A few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to be a part of the Un-Numb Your Life event with Bob Conlin. Here’s a copy of the interview we did for the event.
Should You Commit to a Relationship?
Disclaimer: in this discussion on whether or not you should commit to a relationship–including a discussion of the risks of commitment–I am consciously leaving aside the dangers of abuse. I am aware of the risks of abuse, and they’re shared by men and women; but this article will not address abuse since it’s important enough to be its own topic.
Is this you?
– You’re not sure if marriage makes sense for you
– You’re scared to be fully committed to someone
– You’re not sure if she’s “the one”–maybe there’s someone better (read: perfect) out there?
I’m a 27-year relationship and mens’ coach, and author of two internationally bestselling books on how to build a loving and lasting partnership. It is my calling and my joy to offer relationship advice for men. I’ve spent decades helping men (and women) to navigate relationship problems and build successful, long-term relationships.
In this blog, if you’re in a relationship but not sure whether or not to fully commit to your partner, I’m going to be speaking directly to you.
Benefits of Commitment
There are four big benefits to being in a committed relationship.
The first benefit is companionship. We’re all human, and we crave connection with other people. We want someone to talk about the deep stuff with. We want a partner we can laugh with and fall asleep next to. Our romantic partners shouldn’t be the only source of connection in our lives, but they can be a big one.
Again, we’re all human. That means that each and every one of us craves validation, at least a little. We want to know that someone loves and cares about us. We want to feel special and like someone is choosing us.
That validation can come in part from a committed relationship. To be clear, a romantic partner shouldn’t be your only form of validation any more than it should be your only form of companionship. But when we commit to our partner, we are saying to each other that we choose them. We are acknowledging that we have other options and consciously choosing to eschew those options in order to be with our partners. That’s powerful–and validating–stuff that you don’t get from hookups or an open relationship.
A committed relationship between two people who love each other can offer substantial security.
On a purely emotional level, it can help to have a partner to share the rough parts of life with. When your kids are mad at you, having another adult to share the burden can make a difference. Ditto when one of you gets fired. That doesn’t mean you should turn your partner into your therapist; and if you find yourself consistently crying on their shoulder than something is deeply wrong. But when life is firing bullets at you, it can be good to have someone else you trust in your foxhole.
There are also financial benefits. It’s easier to buy a house and pay for kids on two incomes than it is on one. Ditto saving for retirement and putting money away for a rainy day.
Finally, in a committed romantic relationship both parties can be more confident that their partner won’t cut and run the first (or second or third) time that things get hard. That’s a level of support you don’t get from a Friday night hookup.
The next benefit is combined resources. It’s easier to raise children when you have a committed and loving partner. Two parents can split the 4am wakeups, the doctor visits, the piano recitals and the endless trips to different practices. If you try to do it alone, every ounce of that weight is going to fall solely on your head.
Your children will also thank you for staying together to raise them. Children raised in two-parent households do better on every measure than children in single-parent households. They are more likely to graduate college, more likely to avoid falling into poverty, and less likely to go to prison. They’re less likely to end up on welfare, less likely to have their own kids out of wedlock before they’re ready, and more likely to be physically healthy both as children and as adults.
A good and loving partner can also serve as an excellent sounding board. When you’re kicking around a career change or what your role should be in your grandchildren’s lives, it can be good to have someone to talk to. This is valuable even if you have other close relationships, because it’s about going to the best person for the need at hand.
This doesn’t mean you should make your partner into your therapist. Here’s a handy demarcation: use your partner as a sounding board when you’re making a decision that will affect both parties. Don’t use her just to vent or as a coach to help you do your own work.
In a good relationship, one person can also keep everything going smoothly (in the short term, at least) while the other person is incapacitated. If you get sick, your partner can pick up the slack and make sure the kids get fed while you’re recovering. Ditto if one of you is slammed at the office; having a partner to keep the house running smoothly can stop the non-work parts of your life from falling apart.
There’s also division of labor. Chores and paying bills are easier in one household than two, which means there’s less work for each party when you live together. You can divide up the tasks so that no one person carries all the load. This is essential when you have kids, since both partners often work full time and kids have soccer practice, recitals, Boy Scout meetings, and homework they need help with. If you try to go it alone, you’re probably going to end up overwhelmed.
Risks of Commitment
There are big risks when it comes to committing to another human being. You will absolutely lose them, and you’ll be devastated when you do. And that’s even if everything goes well.
The Pain of Loss
The cold hard reality is that every relationship is terminal. Every single one will end at some point. There’s a good chance that one or the other of you (generally both, in my experience) will blow it up, and the relationship will end with both partners still alive. But even if you stay together for decades, through your middle years and retirement and through old age, you’re still committing to a reality in which one of you dies.
By committing to a relationship, you are committing to *certain* pain.
Marriage Is Risky For Men
The second big risk of commitment is that, in the United States, marriage as a legal institution is risky for men.
Divorce laws favor women financially. Attorney Sharon D. Liko, P.C. explains:
“The problem lies in the factual reality that most men are the primary breadwinners, and most women have been the primary caretakers of the children. Under the law, the spouse who is financially dependent and unable to independently take care of his or her financial needs will have at least a claim to temporary maintenance. Debts are often split in proportion to the party’s gross incomes.”
57 percent of American men believe that divorce courts favor women on average. Only 5 percent of Americans (men and women) believe that divorce courts favor men.
Divorce laws also favor women when it comes to child custody. If you and your wife split up, the default for you as a father is seeing your kids–at most–on the weekends. That’s if you’re lucky. I’ve known fathers who only see their kids once a month, and fathers who don’t even get that. If you want anything approaching full or even shared custody, be ready to fight like Hell for it.
Even living together without tying the knot is risky, because of the reality of common-law marriage. In many states, just living together for a certain amount of time means you’re married in the eyes of the state–with its attendant disadvantages for men.
Statistically, the odds of a marriage working out are slim. Almost 50 percent of marriages fail across the United States. If you and your best friend both get married to the partners of your dreams, odds are pretty good at least one of you is going to end up single in a few years.
These problems are not exactly helped by our modern hookup culture. If you’re with a woman who’s had 10 or more sexual partners, the odds of a divorce are six times the odds if you’re with a woman who’s had 0 sexual partners.
I would be a hypocrite if I told you not to get married. I’ve been happily married for over 4 decades. But if you want to get married, it is important to understand the risks. Go into it with your eyes wide open, and have a prenup that governs (at the least) finances and child custody.
Why Are Men Scared Of Commitment?
In my relationship coaching practice, I see a lot of men who are terrified of commitment. Some of them are scared for good reason, and others are just plain scared.
If you’re a man, I won’t bullshit you–there are good reasons to be scared of commitment.
“Till Death” Made A Lot More Sense 700 Years Ago
“Till Death” made a lot more sense in the 1300s, when “till death” meant until you turned 35 and keeled over from the Bubonic Plague. Nowadays, if you get married at 25, “till death” means potentially being with the other person for another 40-60 years. That’s a lot to ask of anyone.
Marriage Is Risky For Men
I covered the reasons above, but suffice to say–this is a rational fear. If you get married, and it goes south, you could lose almost everything that matters to you. It would be downright foolhardy to not be at least a little concerned about the possibility.
The Pain of Losing Your Partner
No matter what, you will lose your partner in the end. Either through break-up or divorce or death, there will come a time when you are no longer together. And the more loving years you have together, the more the eventual end will hurt like Hell.
What separates the men from the boys though is how you deal with this reality. Pain is certain. But do you use this pain as an excuse to never commit? Or do you decide to accept the pain and lean in anyway?
The fact is that some people are dangerous to enter into a long-term relationship with. Hell, they’re dangerous to enter a short-term relationship with too; but everything becomes a whole lot riskier once you share a house and a bank account and kids. If your partner is displaying red flags, it’s important that you not ignore those.
Fear of Losing Yourself In a Relationship
This is one of the biggest challenges of any relationship: how do you be a “me” and an “us”? I’ve known men who have completely lost themselves in their marriages. They made their wife the center of their universe: whatever she wanted, she got. If she wanted attention 24/7, they gave it to her. If she wanted them to give up their hobbies and stop seeing their other friends, she got it.
Eventually the men woke up and realized that after 10 years of this they had no idea who they were any longer.
Relatedly, I’ve spoken to lots of men who fear losing their freedom. Having a family carries with it an enormous lifestyle change. When you have kids, you will lose a metric ton of freedom, and have to put aside (either temporarily or forever) many of the hobbies and activities that you once cherished. This isn’t a moral or gender issue, and women deal with it too; it’s simply a math problem. There are only 24 hours in a day, and kids take up most of those.
The Impact of Children
I’ve talked to many men who fear the impact that children will have on their relationship. In 8 out of 10 cases, the relationship problems of couples I’ve coached started when the couple had their first kid. Kids change things enormously. Sex becomes harder, sleep gets scarcer, and hobbies go out the window.
This risk is compounded because of the culture we’re in. We’re brought up to focus on hobbies and entertainment to the exclusion of family. Our individualistic culture doesn’t prepare us to parent, or for the sacrifices that parenthood requires, so when kids do come it’s a massive shock.
The solution here is to talk about kids with your partner beforehand. Do a collaborative risk assessment, and figure out together if this is the right time to have kids. Make sure you’re on the same page, and that children don’t enter the picture until you’re ready for them.
I’ve also worked with men who have a number of irrational fears about commitment. They tend to fall into three big categories.
Fear of Being Tied Down
In my coaching practice, I see lots of men who are dating amazing women but who are scared. They’re not scared of the institution of marriage; they’re just scared of being tied down to any one person. Many men are even experimenting with the idea of “handfasting,” a Scottish tradition that is essentially a temporary and nonbinding marriage. I’ve coached a number of men who are only comfortable making a one-year commitment; at the end of the year, partners can choose to re-up or to go their separate ways.
