Frederick Marx wants to know who’s going to show all the young men where to go with their lives.
I think the greatest crime of the last two centuries has been the countless millions of children who’ve been brought into this world not taught to know their purpose in this life.
It used to be that being taught why you were here, what your purpose was, and how you could best contribute to your community was an automatic part of growing up. You were taught that at your initiation into adulthood. And you were supported in making adjustments to it as you grew older by your peers and elders.
What is the price we pay for not initiating our young? It’s been estimated at one trillion dollars a year. Here are some key ways:
- Teenage pregnancy and STDs
- School dropouts
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Violence against self and others
- Gang violence and crime
- Property Crime
- Traffic accidents
- Prescription drug sales
These figures represent the costs to society when teens are still teens. But what about when these teens “grow up?” In many ways of course they don’t grow up; they just grow older. What are the costs to society for that? What are the costs to society of men living their lives as suspended adolescents? I’ll tell you in one word: Incalculable. Take one man: George Bush W. Bush. Add up the costs of two wars (the longest in US history), the financial crisis and subsequent bailout of Wall Street and the banks, tax breaks and deregulation giveaways to the rich, and we’re already well into multiple trillions of dollars. And that’s one man, albeit one very well placed man.
If a man’s not living his mission, not serving his greatest good, what is he serving? Most likely he’s serving his shadows. Those unconscious desires for more—more power, more money, more women, more fame… and those unconscious desires for less—less responsibility, less accountability, less vulnerability, less loss and hurt, less awareness, less compassion. Was George W. doing his best to please Daddy, to win his father’s blessing? Who knows. But I’ve witnessed countless men driven to comparable thoughtless acts for that very same reason. Just the way he moved his body was enough to tell me what I needed to know. He moved like a boy who was trying very hard to look Presidential.
What else does suspended adolescence look like in an adult man? It looks like a man who’s still fixated on toys—be they cars, video games, or the latest computer gadgets. It looks like a lack of discipline—a man eating, drinking, drugging, fucking, sleeping, working, or complaining too much. It looks like an addict who’s not in recovery. It looks like a man who still sees himself as a victim—of his parents, his bosses, his spouse, his social standing, his circumstances, his women. A man whose emotions are repressed and not cleanly expressed. A man with no sense of his own or any other person’s mortality. A man with no sense of what his true gifts are, of what his “medicine” might be. A man with no purpose or mission.
It’s important that all people have a sense of what their purpose in life is. But I believe it’s even more important for men. Men tend to be more outwardly focused; they need to know what or whom they serve. Common answers tend to include: God, self, family, the company, the military, the government, “the good.” Whatever it is, it’s important for a man to know what he serves and why.
To generalize, men like challenges. We like to accomplish things. We are doers. We like to know that our accomplishments are serving others, are of use. Whether to family, colleagues, community, country … whatever. I personally know that I feel most satisfied and at peace when I see that something I have done, something I have created and shared, some piece of my time and myself that I’ve offered, has been of value to someone else. The reverse is also true: nothing makes me feel more depressed, more hopeless, than feeling like I’m of no use to anyone.
But it gets tricky when you’re a recovering narcissist. My narcissist shadow tells me it’s important to be liked by everyone. So if I’m not careful I will rush off to be of service to anyone at any time in order to be useful, to be liked by them. That’s where my mission becomes absolutely indispensable. I can simply hold up a plan of action to that mission and quickly determine if it’s in keeping with it or not.
Of course time and circumstance—context—is key. “Please run down to the store and get me an ice cream.” Fulfilling this request from a 10-year-old boy who’s just finished one ice cream is not being on mission. Fulfilling the same request from a diabetic facing extremely low blood sugar would be. Fulfilling the same request from an 80-year-old widow who doesn’t get around too well may be or may not be. I’d have to know more about her and her situation. I’d also have to weigh what else I need to do in that moment. However complicated, the appropriateness of any action is an equation easily solved by your deepest knowledge of the context surrounding the request and your mission.
Each man must discover for himself what fulfills his greatest potential for goodness, what mission it is he’s here to serve. No one can give that mission to him, though there are people—elders, teachers, coaches, counselors, mentors … wise ones—who can help him discover it.
—Photo The U.S. Army/Flickr