A new way of taming male energy.
“Shut the door!” we yelled for the fourth time as our sons ran in and out of the house with their Nerf guns.
“Boys just don’t listen. I don’t have this problem with my daughter,” explained one of my cousins.
What ensued was a long conversation on how “boys NEVER listen.”
During the conversation, my son ran in, grabbed a new Nerf gun, ran out, and shut the screen door.
“Thank you for shutting the screen door, Jett,” I yelled, amazed that our demands had registered in his boy brain.
A few minutes later, my cousin’s son ran in to get some Nerf bullets. “Don’t forget to shut the door,” yelled Jett.
It occurred to me that boys are often misrepresented by their own parents as problematic, unruly, or clueless. One could say the same thing about men in our society.
Dr. Rick Hanson argues that the brain is “like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” We often only remember the bad things without taking in the good. Men and boys seem to be Velcroed to a bad reputation in our society.
At the same family gathering, my sister-in-law shared how she overheard men at the golf course while waiting for her son. She said that “every day” she heard a man on a cell phone lying to his boss or wife about where he was. “I have never heard a woman say that she was stuck at the office when she was really at the golf course,” she said. All the women nodded in agreement with her statement.
This implies that women never lie about what they are doing, but men do it all the time.
Modern research shows that it takes five positive statements for every negative statement to overcome the negativity bias summarized by Dr. Hanson, so I’m making a commitment today to stop complaining about the behavior of boys and men. Society has been complaining about male behavior for decades, and all this complaining doesn’t seem to have benefited anyone.
From now on, I’m going to try to complement the positive behavior of boys and men. One of my daily practices includes saying to myself and other men, “You are a good man,” when we perform acts of service, care, or kindness.
Just the other day, my roommate asked me where I was going.
“I’m off to hospice care,” I replied.
“You’re a good man, Kozo,” said my roommate.
“Oh, I get paid for doing hospice,” I argued.
“You’re still a good man, Kozo,” he said.
I noticed how social conditioning had made me like Teflon for positive compliments. This revealed that deep down I didn’t feel like I was worthy of being called a good man–and I am a weekly columnist for The Good Men Project! My new response to compliments like this is “Thank you. I am a good man.”
Some may argue that if we focus only on the positive actions of boys/men, then we will be ignoring or enabling negative behavior. I once heard about a tribal practice where anyone who committed a crime was called in front of the whole tribe. Each member of the tribe shared with this “criminal” about a time when they did something good, kind, or helpful. Most of these individuals are reintegrated into the tribe and never commit another crime.
Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Isn’t it about time we stopped complaining, punishing, and shaming men and boys? It clearly isn’t working.
To all the men reading this article, “You are a good man.”