Some men balk at the idea of even a one-year commitment; I’ve had men ask me if they can do a two-month agreement instead. These men love their partners, but are terrified to make a real commitment to them.
Here’s the deal with this kind of fear: it’s a cognitive distortion. Your fear does not have your best interests at heart. This fear is a manifestation of your ego, and its goal is to keep your life small.
As men, we are called to live with courage. Don’t let fear make your decisions. This doesn’t mean you should marry the first girl you see; but if you’re dating an amazing woman and the only reason you won’t commit is that you’re scared, I respectfully suggest you grow some testicular fortitude.
The Search For the “Perfect Woman”: Fear By Another Name
Some men I’ve talked to are dating wonderful women, but they don’t commit because they think there might be something better out there.
You know the type:
“She loves me so much, and we have wonderful conversations. But man, if she were just a little wilder in bed (or “if she’d just lose ten pounds” or “if her energy was just a little different”), THEN I’d marry her.”
This search for the perfect woman is just fear by another name. These men are scared to commit, but cannot admit that to themselves; so they hide behind the idea that if they ever found the perfect woman, THEN they’d commit. This is highly convenient for the ego, because there is no such thing as the perfect woman; so, their bluff will never be called.
This search for a way out often arises when the sex cools. In her book Mating In Captivity, sex therapist Esther Perel tells the story of a man who dates someone and thinks he’s found his soulmate. She’s smart and fun and sexy, they have amazing conversations, and the sex is incredible. Two years in, the sexual fire dwindles. “She’s just not the one for me,” he concludes, and leaves her heartbroken to pursue his TRUE
soulmatefantasy: a woman with whom the fire will never fade.
This search for the perfect woman also manifests in men having unrealistic expectations for what their partner should do for them. If a man expects his woman to be his WalMart, his one-stop shop. He can look to her to be his best friend, his spiritual guide, his always-on sex partner, his shoulder to cry on, his support system, etc. When she’s not all of those things, he leaves in search of the mythical woman who CAN meet all of his needs.
Don’t make your partner into your Walmart. That’s too heavy a burden for any relationship to handle.
Instead, your partner should be like Tiffany’s: rare and beautiful, sophisticated, elegant; but also a niche store. Go to your partner for specific things, not for everything.
Culturally, We’ve Turned Away From Our Masculinity
For the past 60 years, our culture has told men and boys that it’s not okay to be masculine. The American Psychological Association has criticized “traditional masculinity ideology” which it defines as a constellation of behaviors including, “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.”
Men are so scared of appearing masculine that many won’t even ask a woman out on a date. Bill Maher reports that 44 percent of teenage boys won’t even masturbate. As Maher quips, “are they afraid to touch their own dicks, because a gym sock can’t give consent?”
Our culture consistently tells men that if they act masculine, they’ll be: stepping on their feminine partner, contributing to rape culture, mansplaining, manifesting “toxic masculinity”, etc. The perceived consequences range from being a bad person, to just being tarred and feathered as a social regressive.
Is it any wonder that men are scared to fully embody their masculinity?
I call this an irrational fear because there are two things the world needs right now: strong women, and strong men. When you embrace healthy masculinity (and, for what it’s worth, healthy femininity) you become stronger. You can do and achieve more. And, yes, our feminine partners tend to love it when we fully step into our masculine energy and juice.
Specific Conditions Under Which Committing to a Relationship Is Good
It’s easy to see the conditions under which you shouldn’t commit. But what are the conditions under which you and your partner should commit to each other?
– You’ve been together for at least a couple of years (the honeymoon phase only tends to last 9-12 months), and you’ve successfully weathered one or two big storms together.
– You’re both committed to your own personal growth.
– You’ve talked through, and are on the same page about, the big things in life: kids, finances, where you want to live, etc.
– You have a prenup mapped out around custody and finances, that you both agree to.
When couples meet these conditions, they can do very well in a modern committed long-term relationship.
So, Should You Commit Or Not?
If you’re in a relationship and you’re struggling with whether or not you should truly commit to your partner, I can’t tell you what to do. Every relationship is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
I can give you three rules of thumb to adhere to as you explore this issue:
- First, make the decision in loving consort with your partner. When the two of you are discussing this issue, both of you should be making the decision from the deepest place available to you. That means that irrational fear might get a voice in the conversation, but it sure as hell shouldn’t get the decisive vote.
- Second, seek the help of a relationship coach to help you and your partner design the relationship you both want ahead of time. Designing a relationship is like drawing up plans for a house. It’s better to do it now than in five years, when the foundation is already crooked and the walls don’t fit together.
- Third, make your decision based on real women and real partnerships.Be watchful you don’t fall into the trap of Fantasyland. Don’t hold out hope for the perfect woman. She doesn’t exist .Instead, look for a woman who makes you happy to be around, is committed to supporting you in constant evolution as a man and human, and brings you joy more often than not; do not look for a woman who will meet your every need and fulfill your every fantasy.
And if you’d like help navigating the particulars of your relationship, I do offer one-on-one relationship coaching as well as coaching for couples. Check out my relationship coaching offering; and if you think it might be a good fit, reach out and we’ll set up a meeting to discuss how I can help.
Men’s and Women’s Circles–Conversation with Geoff Laughton and Sacred Women’s Circles
America Has Dismantled Our Freedom of Speech
By: Mark Johnson & Julian Adorney
This is the third blog post in our series on First World Problems: how the systematic tearing down of American institutions has created a generation of Americans who feel lonely, adrift, and without purpose.
In our last blog we looked at the tearing down of the American Civil Religion that used to bind us all together. Today we’ll go deeper into the slow-motion destruction of the absolute core tenant of that religion: freedom of speech.
The Dismantling of Free Speech
Free speech used to be held up as one of the core American institutions. It was enshrined in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights for a reason: while other countries have also adopted free speech, it is a fundamentally American tradition.
More than that, free speech is essential on its own terms. It is the single best way for humans to make progress. None of us are perfect, and none of us know the full truth. Therefore we all need to engage in the marketplace of ideas in order to find the truth and develop the best path forward.
But free speech has been under attack for decades.
One of the earliest–and most influential–critics was Herbert Marcuse, a college professor and the father of the New Left. In an essay called Repressive Tolerance published in 1969, Marcuse recommended removing rights (including the right to free speech) from conservatives. Marcuse didn’t see the world in terms of human beings who all have equal worth; he saw the world in terms of power. Those with power should be forcibly silenced (at least, the ones he disagreed with) so that those at the bottom could more have more freedom. For Marcuse, if a majority is being repressed, what is needed is “repression and indoctrination” of the powerful so that the weak get the power they deserve.
In recent years, Marcuse-style attacks on free speech have filtered down from academic institutions into the mainstream.
Subjective Rules Focused On Impact (Real Or Claimed)
Ilya Shapiro, adjunct law professor at George Washington University and University of Mississippi, provides a case study on the new rules around who can speak and what they can say. Early in 2022 Georgetown Law School hired him to teach. When President Biden said that he would only nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court, Shapiro expressed dismay at this form of blatant affirmative action. At the voicing of this heterodox view, the sky fell down on him.
Georgetown swiftly placed Shapiro on administrative leave, where he languished for months without knowing whether or not he’d be fired. An administrative investigation into the offending Tweets lasted 122 days.
Georgetown finally reinstated Shapiro, but only on the technicality that he hadn’t officially started at Georgetown at the time he sent his tweets. The Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) said that his comments were “objectively offensive” and that saying something similar in future may be enough to get him fired.
Even more disturbingly, the IDEAA adopted a blatantly subjective standard for deciding whether or not speech by faculty would be punishable. “The University’s anti-harassment policy does not require that a respondent intend to denigrate,” according to the report. “Instead, the Policy requires consideration of the ‘purpose or effect’ of a respondent’s conduct.”
As Shapiro puts it: “That people were offended, or claim to have been, is enough for me to have broken the rules.”
This punishment of heterodox speech isn’t an isolated incident. A 2017 survey by the Cato Institute and YouGov found that over a third of Democratic responders said that a business executive should be fired if they, “believe psychological differences explain why there are more male engineers.” A substantial number of respondents thus advocated stripping someone of their job for the crime of saying what many psychologists know to be true.
Walking On Eggshells
The new cultural norms around free speech aren’t just a problem for right-wingers. In an in-depth explainer on cancel culture, Julian explains the scope of the problem:
Heterodox Academy surveyed 445 academics about the state of free inquiry on campus, asking them, “Imagine expressing your views about a controversial issue while at work, at a time when faculty, staff, and/or other colleagues were present. To what extent would you worry about the following consequences?”
One of the hypothetical consequences Heterodox Academy listed was, “my career would be hurt.” How many academics said they would be “very concerned” or “extremely concerned” about this consequence? 53.43%.
To put it another way: over half of academics on campus worried that expressing non-orthodox opinions on controversial topics could be dangerous to their careers.
We see the same self-censoring phenomenon among college students. In 2021, College Pulse surveyed 37,000 students at 159 colleges. They found that 80% of students self-censor to at least some degree. 48% of undergraduates reported feeling, “somewhat uncomfortable” or “very uncomfortable” expressing their views on a controversial topic in the classroom.
In a panel on free speech and cancel culture, former ACLU president Nadine Strossen said, “I constantly encounter students who are so fearful of being subjected to the Twitter mob that they are engaging in self-censorship.”
It’s not just students and professors. In an article titled, “America Has A Free Speech Problem,” the New York Times editorial board noted that 55 percent of Americans have held their tongue in the past year because they were concerned about “retaliation or harsh criticism.”
Extremists on both sides of the aisle increasingly wield their power to shame or shun Americans who speak their minds or have the temerity to voice their opinions in public. This problem is most prominent on social media, but is spilling into offline conversations as well. Citizens of a free country should not live in fear that a woke or far-right mob will come for them because they express an idea that isn’t sufficiently in vogue.
