“The child who is not embraced by the village, will burn it down to feel its warmth.”
When Jerome Teelucksingh, Ph.D., Gender Issues Thought Leader, educator, and International Men’s Day Founder inaugurated World Day Of The Boy Child several years ago, the African proverb featured above may have been on his mind. On Saturday, 16 May 2020, individuals, organizations, and institutions on virtually every continent will observe World Day Of The Boy Child under the theme, “Empowering, Guiding, And Providing Role Models For A Peaceful World” as they explore how best to embrace boys and prevent them from burning down the global village. Some of the 1,004,638,305 souls who are boys under the age of 15 – Our Sons – with whom we share Planet Earth are not being embraced by the village. Some of Our Sons –through academic underachievement, truancy, deep seated rage that manifests itself in acts of violence, suicide, self-medication, and disregard for boundaries governing private property and personal space – are burning down our global village. So, how will burning down the global village enable some of Our Sons to feel its warmth? The warmth that some of Our Sons seek comes in the form of being valued . . . being listened to . . . being mentored . . . . and loved unconditionally. It can all be summed up in one word: attention. When Our Sons feel they are not getting what they need and want from us, they do something that will get our undivided attention – they begin burning down the global village.
Our Sons do not emerge from the womb with an intent to burn down the village. These souls emerge from the womb with unbridled enthusiasm, keen intuitiveness, an insatiable curiosity, pristine eyes, a heart brimming with unconditional love, and a full set of emotions – the same full set of emotions that their female counterparts possess. Our Sons are fragile and vulnerable. Yet, for the most part, that is not how we treat them For some, the journey from childhood to manhood is a marginalizing and tumultuous experience When Our Sons reach a certain age, we vigorously discourage them from expressing the full set of emotions they emerged from the womb with – particularly, the natural and spontaneous emotions they express in response to physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual pain. We tell them: “Men don’t cry. A man who cries is weak. Be strong.” Our Sons are socialized to suppress their natural and spontaneous reactions to disappointments, rejections, perceived failures, feelings of unworthiness, and physical discomfort. The pain brought on by disappointments, rejections, perceived failures, feelings of unworthiness, and physical discomfort does not disappear because it is not being expressed. Should we be surprised that some of Our Sons are angry, depressed, suicidal, violent, self-medicating, and underachieving academically?
Have we collectively thought about how socializing Our Sons to suppress their natural and spontaneous reactions to pain is affecting their physical and mental health, decision making, behavior, and happiness? Are we embracing Our Sons when we socialize them to suppress their full range of emotions or are we encouraging them to burn down the global village? We say we want to empower and guide boys. Further, we describe these souls as the “Next Generation of Leaders, Husbands, and Fathers”. Do we want a future generation of leaders, husbands, and fathers who are walking time bombs because they have been socialized to suppress their emotions? Or, do we want emotionally intelligent leaders, husbands, and fathers who engage in healthy expressions of their emotions? We need to think about what we really want the future of our global village to look like because the future of the global village rests, in part, on how we how socialize Our Sons — today.
If we want to save the global village and prevent it from burning down, then we must embrace Our Sons.
We can begin to embrace Our Sons by rewriting the narrative on masculinity. Collectively, we equate strength with masculinity, but we do not include vulnerability. Vulnerability is strength. Why? Allowing yourself to be vulnerable – by expressing the full set of natural and spontaneous emotions that you were endowed with at birth – is actually standing in front of another person psychologically, emotionally and spiritually naked. Now, that takes courage. It is also taking a risk. Only a strong person will take that kind of a risk. Vulnerability must be moved into the narrative on masculinity.
We must begin creating safe havens for Our Sons which they can utilize to freely express the full range of natural and spontaneous emotions that were bestowed upon them at birth. It is imperative that we make Our Sons feel safe enough to run to us and unburden themselves with the emotional, psychological, and spiritual distress that plagues their souls. And when Our Sons tell us: “I need help. Help me. I’m drowning,” we must be ready to immediately step out of ourselves and help them stay afloat psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Engaging the boys in our lives – Our Sons – in dialogues – real dialogues – every day is how we can begin to embrace them and steer them away from burning down the global village. Real dialogues with Our Sons include asking them questions. Questions like: “What happened today? Did you have a good day? Did you have a bad day? How do you feel about the day you had? What made the day a bad day for you? Are you feeling overwhelmed? Are you depressed? Are you have problems at school or with your friends?” Responses such as “Nothing’s wrong”; “I’m okay”; or “No, it’s all good,” are unacceptable. Probe until you get real responses.
This is how we can begin to move toward embracing Our Sons and saving the global village.
It is up to us.
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Photo credit: Diane A. Sears