Image by Gerd Altmann
I recently visited my local hardware store where a sign on the door said that masks and social distancing were required. Since I was happy to meet this requirement, I felt qualified to enter to purchase the toilet plunger I needed.
Once inside, I noticed that although most of the shoppers were masked, not all were. Some wore their masks on their chin, and a few had no masks at all. And on this particular occasion I observed something else: All the non-compliant customers were men.
This simple observation led me to much larger questions. What is it about men and masculinity that generates noncompliance to such simple yet consequential requests? Why do some men feel wearing a mask is unmasculine? Why do men convince themselves that showing up at polling places with firearms is manly? What powers up the need to dominate, intimidate and act with hatred and aggression?
Is Manhood About Power and Control?
As a psychologist whose specialty is treating men, I believe that behind many of the threats we face are the invisible, dangerous, dysfunctional and persistent beliefs that manhood is about power and control. These beliefs about what it means to be a man are what I refer to as “confined masculinity.”
Men living within confined masculinity take the nobility out of their roles as providers and protectors by acting out these roles in adolescent and defiant ways. And when these roles lack and ignore compassion and connection, they become downright ugly.
I asked one of my male patients to explain his persistent vitriol toward political leaders. His response was, “Because they tell me what to do.”
“Like what?,” I asked.
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He replied that he had a right to get COVID-19 and “the risk is mine to take and not the government’s to legislate.”
This single-minded and “me only” world view is juvenile, outdated and, in our shrinking world, a threat to everyone’s physical and emotional well-being.
It's Time to Liberate Masculinity
If confined masculinity tightly restricts the range of male gender roles, then a new male code called “liberating masculinity” has the power to release men’s full potential.
Liberating masculinity holds two essential beliefs:
- Compassion toward self and others is a natural and necessary human quality that men must reclaim as a masculine trait.
- In order to sustain life, the interconnectedness between people and the natural world requires generosity, mutual cooperation and creative vision.
Take Allen as an example: Allen began therapy to recover from a particularly difficult divorce. He used this time to challenge many of the invisible man-rules that confined his life and hurt important relationships. Allen woke up to the realization that he firmly held a “me only” world view.
Over time, Allen agreed that becoming a more compassionate and self-compassionate man held value. “I can look back and see how my self-absorption made others feel less important. My lack of compassion hurt those I love.”
A few weeks later, Allen told me that he’d read a story about a woman who needed a wheelchair because someone had stolen hers and she could not afford a new one.
“So I tracked her down and called her,” Allen said. “I told her I wanted to pay for her wheelchair and have it delivered to her apartment. She was speechless and started to cry.”
“What a great thing to do, Allen. What motivated you?” I asked.
Allen said, “She needed the wheelchair more than I needed the money.”
Allen acted with compassion by taking actions that recognized and reduced suffering. He understood the interconnectedness of our lives and made a commitment to make this woman’s life a little better. Now Allen identifies himself as a compassionate man, having reclaimed compassion as a masculine trait.
Releasing Compassion in this Divisive World
You might be interested to know that I left the hardware store with a new plunger and a deep sense of gratitude for all the men and women wearing masks. And I felt grief for the suffering all the unmasked and confined men create.
My brand new five-dollar plunger can’t release the flow of compassion in this divisive world… but you and I can.
©2020 by Edward M. Adams.
Book by this Author
Reinventing Masculinity: The Liberating Power of Compassion and Connection
by Edward M. Adams and Ed Frauenheim
Through hopeful stories of men who have freed themselves from the strictures of Confined Masculinity, interviews with both leaders and everyday men, and practical exercises, this book shows the power of a masculinity defined by what the authors call the five Cs: curiosity, courage, compassion, connection, and commitment. Men will discover a way of being that fosters healthy, harmonious relationships at home, at work, and in the world.
For more info, or to order this book, click here. (Also available as a Kindle edition and as an Audiobook.)
Another Book by this Author: Becoming a Happier Man
About the Author
Dr. Ed Adams, co-author of Reinventing Masculinity: The Liberating Power of Compassion and Connection, is a licensed psychologist in private practice who has treated men in individual and group therapy for more than thirty years. He is past president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinities of the American Psychological Association, and in 1990 founded Men Mentoring Men (M3), a nonprofit organization in New Jersey designed to help men live larger and more meaningful lives. He is also a professional artist. https://www.reinventingmasculinity.com/