Pretending That Speech Is Violence
The very concept of free speech is increasingly associated with violence. When former vice president Mike Pence planned to speak at the University of Virginia, the student newspaper Cavalier Daily published a furious editorial saying that Pence shouldn’t be allowed to speak. Why not? “Speech that threatens the lives of those on Grounds is unjustifiable.” It takes a lot of mental contusions to conclude that letting Pence give his opinion could threaten anyone’s life.
It’s not just students. Psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett published an op-ed in the New York Times titled, “When is speech violence?“
According to Barrett, “If words can cause stress, and if prolonged stress can cause physical harm, then it seems that speech—at least certain types of speech—can be a form of violence.”
She continued: “That’s why it’s reasonable, scientifically speaking, not to allow a provocateur and hatemonger like Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at your school. He is part of something noxious, a campaign of abuse. There is nothing to be gained from debating him, for debate is not what he is offering.”
The fact that psychologists are lending the veneer of science to the idea that speech is violence should be deeply troubling to every American.
Why Is Free Speech Essential?
When we break down the core institution of free speech, we lose a lot of what made America so successful in the first place. Robust norms of free speech helped people build the emotional and mental resilience to cope with ideas they disagreed with. It helped us build bonds with people who believed different things, because we were able to listen to and understand their position.
Free speech also enabled multiple parties to argue from competing worldviews and find a solution that was better than what any party had formulated going into the discussion.
The silver lining is this: Americans increasingly recognize that free speech is a value whose preservation is essential. The New York Times editorial board notes that, “84 percent of adults said it is a, ‘very serious’ or ‘somewhat serious’ problem that some Americans do not speak freely in everyday situations because of fear of retaliation or harsh criticism.”
What Can You Do?
As a strong and integrous man, what can you do to limit the impact of the degradation of free speech on your own life?
First, speak up about what you know to be true–even if no-one else is speaking up, even if there are risks to you. Develop the courage to call a spade a spade. If you see insanity–in your workplace, in politics, in your home–call it out openly and honestly. You’ll sleep better at night. You’ll also become stronger through the act of speaking out. Speaking takes courage, but it also creates courage.
Second, seek out people who disagree with you. Listen to them. Go further; try to be persuaded by them. Skewer your sacred cows and let go of your ideology. Neither one is serving you.
Third, banish forever (if you haven’t yet) the infantile notion that words are violence. This notion is profoundly damaging, because it makes you weak. If mere disagreement can hurt you, after all, then so can everything else in life. So will everything else in your life. Instead, embrace the adage of the Stoics: other people are responsible for their actions, you are responsible for your response. Once you embrace the idea that mere words–whether vicious or merely heterodox–cannot hurt you, you are on the path to emotional strength and groundedness.
Fourth, don’t let yourself become a “tribe of one.” It’s easy, in this environment of chilled speech, to always feel scared to speak up. Find a tribe of men who encourage you to speak your truth, and who speak their truth in return to you. Find men who aren’t afraid to share heterodox ideas and to challenge your sacred cows, nor to have their own challenged in return.
Find a tribe of men you’d trust to have your back in a firefight, and who will love you and expect you to have theirs in turn.
The Undaunted Man offers such a tribe. We offer one-on-one men’s coaching as well as men’s groups. If you would like to build a life of purpose and meaning, cultivate real and raw relationships in your life with authentic men, and develop your healthy grounded masculine energy, reach out today.
Tearing Down the American Civil Religion
By: Julian Adorney & Mark Johnson
This is the second blog post in our series on First World Problems: how the systematic tearing down of American institutions has created a generation of Americans who feel lonely, adrift, and without purpose.
In our last blog we looked at the overall phenomenon of First World Problems and the scope of the issue. Today we’re delving into the first institution that’s being defaced: the American Civil Religion.
The Importance of the American Civil Religion
60 years ago, we all had a strong sense in the United States that we were Americans first.
This didn’t mean that we didn’t criticize our government, or foreign or domestic policy; Americans have a rich history of both. We’ve always been a country that strived to do better and be better.
But that criticism didn’t mar our unity. We were united in a sense of patriotism and belonging. We all saluted the same flag and sang the same National Anthem. Republicans felt a sense of patriotism when they heard from or spoke to Democratic lawmakers, and vice versa.
That unity feels like a distant dream now. How did we come so far?
The trappings of the American Civil Religion were deeply valuable in holding our large and otherwise disparate country together. Like the trappings of organized religion–the cross and the sacrament of Christianity, for example–they united us together and gave us a shared connection to something deeper than ourselves. These trappings included things like the National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, a feeling of patriotism, respect for the Founding Fathers, and a shared love for the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
They facilitated us tapping into the second half of what renowned sociologist Jonathan Haidt calls our Homo Duplex nature: not just our individualism, but an almost beehive-like sense of community and connection to a country full of people we had never met but still regarded as our brothers and sisters.
Those trappings are being torn down.
In some cases, this is literal. In cities across the US, people are tearing down statues of founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The idea is that these men were white, wealthy, slave-owners; and their sins make them unworthy of respect. Instead of admiring the Founding Fathers who brought forth “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Americans are pillorying them.
When Washington’s statue was toppled in Portland, Oregon, activists graffitied phrases like, “White fragility” and “Big floyd” on the statue. The picture is heartbreaking.
It’s not just the Founding Fathers. The Constitution is in for ridicule as well. Author Lyz Lenz Tweeted, “has anyone considered that maybe the constitution is bad” (sic). The tweet has over 246,000 Likes.
When Justice Alito’s draft opinion overturning Roe v Wade was leaked earlier this year, students at Yale Law School threw what can best be described as a temper tantrum.
“Neither the constitution nor the courts—nor the fucking illusion of ‘democracy’—are going to save us,” according to an Instagram post by first-year student Melisa Olgun. “How can we possibly expect a document, drafted by wealthy, white, landowning men, to protect those who face marginalization that is the direct result of the very actions of the founders?”
Another student posted that, “democratic institutions won’t save us.”
This is concerning because Yale Law School is one of the most influential incubators of future policymakers in the country. Since the nation’s founding, over 4 percent of all federal judges have come from Yale Law School. In the last decade, 17 percent of new law professors were Yale Law School graduates. Our nation’s most influential future legal minds are being told in school that the Constitution is a white supremacist document and that democratic institutions–the bedrock of the American Civil Religion–aren’t worthy of respect.
This same trend can be seen in the massively influential 1619 Project, which attempts to rewrite American history and frame the US as a fundamentally racist country. According to the Project, the American Revolution has its roots in white supremacy. The “real” origin of the US was not 1776 or 1789, but 1619–when the first slave ship came to the United States. Rather than a sin that the United States grappled with and eventually wiped away, the 1619 Project posits that slavery is fundamental to our American identity.
American holidays like Memorial Day are ignored or bastardized as just the “start of summer”, while the Fourth of July is under attack.
Patriotism itself is now commonly derided as, “White Supremacy”. A Washington Post headline reads, “To many Americans, being patriotic means being white“. A headline at WNYC Studios puts it more bluntly: “For Some, Patriotism Is Just a Symptom of White Privilege“.
Why Is This Happening?
Why is a fringe of American culture so determined to tear these institutions down? There are three keys to answering this question.
1: It’s Not About Redemption
Activists pretend that they are simply trying to redeem America; lifting us out of the shadow of our slave-holding ancestors so that we can be a better nation in 2022.
This is nonsense.
First, the Founding Fathers were not the demons that the 1619 Project and other activists pretend. Most of them hated slavery. Many of the Constitution’s drafters and signers hoped that Article 1 Section 9 Clause 1 (“The Slave Trade Clause”) would put an end to slavery forever. The clause allowed the international slave trade for 20 years, as a compromise with southern states who otherwise never would have signed the document. The hope was that after 20 years, Congress would outlaw the international slave trade; and the domestic institution of slavery would dry up and rot away owing to a lack of fresh supply.
Thomas Jefferson was adamantly in favor of this. The Slave Trade Cause allowed Congress to ban the international slave trade on January 1, 1807. In December of 1806, President Jefferson exhorted them to do just that:
“I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe.”
Second, if the point is to make the United States better, why go after the men and women who did the most to end the institution of slavery? Portland protestors tore down a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Cornell University removed a bust of Lincoln, as well as a copy of the Gettysburg Address, from the library following a complaint.
Lincoln was a complicated man, but few humans of any time period have done more to end the institution of slavery than our 16th president. If this whole movement is about signaling that we as a nation are opposed to racism, what’s the logic of going after such a man?
Free Black Thought, a compendium twitter account focused on amplifying heterodox African American scholars, puts it this way:
“Cornell removes Gettysburg Address, bust of Lincoln, after “a complaint.” How can a nation that has come to hate even the redemptive episodes in its history then expect to stir itself to redemptive action? What moral vision of our future does this serve?”
2: Look For Historical Clues
If you want to know why a movement is doing X now, take a look at movements that have done X in the past. The goals, and the impact, of historical movements can provide a roadmap to understand similar modern-day movements.
In 1966, Chairman Mao launched the Cultural Revolution in China. He exhorted students and far-left revolutionaries to violence and purges, creating chaos on a scale that’s hard to imagine.
One of Mao’s explicit targets was known as the “four olds”: “old ideas, culture, customs and habits.” Whipped into a frenzy by Mao, the young Red Guards looted, vandalized, and destroyed every example of these “olds” they could think of. In Mao’s Last Revolution, renowned historian Roderick MacFarquhar notes that students vandalized public spaces, condemned Confucius, and destroyed “6,618 registered cultural artifacts, including 929 paintings, more than 2,700 books, 1,000 stone steles, and 2,000 graves.”
The primary goal was nihilism. Mao wanted to destroy China’s existing cultural values so that he could usher in something new (and much worse). He told his wife that he wanted to create “great disorder under heaven”; only then could he create “great order under heaven.”
An editorial in Liberation Army Daily put it more bluntly: “a socialist cultural revolution demands that there be destruction as well as creativity. Without thorough destruction, there can be no real construction.”
