“Boys will be boys” is a phrase I grew up with beginning in the 1950s. As a kid, I didn’t think anything about it beyond whether I or someone else would survive a tongue lashing, spanking or a period of being grounded. The statement was never explained, just put out there to hang in mid-air. People would sigh, knowingly nod their heads whenever it was uttered—and life would go on.
As an adult, I now see it as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. What it has allowed is for boys and men to deflect responsibility for their actions. They know their fallback is a tsk-tsk from society and then they’re on their way to do whatever. It doesn’t matter whether people have been hurt in any way or what kind of negative consequences have been initiated. Our “boy” is free with a slap on the wrist.
It’s interesting that men have been allowed to get away with all sorts of shenanigans, from simple things to the big stuff. What has been learned in the process is that a boy or man doesn’t have to be held accountable for their words and actions. The assumption is that the boy or man will one day grow into a mature adult, one who has learned his lessons and made new choices befitting a person of integrity, values and principles. Ha!
It’s astonishing to me how far society has sunk into the degradation of no morals or principles. Spring Break is a great example of non-principled character let loose in a zoo-manity free-for-all. The number of men in positions of power and control actively working to dehumanize and corral entire societies in order to expand their domain and bank accounts is another example. Young men who—full of entitlement and braggadocio—care nothing about how they treat women, minorities and less privileged people is another.
As a parental protective measure, “boys will be boys” seemed a reasonable rationale. It let the offending boy off the hook with the expectation that the boy would outgrow his childish behaviors and attitudes once he began maneuvering through the world outside of family. The world would temper him, help shape him into a model citizen. Guess that route didn’t work so well.
In support of boys, young men and men in general, we live in a world of multiple mixed messages. We are offered a confusing mélange of images, stories and examples of what a man is supposed to be, what he’s to aspire to, how to conduct himself. Anymore, it’s an “anything goes” approach that can have huge rewards: the crazier the behavior, the more visibility, fame and money.
What has appealed to so many boys and men is a gorilla-marketing approach: What will catch people’s attention and get their buy-in? Hence, the wilder, more lethal, maniacal, violent, dramatic, pornographic, destructive and crushing-of-the-competition a man is, the bigger the payoff.
Conversely, boys and men are being invited to access and express their softer, compassionate, heart-centered sides—a direct contradiction to the he-man image. Women, minorities and less-privileged people are no longer to be objectified, bullied, profiled and disenfranchised in any way. Boys and men don’t know who to be, how to be and just where to focus their Master of the Universe energy, their frustrations, anger, depression and confusion.
Boys and men are caught in a push-me, pull-me situation that doesn’t offer clarity. Men like clarity, a straightforward approach with boundaries that don’t hamstring them. But, boundaries have gone lax and often disappeared so that the directions to manhood have been lost.
Movements like #MeToo may scare men, but when disrespectful, harmful and damaging male behavior is summarized as “boys will be boys,” then the scare is temporary. A short time-out will be enacted, but then the deeply embedded behavior will reassert itself.
What boys and men are surrounded by are other males continually pushing the envelope that unfortunately turns humans, animals and the environment into playthings and commodities. It’s all about satisfying puerile needs, survival and ego gratification.
Backing boys and men up with the “boys will be boys” adage gives them carte blanche to get away with whatever they can. Any behavior modification is dismissed as unimportant, not applicable, laughable (derisive sneering heard in the background).
This mindset doesn’t allow men to discover their full potential. Not the potential according to socio-cultural, religious, educational and political conventions — but that found from going within oneself to discover their true self. So much of today’s societal issues stem from men not knowing who they truly are.
Most people look to the external world to give them the guidance and framework they seek, but it can only provide examples and inspiring words. The world can’t possibly know the person within simply because we’re unable to live within another person’s skin. One thing I do know is that the greatest gift a man can give anyone is the truest essence of himself—unadulterated by conventions, rituals, myths, and systems.
Boys and men, in order to more fully experience the richness and depth of their being, need to delve into their inner being. This means letting go of what the world around us is telling us in terms of who we should be, how we should be, how to think, etc. The world is a tsunami of demands and distractions, so it’s hard to tune out the cacophony. It can be done, though, and there are a number of ways to do that.
Meditation and contemplation are two of the simpler methods, though calming one’s mind can be quite the challenge. With either of these, the idea is to quiet the mind and let our inner wisdom come through. It means letting go of our wants and needs, our agendas, thoughts of the past and future, issues we’re facing and things we have to do. It also means trusting ourselves, trusting our gut, our intuition.
Another method is to align ourselves with people and groups that seek to uplift humanity as opposed to dividing, denigrating, shutting out, denying and polarizing. For men, there are many avenues for exploring life’s challenges with other men, to hear their stories and solutions.
And then there’s the most direct method available: make new choices, one’s that are life-affirming, one’s that help you to become a greater version of yourself, that allow other people to have their journeys. Seek the highest in yourself. See the Divine within everyone and you’ll discover the Divine within yourself. Be gratitude, honesty, integrity, authenticity, respect, peace, kindness, generosity and love.
It is true that boys will be boys, but all they need is unconditional positive regard that’s loving, embracing and principled.
It means pointing out that all words and actions have consequences, that the more responsible and accountable we are, the greater respect we will have for ourselves and others. We no longer need be held hostage to the external world’s misplaced beliefs, values and customs. Instead, we will become a power unto ourselves, individuated and free.
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