I think we still believe that ambition is for boys. —Jeanette Winterson
Boys are amazing things. They’re energetic, excited, explorative,curious, and just plain mad. The parents continue to make them. I’m fairly glad that they still do, because I am a boy myself. Been raised a boy for over 19 years. I’m rather proud of it. The games, the imagining and the books. Oh, the books. I loved reading stories of heroes and villains, of good versus evil. But a change has happened in the last 40-70 years.
Boys have had a new style of living handed to them; one of having all their needs taken care of, and of being able to enter fantasy worlds with little to no hassle. They have little conflict, little problem, little to drive them. Now, I do understand that so many kids are hassled, one way or another, and have to fight it out. I completely respect that. I’m suggesting that many of these boys may not have the drive to push them “to the next level.” They aren’t developing ambition.
Sociologists have been describing this problem as a “Peter Pan Syndrome.” Boys are raised through high school, but then find themselves in situations where they have to grow up, take on responsibility, and become men. But this is hard. Why?
The Book of Man author William J. Bennett sees the issue in how people aren’t focused on the correct things. The culture has had a universal decline in its ambitions. Media presents men’s outward goals as things of honor and prestige, like saving the world, finding joy, and having great sex. These are all attributes that focus on the “now” instead of the “then.” It’s a focus on “What can I do now? How can I do it now? Does it feel good now?”
Bennett believes that men should be focused on something else altogether; they should be aiming at the “Virtues of Marriage, Employment, and Religion,” virtues that are focused on one’s adulthood, and a steady growth of happiness instead of a “make-me-happy-now” mindset. These virtues also help one to focus on what matters: personal growth and the growth of the family.
I find that Bennett’s observations are tight and on the mark. Men do need larger universal attributes to drive them. Without these, one can easily be distracted and live a sub-par life.
But how do we encourage such behavior? It sounds difficult to implement. However, the one thing men can do to get boys to focus on these “future ambitions” is to take boys out of their “entertainment bubble” in order to get them thinking and working towards the bigger picture.
I know this was integral to my own character development, for before I was 14, I was a huge gamer. It was all I focused on. In order to remove me from my “childhood addiction,” my parents had to remove the gaming system from the house. I still had strong urges towards gaming, but over the years, these thoughts waned, and I grew into other desires. I educated myself in the arts of puppetry, filmmaking, and even literary analysis. In the 5 years since they removed gaming, I’ve experimented and mastered dozens of skills, from cooking to podcast production. I’m more widely read.
I’m not the standard by which we judge all other things; but I’m the example as to why opening up boy’s ambitions can have monumental effects for their everyday lives. Who knows, you could be helping him become the next great filmmaker, writer or thinker!
—Photo credit: kitkatherine/Flickr