A nation that is unmoored from its past and from its historic values is a nation that is ripe for nihilism. When you have nothing else to cling to, you’re much more open to the profoundly destructive message that life is meaningless and nothing matters.
3: International Psyops
This systematic destruction of the civil religion in America is not a homegrown affair. Yuri Bezmenov, a KGB defector in the 1980s, warned Americans that the then-USSR was engaging in a systematic campaign of “demoralization” of Americans. Bezmenov warned that this “ideological subversion” involved training a generation of Americans to see their country as fundamentally broken and wrong.
Here’s the plan the USSR had been carrying out for decades by the time Bezmenov described it in the 1980s:
“Educate 1 generation of students…exposed to the ideology of the enemy; in other words, Marxism-Leninism ideology is being punted into the soft heads of at least 3 generations of American students without being challenged or contrabalanced by the basic values of Americanism.”
This derision of symbols that have historically bound Americans together has real consequences.
Societal Consequences: Political Divisiveness
Political analyst Bill Schneider, professor of policy, government and international affairs at George Mason University puts it bluntly: “I’d say this is the most divided we’ve been since the Civil War.” “We are broken,” he says.
Pundits on all sides are openly discussing secession. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) asked on Twitter, “Should America have a national divorce?” Within a few days, more than 21,000 respondents weighed in, with 50.9 percent backing the idea. Across the aisle, leftist Jeff Taylor says, “I’ve wondered whether we’d all be better off in the long run it the United States were geographically divided in some reasonably equitable way that would allow the reality-based and social justice minded among us to be free of the extremist right wingers.”
According to a 2021 survey by the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, “roughly 4 in 10 (41%) of Biden and half (52%) of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that it’s time to split the country, favoring blue/red states seceding from the union.” American society, and American politics, is breaking in half.
The far-left hates the center and the right, and the far-right hates the center and the left. Supreme Court justices are being doxxed and are the victims of assassination attempts. What was once one America is now deeply fragmented.
Individual Consequences: Loneliness & Unhappiness
This fragmentation is dangerous on a national level, and disastrous on an individual level.
As humans, we all need a connection to something bigger than ourselves. As Haidt notes, there are two parts of our brain; we are 90 percent individualistic chimp, and 10 percent hive-mind bee. To thrive on a personal level, we need to access both parts of our brain. Societies that jettison individualism to focus on the collective create misery and deprivation, which is why communism rarely works outside of small religious communes. Societies that jettison the hive-mind and pretend that the individual is all that matter are equally doomed to fail.
A poll from Gallup shows that Republicans consistently describe better mental health than Democrats. The differences aren’t small. 58 percent of Republicans rate their mental health as “excellent” compared to only 38 percent of Democrats.
A big reason for this discrepancy is that Republicans as a group are more in touch with their hive nature. They are more connected to supra-individual concepts like God and country, and often experience levels of patriotism that verge on religious devotion. By contrast, many on the left are pursuing a “tribe of one” mentality. This mentality says that everyone is special, unique, and absolutely different from everyone else. There is nothing higher than the individual, and no need to try to connect to something bigger than us. This way of being is psychologically unhelpful in the extreme.
What Can You Do?
As a strong and integrous man, what can you do to limit the impact of this destructive trend on your life?
First, develop a sense of patriotism. This doesn’t mean embracing any one political ideology. Libertarians, conservatives, progressives, and moderates can all experience patriotism. We can all look with awe at our great if imperfect nation, and feel a deep sense that we are a part of something greater than ourselves.
Read the writings of the Founding Fathers–especially their frequent condemnations of slavery. Read their histories and biographies. Visit the mass graves of the Civil War and the American Revolution and World Wars I and II. Cultivate a sense of the blood and sweat and tears that millions of men and women spilled to make this great nation possible, of the impossible risks that the Founding Fathers took in order to found, “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Develop gratitude for the people who came before you and poured their life into this country so that you could enjoy the privileges you enjoy today.
Second, don’t let yourself become a “tribe of one.” Find a tribe of like-minded men. Find a tribe of men who share your values, who quest for (and find) meaning in their lives, who embody healthy masculine energy and treat their partners (and themselves) with respect and love. Find a tribe of men you’d trust to have your back in a firefight, and who will love you and expect you to have theirs in turn.
The Undaunted Man offers such a tribe. We offer one-on-one men’s coaching as well as men’s groups. If you would like to build a life of purpose and meaning, cultivate real and raw relationships in your life with authentic men, and develop your healthy grounded masculine energy, reach out today.
First World Problems: The Slow-Motion Sacking of the Modern Library of Alexandria
By: Julian Adorney & Mark Johnson
What Are First World Problems?
First world problems are essentially problems that we deal with in the United States, in spite of–or, perhaps, because of–the jaw-dropping levels of privilege and wealth and safety that we live in. These problems include:
– A dearth of meaning in your life; you go to work and make good money, but you don’t know what it’s all for
– A lack of connection. Many men in the US are looking for a tribe. Lots of men don’t have close friends, and the facsimile of online interaction just leaves us craving more of the real thing.
– Out of control egoic fear. We don’t struggle with the kinds of life-threatening problems our ancestors did. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not dealing with genuine material danger or imminent starvation. But in spite of our material comforts, our egos still tell us there are threats all around. Immersed in the safest society the world has ever produced, lots of men still find themselves scared and anxious.
– An epidemic of mental illness among young people, especially anxiety and depression. The suicide rate for men age 15-24 has increased by 78 percent from 1990 to 2017.
If you’re suffering from first world problems, it’s not your fault. The milieu of the United States produces these problems, just like the milieu of a third-world country produces justified fears of starvation and danger.
You’re also not alone. Millions of men experience some or all of the above problems.
However, regardless of fault, it is your responsibility to fix these problems in your own life. And it is our responsibility as strong and integrous men to do what we can to help fix them on a societal level.
How Did We Get Here?
To see the root cause of these problems, we have to zoom out. These problems didn’t start 5 or 10 or 20 years ago.
Over the past 50 years, we have systematically torn down the institutions that made the United States the safest and most prosperous and most successful country the world had ever seen. These historic institutions weren’t perfect, but they taught us how to operate in society in productive ways. They taught us how to protect ourselves and our families, and how to connect to something bigger than just our egos.
They taught us how to have productive disagreements, how to find and pursue truth, how to hone and channel our masculinity, and how to love our partners in ways those partners wanted and needed.
Our culture now derides these institutions as “patriarchal” or “white supremacist.”
And to be clear, the 1950s weren’t great for everyone. These historic institutions needed improvement. But we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and we’re suffering the consequences on a society-wide level.
The Scope of the Problem
The scale of this problem is hard to overstate. It’s not a partisan problem; while many of the examples we’ll cite in this series mention the far left, the far right is equally culpable for tearing down American institutions (including the most recent Republican president attempting to stage a coup when he lost an election). Extremists on all sides are using the imperfections of our society as an excuse to tear the whole thing down.
What we’re seeing is a slow-motion version of the Library of Alexandria being sacked by barbarians. An immense treasure trove of knowledge is being destroyed out of ignorance. And just as the sacking of the Library of Alexandria set humanity back by millennia, so the sacking of America is setting the world–and hundreds of millions of Americans–back just as deeply.
If you’re wondering why so many men today feel depressed, anxious, lonely, and lack purpose; why so many struggle to find a partner or to have a good relationship; this is a huge piece of the puzzle. Social institutions aren’t just good at the societal level. They’re essential for individual health and wellbeing. When we tear down these institutions, we end up with a generation adrift.
What Can We Do?
In the coming blogs, we’ll evaluate 5 areas in which American institutions have been systematically torn down. These are:
– Objective Judgment of Healthy vs Unhealthy Lifestyles
– Healthy Mores Around Love and Sex
Each of these problems affects all of us as men. The good news is that each of these issues can be addressed–and indeed has to be addressed–at the individual level. In each blog, we’ll walk you through how the relevant institution has been degraded, how that degradation hurts men, and what you can do as a healthy and integrous man to heal the damage in your own life.
The most important piece of advice, however, is this: find a tribe of like-minded men. Find a tribe of men who share your values, who quest for (and find) meaning in their lives, who embody healthy masculine energy and treat their partners (and themselves) with respect and love. Find a tribe of men you’d trust to have your back in a firefight, and who will love you and expect you to have theirs in turn.
Undaunted offers such a tribe. We offer one-on-one men’s coaching as well as men’s groups. If you would like to build a life of purpose and meaning, cultivate real and raw relationships in your life with authentic men, and develop your healthy grounded masculine energy, reach out today.
Why Is Courage Important?
A few months ago, I left the home I loved in Colorado and moved across country to be with my partner.
This was not an easy decision. We had spent years living in separate states because we both had our own work to do before we could be together, and we were both self-aware enough to know it. Moving across the country to live with her meant running headlong into a whole new edge. It meant I would be challenged in a way I never had been before.
And it meant leaving my comfortable Colorado life. It meant leaving the life of a quasi-bachelor who climbed 14ers every other weekend and went snowshoeing in the back woods, and stepping completely into my role as husband and step-father to my partner’s teenage children.
I liked my old life. More to the point, I was comfortable there. My ego liked Colorado because it offered enough surface-level challenges to make me look like a real man, while avoiding the kinds of soul-deep challenges that could shake me to my foundation.
So what did I do? I moved across the country.
And it was hard. It pushed me in new ways. It almost broke me.
And it was glorious. Being with my partner and kids full-time is a joy that eclipses anything I felt at the top of Mount Elbert.
That’s why courage is important. It takes guts to uproot your entire life and walk a path that you know will test you to your core. And it’s also the most rewarding thing you can do.
There are other reasons it’s so critical, as a man, to cultivate courage. In this blog, I’ll tackle a few of them. They are:
– It takes courage to fight against insanity
– it takes courage to live into your calling and take that crucial next step
– Your partner wants (even needs) you to be courageous
Let’s go more in-depth on each reason.
