When our older son was five, he took a series of developmental assessments to determine his readiness for an elementary school near our house, including a Gesell Incomplete Man Test.
Afterwards, his kindergarten evaluator informed us that our son had meticulously filled out portions of the figure in great detail, but running out of time, he had left other areas blank. This “error”, along with the fact that he had given his Incomplete Man a penis, was interpreted as evidence that our wonderful boy was developmentally delayed. It was unlikely that he would ever catch up and thrive at the school’s kindergarten that she was interviewing him for. She advised us to seek admission elsewhere. (He graduated from Harvard seventeen years later).
At the time I didn’t understand how much his experience was a mirror to my own lifelong journey (and that of current generations of men) attempting to frame new forms of masculinity in these changing times. I am still taking my “test”, but here is what I have figured out.
I am amused that millennials have “discovered” that there are many different ways to express your manhood. I can tell you that growing up in Austin, Texas, several decades ago I witnessed a broad range of male expression — macho cowboys and oil and gas execs, ultra brainy professionals, and an entire spectrum of young, radical, horny, hippies. To me, it has always been self-evident that men come in all shapes and sizes.
Unfortunately, most men in Texas also assumed that guys were in the drivers seat, and that the “weaker” world of emotions and strong personal connections belonged primarily to women. That did not work for me, so I left home to discover and express my own way of being male.
Very early on I learned that our bodies are mobile communication devices intended to transmit and receive information, transponders that send out signals and build networks of relationships. I also eventually came to believe that the purpose of our being on the planet was to be a part of this sophisticated, interconnected, satellite telecommunications system so that we might endeavor to live a life of collective purpose, not just pursue our individual needs and personal bliss. These understandings are fundamentally at odds with most traditional male archetypes, so how do we shift our mindset to square with the “new” behaviors that the next generations of men are trying to develop, in our collective attempt to blow up the Man Box?
Here’s what I believe.
PHYSICALLY, Men need to stop comparing themselves to the other guys in the proverbial locker room of life where we daily measure our manhood. We need to stop looking at ourselves as bulging biceps, pecs, quads, and cut abs. We need to see the grace in every male form, however we are configured, instead of buying into the shame about our bodies that we are taught. We need to learn that it’s okay to have a penis and become more fluent in the language of responsible, consensual touch.
SOCIALLY, we need to stop worshiping the hero-warrior, at the expense of other ways of being male. We can no longer afford to live in a winner-take-all, dog-eat-dog world, as the world becomes increasingly interdependent. We know that teamwork and collaboration produce better results, and diversity, emotional intelligence and social cognition are the doors to success. These understandings immediately point to an important missing piece of today’s Incomplete Man — “the sacred feminine”. Society teaches men to hide that “half” of our personality, leave it off the page. Men need to embrace the wisdom of being networked, connected, open and transparent. No one gets to the top on their own.
EMOTIONALLY, men are complicated creatures. Because we are not taught in how to handle our feelings or communicate, we tend to be explosive, expressing our thoughts and our emotions, without a regulator, sometimes physically. We need to install systems upgrade, a new operating system — think cars or computers — that provides us with a broader range of reactions, verbal and non-verbal, calibrated to the people and events around us. Research studies now show that our hearts have brains, neurons that directly communicate, one heart to another.
Guys need to be the first to learn the manly art of aortal telepathy!
SEXUALLY, men need to reframe what it means to be a “real” man. The evidence is mounting that individual males experience a range of sexual impulses, despite society’s insistence that most men are hyper-heterosexual. In fact, a few recent studies indicate that some men enjoy same-sex experiences, even as they identify as straight. The incidence of this behavior is on the rise among males under 20.
Our attractions may (or may not) form a consistent pattern for a specific period of our lives. It will be interesting to observe whether today’s “hetero-flexible” males that we are reading about may someday become the norm, and how much “the rules” will bend to accommodate the range of impulses that they are expressing.
And finally, SPIRITUALLY, we need to learn that while through hard work and self-discipline we can achieve whatever version of bliss yanks our chain — money, power, recognition, status, vast social networks — grace appears only when we surrender, take off our armor, quiet the mind, open the heart, so that Spirit can expand all our being, mind-body-soul. It is then that we might connect with a sense of higher purpose.
So what are some concrete steps for becoming 21st Century male?
Number 1. Get naked. No, seriously. We need to develop a much healthier relationship with our own bodies. So make it a priority to hang out in the buff around the house once in a while, to reset your mental frame and get in touch with your body and its unique role as the cell phone of your life. Let your nakedness sink in it, psychologically.
Get comfortable with joy and power of being open, vulnerable, accessible, inside and out.
Number 2. Find the feminine inside of you. Ask her to show you how to integrate her wisdom into your manly essence. It can be done.
And while you’re at it, ask her to teach you how to be respectful of the women around you. (That means no more boasting about your sexual conquests, no matter how much of a god you are in bed, and trash-talking women).
Number 3. Learn how to listen. It is the switch that will completely turn on the emotional hardwiring, the operating system for connectivity that is within you. You think it’s missing, but it’s not, and it’s a turn on. You’ll be surprised.
Number 4. Stop being a homophobe. If you cannot accept that some of the straight guys that you know, and perhaps even you, have a range of sexual impulses, at least don’t perpetuate the myth that only heterosexual males are “real”. You know better.
Number 5. You’ve probably heard this before but learn how to be present. It’s hard. It will require all your “male” make-shit-happen energy, AND your “feminine” ability to let go and participate in the flow at the same time. Tall order. Luckily, you’ll have help.
There are lots of paths beginning to lead us out of the current dark ages, but The Incomplete Man Manifesto is a good start. While my generation still has a lot of work to do, I am optimistic that our sons and daughters are on the right track, and have a decent shot at completing the figure of the men we all hope to become.