The only way we are going to change the world is to change it one man and one boy at a time.
Growing up I remember people getting hurt in P.E. class- and Coach Baker saying in a loud firm voice “Shake it off!” and “C’mon Billy what are you a little girl? You need to toughen up little man. Oh no. Don’t tell me- are you kidding me? You aren’t crying are you?” All of us would watch that scene and realize what it meant to act “like a man.”
Growing up, I heard many examples of those kinds of comments that signaled that boys are not allowed to express emotion. These comments were shared by adults and by other kids. If boys expressed emotions they were made fun of, chastised, bullied and made to feel they were being feminine. Being feminine was not acceptable in 1960’s the time and place where I grew up. Boys could express positive emotion but were definitely not allowed to express sad emotion. They had to be strong. I heard statements like:
- “Big boys don’t cry.”
- “Suck it up.”
- “Act like a man.”
- “Be the man.”
- “Be tough.”
- “Keep your chin up.”
- “Don’t act like a girl.”
- “Be strong.”
Now I am a grown man, I have a wife and a daughter. I think it is perfectly acceptable to show emotion. Something I think about is—are men allowed to express emotion even today? I sometimes think we have made progress, but other times I think there is still a stigma abut men being able to express a range of emotions. A few of the examples I have seen:
- In a business meeting when I was coaching a man, he started crying because obviously I toucheda nerve in our discussion. The two other men at the meeting acted very uncomfortable, and suggested we “take a break”. They told me they thought it was weird that he cried during the meeting.
- When my wife died four years ago, many times people complimented me for “being strong” and “keeping it together” and “not losing it.” So the implication is it would not be OK (translation—not really manly) to lose it. So people as a society were rewarding me for not showing emotion.
- Even the descriptions of a man crying are negative depictions. Crying is described as “losing it”- implying that by crying a man has lost something. It is also described as falling apart. When a man is not crying he is “keeping it together.” He is incentivized by society to not show emotions.
- I have seen men get choked up when watching an emotional movie and when someone asks them about it, they will say (in a statement of denial) “I am NOT choked up.”
Now it is 2016, and I hope we live in a new world. It is time for us to change this ridiculous idea that men can’t express a range of emotions. Let’s change the ideas of what it means to be a man.
But here is the question—how can we change it? What can you do?
Here are a few ideas:
Be a role model to our children
As a father (or a mother) we need to teach our sons (and daughters) that it is being human to express emotion and it is good for their health. Holding in all that emotion is killing us as men. It is giving us cancer, heart attacks, and strokes. We also need to be willing to express emotions ourselves, to show that there is nothing wrong or “unmanly” about showing emotion.
Change your language
Don’t use negative descriptions of men expressing emotions. Use positive ones. Encourage other men to express themselves. When I talk on the phone to my Dad, he always ends the call with “I love you son.” In our society men don’t express love openly enough and they should. Tell other men you love, “I love you.”
Change your actions
I have noticed when men hug, they often will do the “bro hug” or as I call it “the safe hug” that always has the arm bar between the men so there bodies can’t possibly touch. (that might just be unmanly) Just be willing to give any men you love a regular hug and don’t feel uncomfortable doing it.
Support men in society who express emotion
During 9/11, Mayor Rudy Giuliani during press conferences would openly cry and most people admired and respected him for it. Since then any politician who has shown emotion has been chastised for it. Let’s celebrate and honor men who express their emotion honestly and openly.
The only way we are going to change the world- is to change it one man and one boy at a time. Start with your family, your friends and your local community. Think of this—we can be the evangelists and we can change the world one day and one person at a time.