1) It Takes Courage to Fight Against Insanity
Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, it is undeniable that there are strains of insanity running through today’s politics. The alt-right insists that non-white people are less human. The woke left, in a disturbing parallel, is starting to endorse racially segregated spaces in areas like education (Centennial Elementary, a public school in Denver, recently offered a, “Families of Color Playground Night”). Some libertarians insist that we should abolish all government, and Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge peddles conspiracy theories to one of the largest audiences in America.
And, of course, extremist groups like Antifa continue to claim that speech they dislike is violence, but actually attacking innocent people is justifiable.
It takes bravery to speak out against insane ideas, whatever their source. Part of this is a byproduct of the fact that we are social animals; writing in the Harvard Business Review, professor of leadership development Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries notes that being courageous is more difficult when your peer group disagrees with your position. “All too often,” he writes, “in these “difficult-to-produce-courage” situations, we succumb to fear, peer pressure, groupthink, or deference to authority figures.”
Today, to speak out is to put your neck on the chopping block for a social media mob that has embraced cancel culture, doxxing, and harassing people who disagree with it. Professors have been fired because they challenged the politics on campus. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff document in The Coddling Of the American Mind how campus mobs have stormed university buildings and held administrators hostage.
The rage of the online mob has even extended to minors. Nick Sandmann, a then-junior in high school whose age might have protected him in a more civilized time, became the subject of doxxing, online rage, and even death threats when he was accused of facing down an elderly Native American man.
It takes guts to speak up and risk the consequences. But it is incredibly important. Why? Because bravery can combat our societal impulse to conform.
Solomon Asch was a gifted psychologist who studied conformity in the 1950s. To test the subject’s willingness to conform without the subject knowing what was going on (which would bias their answers), Asch invited each subject to take a “vision test.” The vision test showed the subject a line segment, and then asked them which of 3 other line segments best matched up with the first line’s length.
There were other people allegedly taking the vision test at the same time, and unbeknownst to the subject these men and women were in on the study. Their job was to give the wrong answer (ex. Saying that A was closest in length to the target line) to see how effectively group pressure and the desire to conform could manipulate the subject into giving the wrong answer.
Asch found that subjects conformed to the incorrect group answer about 33% of the time.
What does this mean for society? We are prone to espouse insane ideas (for example, doxxing high schoolers) even if we don’t believe they are right, just because we see our peers doing this. Social media mobs use harassment and canceling to promote conformity, which is even more dangerous because conformity spreads: if everyone you know says the same thing, you’re far more likely to parrot those views.
The solution is to have the guts to call out insanity when you see it. This can help your peers break out of their own insane loops. Asch found that when even one confederate in the study gave the correct answer, conformity lowered dramatically. Instead of agreeing with the group consensus 33% of the time, the subject only agreed 5-10% of the time.
Sometimes all it takes is one person with the courage to call out the self-evidently wrong. If you can do that, it can inspire other people to stand up and do the same.
Insanity doesn’t just infest the political landscape. It can show up in the workplace too. And if it starts to creep in to your workplace, having the courage to call it out can be essential to maintaining your passion and motivation at work.
Renowned psychologist and University of Toronto Professor of Psychology Jordan Peterson tells a story of one of his clients, who was being “driven mad” by the insanity at her workplace. As one example, workers exchanged 32 emails trying to come up with a different way to say, “flip charts,” because they thought the word “flip” might be objectionable to Filippinos. The fact that no-one had ever objected to the term, “flip charts” meant that the whole thing was an abject waste of time and energy.
Peterson points out three dangers of letting this kind of insanity affect your workplace:
1) It will warp you until you start to tell yourself you agree with it. This internal tension–between the innate human desire to conform, and what your spirit knows to be true–is bad for the soul.
2) It will demotivate you. It is hard to be excited about a job that prioritizes busywork and timewasting over actually doing things that matter. Or as Peterson puts it, “why should I be slaving away at this job when I’m being pecked to death by morons with stupid rules?”
3) It will make you resentful and irritated.
Spend too long in a bureaucracy that’s governed by insane rules (whether these are being pushed by woke bosses, or the kind of unnecessary and demoralizing policies big corporations are infamous for), and your spark will start to go out.
What’s the solution? Courage. As Peterson says, “you should object at the earliest possible point,” to asinine policies. If your objection is upheld, you’ve made your workplace better. If your objections are consistently not, then having the courage to find a new job can breathe new life into your career.
2) It Takes Courage to Live Into Your Calling
A Leap of Faith
There comes a time on our personal growth journey when we know what the next step is…and it’s off a cliff.
We’ve been walking along, following the path to personal development, and everything’s been going more or less smoothly. There have been a few bumps in the road but nothing we cannot handle.
And then we come to a place where taking one step forward means stepping into the unknown. We don’t know what’s below that cliff edge. All we know is that once we take that leap of faith, in 6 months we won’t even recognize the man we used to be.
This is terrifying for our egos. Our egos seek comfort and conformity, and fear the unknown. They fear transformation, even good transformation. Taking a leap of faith threatens death to our ego, and offers salvation to our spirit.
That’s what I did when I moved across the country to be with my partner and kids. I knew if I made the leap, my life would transform. I would have new challenges and new growth opportunities. I knew that both would hit my ego like a freight train.
Six months in and I wouldn’t even recognize the man I had been.
It takes courage to take the leap. Frankly, the bigger the opportunity on the other side, the more bravery it takes. Our egos can sense the potential for truly transformative change, and they run from it. It takes guts to master our ego and go forward anyway.
So many men reach the point where a leap of faith is what’s required, and they shirk it. They turn back. “Maybe next year,” they tell themselves; or, “I suppose I’m okay with where I am now.”
The leap of faith might be leaving your cushy but soul-numbing job to pursue your passion. Or cultivating a deep relationship with the woman you’re dating but have kept at arms’ length. Or manning up to help your teenage son or daughter through a tough phase of life.
If you take it, the leap will transform you. It will be a defining moment you look back on, a turning point that doubled the size of your life.
And if you don’t take it…you will diminish. Something in your spirit will cry out, even if the cry is muffled.
Taking the leap takes courage. And it is worth it, precisely in accordance to how much courage it takes.
Living Into Your Calling
In his New York Times bestseller Wild At Heart, therapist John Eldredge says that all men crave a battle to fight. We yearn to be tested to our core and to know that we have what it takes.
As men, we were not made for a safe life. For white picket fences and a career pushing paper, where the most adventure and meaning we’ll ever face is a trip to Home Depot to fix our air conditioner.
We were made for adventure. To fight on the front lines of a war between good and evil, and to give everything we have to make the world a better place.
It’s important to note that Eldredge isn’t advocating or criticizing any particular job. You can pursue your calling in an office or as a missionary, at a corporation or at a start-up. Instead Eldredge is criticizing the life of safety and risk-avoidance that so many men fall into because they’re scared to pursue what really matters to them.
Having counseled thousands of men, Eldredge concludes that pursuing your highest calling in life is not safe. It is not a guaranteed home run. It is full of uncertainty, risk, and even danger. It will test you.
And it will be worth it. A life of meaning can feed your soul and light you up in a way that pushing paper does not. A career living into your highest calling can make you excited to step into the office Monday morning.
If you want to be a leader, that too requires courageous action. Every great leader, hell every effective leader, has a bold heart.
In short: living into your highest purpose requires bravery. And it is worth it.
3) It Takes Courage to Be The Man Your Partner Dreams Of
I’ve counseled hundreds of married men over the past 20 years, and one thing I’ve seen over and over is this:
Your woman wants you to be courageous.
Our women want to know that they can trust us, that we will protect them if push comes to shove. That we have what it takes to stand up against threats and keep them safe.
Few strong women want a weak or a hesitant man. Few women want a man who will walk on eggshells around them, or who bends to adversity like a reed in the wind.
As one example, most women crave a man who can handle her emotions. If you duck and cover when she’s angry, she’ll start to wonder how you’ll react when actual danger or hardship threatens. By contrast, if you can handle her anger, she’ll often feel safer around you.
This doesn’t mean that you should ignore her feelings or start yelling at her. Nor does it mean that you should put up with a woman flaying the skin off of you when she’s mad. But handling her emotions with calm strength and groundedness is a hell of a lot better than cowering or getting angry.
In his book The Way of the Superior Man, internationally renowned spiritual teacher David Deida says of women that, “She wants the “Killer” in you.” Deida points out that if you’re asleep together and you hear a noise in the kitchen, your wife will not be impressed if you curl up in bed and ask her to deal with it. She wants you to have the courage to go investigate the sound and deal with whoever made it–be it a rat in the cupboards or a thief sneaking through the window.
Most women want to know their man has what it takes to protect them. That means they want a man with courage.
Building Courage In Your Own Life
At The Antifragile Man, we help men develop and hone their courage. Bravery is the antidote to a small life, and we’ve helped hundreds of men find the bravery to live into their purpose and be the man they aspire to be.
If you feel:
– Like a badass at work, but whipped at home
– Like you’re facing a situation that requires a leap of faith, and you’re scared to take it
– Stifled by the insanity of your workplace, but not sure how to stand up to it and keep your job
– Drowning in all the words you’ve never said, the jumps you’ve never taken, the stands you’ve never held that your Spirit knew were right
We can help. We offer one-on-one men’s coaching to help you develop into the strong, grounded man you aspire to be. If that’s of interest to you, reach out today.
Why We Should Let Boys Be Boys (A Criticism of Cultural Transformation)
In Sweden, preschools are working aggressively to deconstruct traditional gendered norms. The Seafarer’s Preschool in Stockholm, Sweden, made waves for its avant-garde strategy of teaching girls to be more aggressive and boys to be more feminine. Teachers, “cleared the room of cars and dolls. They put the boys in charge of the play kitchen. They made the girls practice shouting ‘No!’” Other Swedish preschools have encouraged boys to massage each others’ feet, and little girls to open windows and scream out of them.
