How to feel less numb and isolated personally, and how you can help end the racism and sexual violence that stems from men’s fear of otherness.
FOR THE past 15 years I’ve been on the front lines of the crisis of masculinity and witness to the triumphs of great men who transcend the crisis.
Today I reveal my findings: Masculinity’s Biggest Barrier and 3 Ways Great Men Think Alike
There is a message out there that has been propped up and bought into for a long, long time… the message that there is really only one way to be a man… to be tough, to be silent, to be a lone wolf, to see power as top-down, and to be a heroic martyr. Academics call this hegemonic masculinity… I call it Mass-culinity.
This same message says that if we are emotional, we are weak… except during sports. If we fail in business, we are losers. If we don’t score with women, then we aren’t powerful. That we will always be inept as fathers. And that at our cores… we are naturally violent.
It boils down to a fear of otherness – of anything other than tough-guy manhood. This is the crisis of masculinity.
I spoke up at TEDxSMU to offer a replacement to this restrictive message and to ask you to dream with me, because I think we can do better than a definition that serves nobody and hurts everybody.
I founded the Global Center for Healthy Masculinities to work with this dream, and I’ve mentored men and boys of all ages and backgrounds. I can tell you, men are ready for change.
You may feel this yourself. Maybe you want to be intellectual and adventurous? To be a great father and a great businessman? To be a gifted artist and an athlete? To want sex and love? To be plural? When you start to ask these questions, you are breaking the old mold and stepping into your unique greatness. So many guys are looking to become great men…
And great men must overcome a common barrier, I’ll be getting to that. First let me tell you about the 3 breakthrough tools that great men master.
The tools are… Introspect, Respect, and Connect.
1. Great men introspect. – If you want to be a great man, become a seeker… of direction, of meaning, of purpose, of value and principle… this kind of introspection will lead you to begin cultivating an authentic sense of self… and of self-respect.
2. Respect – What starts inside of you as budding self-respect soon grows into respect for others… which leads you out of isolation… and to
3. Connect – Great Men surround themselves with other men who hold them accountable to being great, and they take the responsibility of mentorship and brotherhood seriously… which leads you back to introspect… and so you can enter this greatness cycle from any spoke.
Imagine a world where our sons, and our brothers, and our fathers, and our teachers and our colleagues all master these three skills… in a single generation we could heal many of the symptoms that men’s fear of otherness has caused in our society: we desperately need more great Dads, our workplaces are lacking empathic Leaders, and of course, the cause that is nearest to my heart: the crisis of sexual assault.
Let me illustrate this with my story, and then you’ll see the big barrier.
Fifteen years ago a friend told me she had survived a sexual assault. We both reeled from the pain and the violation of trust she had endured. As I tried to help her heal, I began to question why any man would hurt someone like this.
I began to question everything about our society… especially about manhood. Where were the other men to stop this? What would a great man do to stop this from happening? What could I do?
I wanted to be more than a band-aid. I wanted to prevent – to stop sexual assault from happening.
Slide: how do I stop sexual assault? (end question slide too)
My first thoughts went to the images and models of mass-culinity. Could I be Batman or Liam Neeson and kick down doors to end sexual assault?
The math doesn’t work. Even if I were tough enough… even if we could all be vigilante heroes we could never be in all the places we need to be at the right time.
During my 12 minutes on stage at TEDxSMU there will be 10 sexual assaults in the US alone (US DOJ).
So I had to do something before the actual incident. What happens in the timeline before the actual assault?
Sexual Objectification is not actually about the object, it’s about the learned isolation of the subject.
When a man devalues another human being, he has automatically devalued himself because he is decreasing the power and possibility of connection with another. He’s saying, “I feel numb and powerless inside and I see your body as a means of making myself feel more powerful…” when in reality the only way to become more powerful is to uncover the power from within. The entitlement, power-over model devalues everyone because it precludes connection.
Because guys, once you do any amount of introspection you will come to find the truth that you didn’t choose to be a man, or to have your skin color, or to be born in a certain region or religion, or to have 10 fingers and 10 toes, or for that matter to be human at all. And if you didn’t choose your form, then nobody else got to choose their form… and that means you have the same intrinsic value as everyone else. And if you’ve felt, even for a moment, your unique power… then you know that any woman, or child, or “other” must be just as powerful.
And instead of wanting to leer, you begin wanting to learn.
And so it’s not enough to just teach guys to respect women on the surface we have to start helping guys to learn to respect themselves at a deeper level.
Men are the majority of the perpetrators of all forms of violence. Not all men are violent, and yes, men are also victims of violence… but again, largely due to other men and the culture of violent masculinity. Violence is not a natural trait, though, it is a symptom… a reaction or a learned action.
I worked with batterers and started asking men about their feelings, and I got some incredible feedback.
The majority of guys are feeling cornered by this definition of mass-culinity that doesn’t represent enough choices, enough options, enough perspectives to be anything other than the macho, power-over kind of guy.
At that point I realized there’s something even deeper at work, these men feel purposeless, isolated, adrift… and they didn’t know how to deal with the pain of feeling purposeless or powerless.
And so they cope by building the Big Barrier: Numbness.
Numbness is insidious because so often you don’t know you’re in it… then because you’re numbed out, you can’t feel what others are feeling, and the whole chain of empathy and community breaks down.
You put on masks, you self-medicate, you pretend… you hide behind toughness and sacrifice.
When really, you want to feel inspired. You want to feel connected. You want to feel purposeful… you want to feel your own greatness.
I have led more than 300 workshops with men to hone in on purpose and connection… What I have found, guys, is that when you introspect you start to realize who you really are without judgment and you start to become less and less numb and more and more alive.
And then when you start to feel more alive, then you can step forward and say okay, “I respect myself enough to leave numbness behind… and If I felt numb then all the guys around me must feel numb. I want to talk to them about what that means and start to bust through these massculine obstacles.”
You start to realize you want to connect with others now that you’re not numbed out. You start to value others as more than a means to an end. And then you start to want guys around you who also value others.
And those guys start to move up and then you get to point where Liam Neeson busts down the door and… wait… the violence ISN’T THERE.
It’s like Back to the Future… the future moment of violence just disappears because you nipped it in the bud years ago.
Everyone in sexual assault prevention knows you have to talk to men, but it’s not just about being a bystander. It’s about, “are you feeling or are you numb?”
If you’re not empathizing and doing the introspective work to find purpose and meaning in life, you never deeply respect yourself, and so you can’t possibly think that other people have purpose and meaning and therefore deserve respect.
So instead of connecting and having a more fulfilling life, you start to treat people like they don’t matter… like they are meaningless… Because you feel meaningless.
And you begin to attract other people who are also stuck in this cycle… and the world around you suffers.
And so as men, the question is not “how do I stop sexual assault?” or “how do I manage people more efficiently at work?” or “how do I influence my son’s values?” It’s “how do I start living my life in a more introspective, respectful, connected way?”
Imagine a world full of great men. You can help make it happen right now using one of my favorite exercises in my program at the EmpowerMentorship Institute: call up an old friend and say, “your friendship means a lot to me.” This will automatically get you connecting in a respectful, introspective, real way.
Because how can you expect to have real friends if you can’t be real with your friends?
Because this is what great men do.
Great men have the same fears as all men: the fear of otherness, the fear of duality, of being lost or powerless or broken or unsafe or invaded or alone in this world.
We all have those fears; but today you can choose to overcome your numbness.
And so I hope you will choose connection. I hope you will choose your own greatness.