feelings, motivations, fears, and agendas, so they tend to do more bad than good. Spiritual healing is precisely about bringing those issues to consciousness, which is often quite painful and yet also deeply consoling.

I once suggested to a group of middle-class Catholic men that the gospel might actually be a win/win scenario between God and humanity. An obviously successful man came up to me afterward and said, "But Father, that would not even be interesting." It took away his whole motivation if life could not be framed in terms of some type of win/lose contest--at which, not surprisingly, he saw himself as the ultimate insider and winner. American, healthy, white, heterosexual, Roman Catholic, and probably Republican. No wonder Jesus said to the outsider, "Never have I found such faith inside of Israel. …

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