The New York Times reported, in a glowing story on Seafarer’s Preschool, that, “Science may still be divided over whether gender differences are rooted in biology or culture, but many of Sweden’s government-funded preschools are doing what they can to deconstruct them.”
How you feel about this probably depends on which of two camps you fall into regarding masculinity.
Camp 1: The Transformation Model
This model, common among the political Left in the West, sees traditional masculinity as a problem to be solved. And to be fair, men are both the perpetrators and the victims of many societal ills. In the United States, men commit 90-95% of sexual assaults. Men make up over 91% of inmates in jails and prisons. Regardless of the efficacy of their solutions, the well-meaning proponents of the transformation model have identified real and pressing issues.
Advocates of the transformation model also insist that gender is largely a cultural construct. Change the culture, and you can change how boys and girls express themselves. Change the culture enough, and you can make girls far less traditionally feminine and boys far less traditionally masculine. Hence, Swedish preschools. According to the New York Times article, “(Swedish) state curriculum urges teachers and principals to embrace their role as social engineers, requiring them to ‘counteract traditional gender roles and gender patterns.’”
The American Psychological Association recently threw its weight behind this model. In their, “APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Men and Boys,” the authors suggest that “traditional masculinity ideology…has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict,” as well as, “negatively influence mental health” and, “physical health.”
How does the APA define, “traditional masculinity ideology?” As a constellation of behaviors including, “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.”
In short, the APA argues that many of the traits that men and boys exhibit are bad. It’s not much of a leap from there to the Swedish preschool model that says these traits must be pruned away.
Camp 2: The Channeling Mode
Contrast this with the channeling model, which says that while there are of course substantial differences among individuals, boys and men do tend to see the world differently than girls and women. We tend to have different innate drives and our brains work different ways. Rather than trying to fit each child into a mold, we should help children of all genders to grow up strong and healthy and in tune with what makes them tick. This includes the millions of boys who enjoy achievement, adventure, risk, etc.
The channeling method says that masculinity, like femininity, isn’t inherently good or bad; it just is. How we teach young boys to use it is what really matters.
As one example, you might think that violence is always bad. Until you’re walking with your girlfriend late at night and someone appears out of a dark alley and tries to rape her. Then defensive violence is essential.
The transformation model and the channeling model both sound good in theory. They’re both pushed by well-meaning people who want the best for boys and for girls.
The problem is that the transformation model doesn’t work. Let’s see how and why.
Problem #1 With the Transformation Model: It Tries to Prune Masculinity
For an example of what this looks like, look at schools in the United States. K-12 schools are increasingly adopting the, “drill and skill,” methodology, wherein students sit still and imbibe information from teachers or textbooks for 8 hours per day.
Disregarding whether or not, “drill and skill” is good methodology, there’s no denying that it’s easier with girls than boys. Boys are just more rambunctious. They have more trouble sitting still, are more likely to question authority (and are less polite about it), and want to be more physically active.
If you see boys’ rambunctiousness as a problem to be solved, then what do you do? Increasingly the United States is turning to medication. According to the CDC, boys are more than twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD. A large enough dose of Ritalin will curb the rambunctiousness from boys and make them sit still.
This view takes masculinity in boys as inherently destructive, and tries to transform boys (including through medication) until they act more passive in the classroom.
Problem #2: the Transformation Model Tells Boys Not to Be Themselve
One essential thing the LGBTQ movement has taught us is the importance of letting young people (and adults, for that matter) be themselves. The horror stories of teens forced into, “pray away the gay,” camps showed us that it’s far healthier to let your gay son be attracted to boys, than to try to force him to date girls. The stories of LGBTQ men and women coming out of the closet showed us that people live far better lives when they’re free to live out their innate desires, compared to when they’re forced to hide those desires out of a need to fit in.
We should remember these same lessons with young boys. As mens’ therapist John Eldredge writes in his bestseller Wild At Heart, most boys crave a battle to fight. They want a beauty to rescue. Males yearn to be tested to their core and to know that they have what it takes. In short, we’re often drawn to, “adventure, risk, and violence.”
These desires help explain why so many more men than women sign up for the military; why men are far more likely to run into a burning building if a pretty girl is nearby (the damsel in distress); and why we do things like submerge ourselves in ice baths that gives many men a reputation for having more balls than brains (to be fair, the Wim Hof Method is amazing).
We should let boys know that these desires are natural and normal. It’s okay for them to want to play with toy battle-axes and cowboy guns even if their female friends don’t want to join in; just like it’s okay for them to not like tea parties as much as their sisters.
The Dearth Of Meaning
What happens when we tell boys that these deeply-held desires are abnormal and must be pruned?
Two things. First, you end up with a lot of men whose lives feel empty of meaning. These men feel dissatisfied pushing paper, but they’ve been taught that the things that give them meaning are wrong and shouldn’t be pursued. Deep down, they know they want to be the knight in shining armor battling the dragon and rescuing the princess; but when society has told them that fighting dragons and rescuing beauties is bad, they don’t know what to do with themselves.
This is one reason for the high rates of suicide and depression that men experience in Western culture. When you struggle to find meaning in your life, and you’re out of touch with your inner compass, it can be easier to fall into psychological malaise or to see life as hardly worth living.
Related to this: most men have a natural desire to achieve, which is deeply tied to both their masculinity and to their sense of purpose. We want to be high achievers in whatever we pursue.
There’s nothing wrong with this, when channeled in a healthy way. When this drive isn’t channeled, but is instead cut off or buried, you end up with a culture of men who struggle to achieve. This shows up in a failure to succeed academically, among other things.
High school graduation rates for men have stagnated for the past 50 years, hovering at about 80 percent. By contrast female graduation rates rose to 88% in 2018, 6% higher than boys’. Boys are more likely to be expelled from K-12 school, and substantially less likely to attend university (By the end of the 2021 academic year, about 60 percent of all college students will be women).
There are many reasons that boys lag behind girls in education, but one big piece of the puzzle is this: if you tell boys that achievement is bad, they’re going to be less likely to achieve.
Second, you end up with a lot of men who only know how to tap into their masculinity in an unhealthy way. Because they didn’t have healthy men in their lives to help them channel their masculinity in a healthy way, they turned to unhealthy role models: gangs, social media, bullying, etc.
They didn’t have anyone to help them channel their aggression in prosocial ways, so they found petty crime as an outlet. They didn’t have a man to show them how to build a career of adventure, so they stifled their need for adventure until it suddenly burst out of them at age 45 and they left their wife and kids to go have wild sex with their secretary.
Eldredge points out that for many men, cheating on their spouses is less about sexual desire and more out of a craving for adventure. If you live your whole life behind white picket fences and the grey walls of a cubicle, a forbidden affair starts to feel like the only way to inject some life into your days.
Problem #3 With the Transformation Model: Healthy Masculinity Is Good
Here’s the truth: strong masculine energy is like strong feminine energy. It’s essential for healthy individuals, healthy relationships of all kinds, and a healthy society. In the same way that stamping out femininity would be a mistake, trying to use cultural engineering to stamp out traditional masculinity risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
How does healthy masculinity (which includes many of the traits the APA criticizes) help society?
Writing in On Combat, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman points out that humans fall into three categories: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs.
“If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath–a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.”
The soldiers who liberated Auschwitz in World War II were sheepdogs. The men and women who fought off their terrorist hijackers on Flight 93 on Sept 11, 2001 were sheepdogs.
As long as there are wolves in society–that is, as long as humans are humans–we should pray we have sheepdogs too. And while sheepdogs can absolutely be female, they tend to be male. All the social engineering in the world isn’t going to make women want to sign up to be Marines in the same quantities as men. More to the point, sheepdogs of either gender tend to be motivated by a drive for adventure, for risk, and–yes–for violence.
2) Women Want Masculine Men
University of Toronto Professor of Psychology Jordan Peterson tells a story about two Google engineers who analyzed thousands of Harlequin romance novels in their book, “A Billion Wicked Thoughts.” These novels, which are generally written by women and largely read by women, represent a sort of distillation of what Western women crave when it comes to romance.
The engineers found that the heroes of these romance novels tend to fit into 1 of 5 archetypes:
What do these 5 all have in common? First, as Peterson explains, they’re at the top of the dominance hierarchy. Contrary to what the APA says about a drive for achievement being bad, the heroes of womens’ fantasies tend to be high achievers.
Second, three of the five are incredibly dangerous. Very few women want a tame man. A man who has no capacity for violence holds little appeal. First, he’s boring. Second, he’s not safe. Most women want a man who can protect them when shit hits the fan. A man with no capacity for violence, tautologically, cannot do this.
3) Healthy Masculine Fathers Can Teach Their Sons Healthy Masculinity
In Wild At Heart, Eldredge argues that masculinity is bestowed by masculinity. It takes a father (or father figure) to help his son grow from a boy into a young man.
A society with lots of healthy masculine men can teach their sons what it is to be a man. They can teach them how to live a life of adventure without sacrificing their duty, how to treat a woman they love (including when and how to rescue her if she needs it), how to channel their innate aggression in prosocial ways rather than antisocial ways, and more.
If you remove the healthy masculine men from society, young boys will still find role models to help them understand their masculinity. The role models just won’t be helpful. That path leads to spiritually stifled, angry, restless men of the kind we’ve all become too familiar with.
Benefits of the Channeling Model
If the transformational model fails because it doesn’t let boys be boys or recognize the importance of masculine energy to a functioning society, the channeling model works because it does both.
Seeing masculinity as a force to be channeled, intrinsic to males (and some females) but neither good nor bad in its essence, helps us to see boys and girls as equally valuable…even when boys don’t behave exactly like girls.
This model also sees the profound good that healthy masculinity can do for society (just the way that healthy femininity can do profound good) and enables us to build a society that embraces both.
Finally, the channeling model helps us raise young boys who know and understand themselves, feel their own value, and have a sense of their God-given purpose. It helps us raise boys to embrace healthy masculinity rather than the malformed masculinity that’s more and more common in Western culture.
In this context, what does, “Boys will be boys” mean? It means that boys need to be boys. It doesn’t excuse sexual assault or aggressive violence. But it does mean that young men often differ from young women in terms of what they want and how they think. Rather than being seen as, “toxic masculinity,” these differences should be respected.
Another way of putting this sentiment is, “girls will be girls:” girls should absolutely be allowed to join the military and fight on the front lines, but social engineering to try to force them into this way of life would be frowned upon. In the same way, boys should absolutely be allowed to throw their toy axes and violent video games in the trash and spend time playing dress-up if they want, but using social engineering to push them into this way of life is unhealthy.
Tapping Into Your Own Healthy Masculinity
If you want to cultivate your own healthy masculine energy, make peace with your shadow side, and feel more like a man than you ever have, my partner and I do offer 1-on-1 high performance coaching for men. If you’re interested, reach out today.
How Can You Help Your Boy Become A Man?
As a father, you want your son to grow up to be a healthy, masculine man. You want him to have a successful career and feel a sense of purpose when he goes into work every day. You want him to attract the love of a good partner, and to treat them right when he does. You want him to have strong, healthy friendships; to be tested deeply and rise to the challenges that life throws at all of us; and to live a life of purpose, integrity, and love.
You want him to be a man.
But how? How do you handle this fundamental duty you have as his father?
For the last 50 years, western society has torn down or destroyed most of the traditional institutions that initiated boys into manhood. In the United States, our culture now says the only thing required to become a man is to keep breathing until you turn 18.
In the absence of a clear rite of passage to become a man, many boys try to cobble something together by looking in all the wrong places. They turn to gangs, hoping that the (generally male) gang leaders will show them how to be a man. They turn to social media (God help them). They turn to peers who know little more than the boys they’re “teaching” how to be young men.
They turn to their fathers, but many fathers are absent or don’t have a healthy relationship with their sons.
Maybe that’s why the United States is so overrun with overgrown adolescents. Everywhere we look we see 30- or 40-year-old boys whose balls haven’t dropped yet. They’re doormats, Nice Guys and people-pleasers. Their masculinity has been stifled and now their wife, their kids, their boss walk all over them.
They look successful on the outside, but on the inside they feel dead. Aching for something they can’t even describe, for purpose and a challenge and a quest.
Or we see adult boys who have never learned to overcome their shadow side. They cheat on their wives and lie at work. They drink too much. They never learned to channel the aggression that lives inside every man in a prosocial way, so they dump it on everyone else. They never learned to control their emotions, so they rage at the world and lose their jobs and end up moving back into their parents’ basement and playing video games until 3am.
We can feel pity for the boys who never grew up, because it’s not necessarily their fault. We’re all a product of our culture, and United States culture (whatever its benefits) seems geared to produce perpetual adolescents.
Dr. Brad Blanton, renowned psychotherapist and author of the bestselling book Radical Honesty, puts it bluntly in his book: “In our culture, adolescence lasts from age 11 to about 30 or 35.” He estimates that about 75 percent of the “modern technological world” is still afflicted by the problem of adolescence.
The last thing you want is to raise an overgrown boy. But how can you help your son make the transition from boy to a healthy masculine man?
Step #1: Boys Need Healthy Role Models
As a father, you are your son’s number one role model. From the moment he was born, he began watching you, trying to figure out how he should behave in certain situations and what sort of person he should be. As Robert Fulghum (parent, minister, and author of the international bestseller All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten) says, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”
Most of us grow up to be like our fathers in more ways than not. Many men report that they want to be, “just like dad.”
Your son sees how you treat your wife—and will treat women the same way.
He sees how you approach work—and will approach it the same way.
He sees how you react to stress—do you handle it well, or do you turn to the bottle? Whichever way you choose, he’ll likely choose the same. There’s strong evidence that the children of alcoholic parents are more likely to develop problems with alcohol than the children of non-alcoholic parents.
What does this mean? It means that if you’re not the man you aspire to be, now’s the time to level up. If you have trouble with anger or women or being a Nice Guy, then you owe it to your son to fix those issues so that he can have the healthy, masculine role model father that he deserves.
If you do think you need to level up, our online men’s groups and 1-on-1 men’s coaching can help you be the man your son needs you to be.
But you’re not the only man in your son’s life, and every child needs other role models besides his father. No matter how healthy you are, you cannot be the sole man mentoring your son into manhood.
Where Can Your Son Find Other Role Models?
Sports leagues are a good place to start: coaches can be excellent role models. They can teach important lessons about hard work, playing to win while respecting the other team, and having honor on and off the field.
Your local church can also be good. Pastors, rabbis, and other spiritual teachers often have real wisdom to impart. More importantly, the good ones model humility, courage, and a genuine give-a-shit for their fellow man.
Martial arts dojos have a long history of teaching children valuable lessons. Senseis and senior students can model discipline (physical and mental) and can show your son how to channel his innate aggression in a prosocial way.
This last is of vital importance. One of the differences between boys and girls is that boys (even young boys) tend to love battle. We males are fascinated by fighting. As John Eldredge, counselor and author of the international bestseller Wild At Heart, says about boys and men: “Every boy knows he is made for battle, and he longs to be the mighty hero. Give him a cape, a sword, a light saber and he comes alive in a world of Jedi knights, superheroes, snowball fights, and “what can we blow up next?””
This fascination with battle can be channeled in prosocial or antisocial ways. Plenty of overgrown boys let their aggression lead them by the balls into fights at bars, assaulting women, and beating children. That’s antisocial as hell.
But not every battle is bad, and it’s your job to make sure your son channels his warrior energy in a healthy way. Defending the people around him from predators. Fighting for what’s right in the workplace. Doing battle against the evil in the world, and leaving the world a better place than he found it.
Healthy role models can show him how to do that.
Whoever you help your son find as role models—be they senseis, pastors, coaches, or other men you know—it’s important that these men embody healthy masculinity. Your son will watch what they do, just like he does with you. Make sure you help him find role models worth watching.
Step #2: Boys Need Mentorship From Good Men
It’s not enough for your son to have role models to look up to. These healthy masculine men (including you) should be actively mentoring him. He needs men who can talk to him about how to attract a good woman, and how to treat women so he can have a healthy relationship (both when dating, and when married). He needs men who can educate him about how to avoid becoming a Nice Guy, a doormat, or a people-pleaser; how to find his calling and live into it; and how to treat the people around him with honor and respect whether they’re a CEO or a waitress.
These men (again, including you) should also talk to him about what it means to be a man. He needs to understand why he thinks and feels the way he does, why he’s drawn to intense challenges, why he and his male friends punch each other to show affection when the girls he knows (generally) do not. He needs to understand how to handle his emotions, how to tackle the challenges of life and not be beaten by them, and how to keep a calm and steady hand on the rudder.
I’m not saying that all men are the same—clearly, we’re not. But generally speaking, most of us have a lot in common. It’s important for your son to have healthy men around to help educate him on those commonalities.
Female role models can teach your son a lot, and he should have strong and healthy women in his life who he looks up to and admires. But a society of all men would struggle to raise healthy daughters, because men aren’t great at teaching girls how to be women. Girls need healthy women to teach them about womanhood. In the same way, boys need healthy men to teach them about masculinity.
Step #3: Boys Need to Overcome Challenges
In their bestselling book The Coddling of the American Mind, social psychologist and New York University professor Jonathan Haidt and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) Greg Lukianoff argue that children are antifragile.
What does it mean to be antifragile? It means that children thrive and grow stronger when they overcome challenges.
- Fragile things break when you apply pressure to them (ex. A glass cup)
- Resilient things survive when you apply pressure to them (ex. A plastic cup)
- Antifragile things (including people) become stronger when you apply pressure to them.
Children respond to stress the same way that muscles or bones do. If you never lifted weights, your muscles would atrophy; they need the pressure to become stronger. But when you do lift weights, your muscles grow and you can turn into this guy.
When children never have the chance to overcome challenges, they atrophy. They become weak and prone to breaking down when faced with simple obstacles. This is heartbreaking to see, and Haidt and Lukianoff document many examples in their book.
But when children overcome challenges, they grow strong. That’s true of physical and emotional challenges both.
Both genders are equally antifragile, but there’s something inherent in boys that loves a challenge. As John Eldredge writes in Wild At Heart about men and boys, “Adventure requires something of us, puts us to the test. Though we may fear the test, at the same time we yearn to be tested, to discover that we have what it takes. That’s why we set off down the Snake River against all sound judgment, why a buddy and I pressed on through grizzly country to find good fishing, why I went off to Washington, D.C., as a young man to see if I could make it in those shark-infested waters.”
Your boy will probably naturally seek out challenges. Let him. Encourage him to. Whether he’s a young boy or a teenager, let him test himself against the world.
Let him date as a teenager—and get his heart broken.
Let him climb trees—and fall out.
Let him pick up martial arts—and go for his black belt.
Let him seek out and overcome challenges. With every challenge he overcomes (whether picking himself up after a broken heart, or pushing through white water rapids and coming out the other side) he’ll grow stronger. Physically and emotionally.
Why Overcoming Challenges Matters
Here’s the truth: the world will test your son. He will face hardship and difficulty as an adult. This is a universal fact of life.
One useful distinction between an overgrown adolescent and a man is this: the man guides his ship with a calm and steady hand through the shoals and storms of life. The adolescent runs around like everything is on fire, constantly jumping from reaction to reaction.
The adolescent’s way of life is good for no-one.
Your job is to help your son grow into a man who can guide his ship through storms with a calm, grounded strength. The best way to do that is to let him navigate some storms as a child.
Step #4: An Initiation Ceremony
Initiation ceremonies have been a powerful way to transform a boy into a man since time immemorial. Tribes across geography and across time have used these rites of passage to help boys grow into strong, healthy masculine men.
Unfortunately, in recent times these vital rituals have gone the way of the Model T.
However, there are still some organizations that offer powerful initiation ceremonies. Once your son is in high school, it is a good idea to give your son the gift of a ceremonial rite of passage.
Here’s what an initiation ceremony should include:
- Healthy, evolving, and wise men (including you) actually put your son through a series of rituals that allow him to be tested.
- These rituals will test his limits of self-perception and help him push past his comfort zone.
- In these rituals, he will be guided and mentored by yourself and the other men.
- As he passes through these rituals, he will be ceremonially blessed into the “Community of Men” by all the men initiating him.
- He will be coached into how to integrate what he learns about himself by some or all of the men who initiate him.
- You and his mother will also be coached in how to best support your son to deeply integrate what he learns in the ceremony.
At the Undaunted Man, we offer initiation ceremonies to young men to help them grow into strong, integrous men. Here’s what one young man said about his recent initiation:
Conclusion: It Takes A Village
How do boys become men? It truly does take a village (or “tribe”) of men to facilitate that growth. It takes multiple strong role models and guidance from wise men to help a boy learn more of who he really is so that he moves into manhood with strength, resilience, and emotional intelligence.
At The Undaunted Man, we are proud to be one resource that can serve parents and sons in offering avenues to manhood that are powerful and time-tested. If you would like to discuss an initiation ceremony or rite of passage for your teenage son, reach out today.
Why Is Wisdom Important?
What Is Wisdom?
Different spiritual traditions call wisdom by different names. Christians refer to ‘discernment’–the ability to separate out the voice of God from the voice of your flesh and to follow the former. Spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle talk about subordinating your ego. For Tolle, the idea is that your ego or not-self (essentially: your pain, your anger, your fear, your pride, etc) has a voice in your head the same way that your True Being (essentially: your highest self) does; and wisdom consists in learning to hear and follow the voice of your True Being rather than of your ego.
At The Undaunted Man, we accept men of all spiritual callings but we as an organization are path-agnostic. A path-agnostic definition of wisdom is: the ability to hear and follow the voice of your Spiritual source (however you define that) or your highest self, rather than following the voice of your ego.
Why Is Wisdom Important?
Men who cultivate wisdom in their lives have a strong advantage. This advantage manifests in three ways:
1) Wisdom helps you respond rather than react
2) Wisdom improves your relationships
3) Wisdom reduces suffering
Let’s break each of those down.
Wisdom Helps You Respond Rather Than React
One component of wisdom is this: wisdom is the ability to respond rather than react in a given situation. The more wisdom you cultivate, the stronger your ability to choose your response when confronted with any given obstacle.
Respond: to act from a place of grounded strength. To channel your Spirit or your highest self.
React: to let your ego run the show, and to lash out from a place of pain or fear or wounded pride or rage.
It is always better to respond than to react.
Wisdom Makes Your Relationships Better
We’ve all known men who lash out with small provocation. These men attack their coworkers and cause HR problems, snap at their spouse out of wounded pride, and react to kids who are yelling by screaming back at them.
These men exhibit a lack of wisdom. They leave a trail of broken relationships behind them, because eventually people they care about get tired of the chaos. Dealing with a reactive man is like dealing with a bull in a china shop. You never know what he’ll do, but you know he’ll break things.
By contrast, a wise man can deal with provocations (small or large) without lashing out. He can stay calm and keep a steady hand on the tiller, navigating conflict without needlessly adding to it. Even when others are upset, he responds by channeling his highest self. He can often defuse conflict simply by modeling calm, thereby encouraging others to do the same. When he does need to lay down boundaries, he can do so firmly and without malice.
In The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald says, “It takes two bad drivers to make an accident.” Even when the other party brings their rage and their pain into a conflict, a wise man can resolve the conflict by choosing his response rather than letting his ego react. Like a skilled driver, he can swerve to avoid an out-of-control car thereby preventing a crash. By doing so, he can preserve relationships that might have ended if he were to react with the same chaos and fury as the other party.
To be clear, a wise man isn’t a doormat. He doesn’t just take on others’ pain and rage. He also strives not to take on others’ egoic baggage and draws clear boundaries. But the wise man chooses consciously which relationships to preserve and which to end, rather than letting his ego burn relationships to the ground out of anger or fear.
The wise man will also attract the kind of relationships that we all crave: generally peaceful, full of joy, and not as difficult to navigate as a relationship built on reactivity. He will attract friends, romantic partners, and business partners who also embody wisdom in their own lives. A wise woman is not going to put up with the deranged tantrums of an overgrown man-child. Instead, she seeks out a partner as committed to cultivating wisdom as she herself is.
Wisdom Reduces Suffering
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
That quote is from Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor. Even in the worst Hell imaginable, Frankl found that men and women responded differently. Some fell to pieces, railed against a situation they couldn’t change, or simply gave up completely. Those people compounded the unfathomable pain of Auschwitz with additional egoic suffering. Others chose to find meaning in the suffering, to fight to preserve small rituals, and be a beacon of light (however small) to their fellow prisoners. These men and women used their perspective to blunt the pain.
What Frankl did in worse circumstances than any of us have experienced, we can do in our own lives. Pain is inevitable. We will suffer loss, be it of jobs or partners or control over our own bodies. But suffering is optional. We can always choose our mindset. The right mindset can blunt the pain of bad circumstances. The wrong mindset will exacerbate the pain.
Our egos are balls of suffering. They are made of fear and rage and wounded pride and a desperate desire to separate ourselves from our fellow humans. When we identify with our egos, our internal landscape gets worse. By contrast, when we are able to create separation from our egos and access our highest self, not only do we reduce egoic suffering; we also deepen our connection to our Spiritual source. This connection is the source of all joy. Cultivating that connection can provide a wellspring of strength and joy to get us through our darkest hours.
In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle describes being homeless for two years. He sat on a park bench, bereft of money and status and relationships; and he felt immense joy. His joy didn’t come from delusion. Rather, it came from a deep connection to his Spiritual source. Compared to the power and radiance of that connection, the bad circumstances of his life became trivial.
Wisdom can help us reduce suffering another way as well. Most of our suffering comes as a result of things we did. Soldiers often experience PTSD, not because of what they saw others do, but because of acts they themselves performed. They saw their animal selves come out in war and couldn’t face what they had done. What’s true in war is equally true in love and office politics. What eats us up inside is not the actions of others, but our own actions. Men feel guilty for the way they lashed out at a junior coworker; feel scared their partner will leave them because they keep screaming at the kids; or can feel wounded and insulted because a senior coworker pointed out what they had done wrong. Our egos then work overtime to try to justify our actions, producing mental turmoil.
When we choose to act from our connection with Spirit rather than our ego, we have fewer regrets, because we have fewer reactions. We have less mental turmoil. We learn to cultivate peace, joy, and strength; and we become far better at letting go of our egoic clutter. We still experience challenging circumstances, but we suffer far less.
How Do You Cultivate Wisdom?
The first key to cultivating wisdom is this: wisdom comes from perspective. Wisdom is pain that has been properly channeled through introspection and self-reflection.
This is why wisdom is essential for helping men to respond rather than react. Most men have a line beyond which they will lose the ability to respond and will react instead. For some men, it’s when they see, hear, and/or feel a threat to their well-being. The first time a man is confronted with the prospect of death, he typically falls into fight-or-flight mode. For other men, it’s when someone offers mild criticism of their work performance. A reactive man lacks perspective, and so interprets a small problem as an issue with the perceived magnitude being similar to being in a war zone.
Perspective lets men more accurately perceive the world, including recognizing that most problems are small. When something bad happens, perspective tells us, “I’ve been through worse, and I can keep my head.”
It’s important to note that pain itself does not grant perspective. Many men have been through pain and have let it weaken, rather than strengthen, them. Perspective is pain that you have analyzed and learned from, and that has taught you a lesson about your own strength.
Subordinate Your Ego
The second key to cultivating wisdom is to subordinate your ego. Wisdom is the ability to hear, and make decisions from, a higher level of consciousness than your ego. In order to do that, you need to subordinate your ego. You need to turn down the mental noise before you can hear the still small voice of Spirit speaking to you.
There are many ways to subordinate your ego. It is a primary focus of the work we do with our clients at The Undaunted Man. Here are a few:
1) Meditate every day. For 20 minutes per day, sit quietly and do nothing other than watching your breath, no matter the cavalcade of thoughts that our minds are always generating.
2) Cultivate discipline. Practice doing what you know needs to be done, every single day, even when your ego is throwing a hissy fit. This is part of the value of a daily meditation practice. You can also cultivate discipline in many other areas of your life.
3) Become familiar with your own dark side. Get familiar with your shadow energy. Probe the darkest corners of your psyche and stop hiding from yourself. For many men, their ego represents a smoke screen designed to obscure truths that they don’t want to face. By having the courage to face those truths, you can reduce your ego’s hold over you.
The point is not to kill your ego; that would be impossible. Even if it could be achieved, it would be foolhardy. Egos make wonderful tools and terrible masters. The point is to turn your ego into something you use rather than something that uses you.
Spend Time With Wise People
You are the average of the 5 people you interact with the most. This is as true when it comes to wisdom as it is when it comes to work ethic or being a good partner. We reflect the people we spend our time with. If you spend time with people who possess and act from a place of deep wisdom, then you’ll naturally find yourself cultivating that same quality. You’ll start to mirror the peace and strength and nonreactivity that they embody.
If you want a good place to start, The Undaunted Man offers men’s groups. Our groups are full of strong, grounded men who are cultivating their own wisdom. These men are willing to confront their egoic baggage, become non-reactive, and develop a deeper connection to their Spiritual source and intuitive knowing.
We also offer one-on-one men’s coaching. Our coaches each have over 20 years of experience and are continually practicing subordinating their own egos…and helping other men do the same. They can help you become the wise, grounded man that every part of you wants you to be.
Interested? Learn more about our men’s groups and one-on-one men’s coaching.