In the ABCs of Love, A stands for Authenticity. In the ABCs of Hate and Fear, A stands for Artificiality. Each alternative emotional ecosystem – love or hate/fear – offers its basic ABCs. When boys are raised to be authentic and true to themselves with the freedom to be gentle, creative and caring, they become nurturing, appreciative and affectionate men because their loving qualities are rooted in their nature as children of Divine Love and spring up naturally to be explored, expressed and experienced without inhibitions.
But, when a boy grows up in an artificially superficial, image-conscious, media-hyped modern society – a world in which being authentic, trusting and honest is too emotionally risky to endure – the boy becomes a man who has learned to defend against being hurt and to protect his heart from being shared “too” openly. Open, tender-heartedness is not allowed in modern society without great penalties of guilt, shame and pain, especially among male members of society. Tender-heartedness is ridiculed as unmanly, an offense to a masculinity that is supposed to conform to social norms to earn social approval. To introduce the A of Artificiality into men, is to turn “men” into “mean.”
One way to look at this transformation of gentle, tenderhearted boys into mean men is to realize that the modern world forces them to choose to be either outright bullies to some degree or another or scared men who won’t stand up for what they believe in because they are intimidated by bullies. It takes courage to be a genuinely caring and nurturing man who is both not a bully and not scared into silence and inaction by bullies. Men who live like bullies or who allow bullies to run society are mean towards themselves and others. In their divine core, all men have what it takes to join together to create a society far different from what modern society has become. We can set aside our personally customized version of meanness and rise up together as mean-free men of honorable valor and highest value.
Me + n (for “nurturing”) stands for men who live true to their divine nature as children of an infinitely loving Divine Parent. It’s true that at some point in our development, we become aware that we are an individual “me.” “Oh, look at me, can you see me?” Experts in human development identify the emergence of our individuality in games like “peek-a-boo” or watching and reacting to ourselves and others in a mirror. In both games and other life lessons (such as being weaned from breast and/or bottle to feed ourselves), we learn to tell the difference between ourselves and others. We no longer see ourselves as being entirely incorporated within an undivided whole. We begin to learn that we are separate from the others around us and are then expected to learn how to live in awareness of this separation. For most of us in modern society, we learn to some degree to be scared by separateness because it seems as if we no longer can trust the “others” from whom we feel separate to treat us gently, affirm our value and meet our needs. Separation anxieties seep into our hearts and take up permanent residence as agents of the fear of being alone combined with the fear of not being left alone instead of bullied.
Have you ever struggled with the fear of being alone while also realizing that you don’t want to be hurt anymore by someone you allow to be close to you? Can we trust anyone to be close to us to prevent our being alone without having to allow that person to somehow be mean to us and make us pay a price for not being alone? That’s a key issue in modern society and has been a key issue in human society for a long, long time. How long? For as long as men have been taught to be aggressive with their greater physical strength in order to protect more vulnerable members of society (typically women and children) from harm inflicted by other aggressors – both human and non-human. So long as we expect stronger men to take up the role of protectors from aggressors, we distort their perspective on life and teach them that we expect them to learn to be mean, not merely nurturing.
The A that stands for “aggression” is an artificial quality for humans of any gender. When we expect males to adopt aggression as a lifelong quality we expect them to internalize that “a” and add it into the formula to become “me + a + n = mean.” The quality of aggression interferes in the development of nurturing qualities when boys and young men instead engage in male roles by adopting stereotypical aggressive solutions to social problems. (Expressions of aggression can be mental instead of physical in boys and young men who have exceptionally quick minds and discover that they can outthink others to have their way even when they don’t have stronger bodies. Sometimes such boys and young men turn their aggression inward upon themselves and act out in self-harming ways rather than harm others. In that case, they are punishing themselves for not living according to society’s masculine norms. Believing oneself to be an utter failure in the eyes of those who matter most can lead to self-abuse – including abusive use of drugs, alcohol, sex, food and other pain-numbing distractions – and ultimately suicide.)
We are unreasonable to complain when men we’ve expected to develop aggressive qualities to protect us from other aggressive people continue to be aggressive when they leave the social roles we trained them to fulfill as aggressive men and try to move into other social roles. For example, we train some of our young men to be aggressive members of our military at the time of young adulthood when it would be natural for them to learn instead to be nurturing partners within intimate relationships. We cannot next expect these young men to become gentle, nurturing spouses and parents without supporting their letting go of the habits of aggressive problem-solving required in military action and their learning replacement habits of nurturing problem-solving required of competent caregivers. When we welcome these young military-oriented men to become police officers and structure and equip our law enforcement system like a branch of the military we are hardly fair to these men.
In fact, we are entirely unreasoning and unreasonable. We surround them with all of the signs, symbols and symptoms of still being in the military and expected to be at war with an enemy and then burden them with a contrasting set of expectations brewed largely of force-based responses to threats while laced with inadequate training in alternative responses. This is especially unreasonable when we expect our our militarily trained young adults (both men and women) to use violence to defeat enemies who hide among civilian populations and then ask them to return to our civilian population and not continue to sort automatically between friend and foe on whatever terms they learned in the military. We are now the civilian population among which hide those (also here out of uniform) from whom we hope the police will protect us.
(A similar line of reasoning applies to young men whom we encourage to be trained in aggressive sports for our entertainment, as if they are modern gladiators fighting to the “win/death” in our technologically enhanced and broadcast coliseums. Pay-for-violence media abound as avenues for boys and young men to achieve fame and fortune, the ultimate in social approval! Yet, somehow magically we expect them to be model intimate partners off their fields of battle. We pay them handsomely for their on-target violence and then fault them for targeting others with it.)
Men who faithfully learn to be mean in order to survive in life-threatening (and pride-gaining) circumstances will not suddenly stop being oriented to meanness when they are no longer immersed in those circumstances. A change in outer circumstances is not alone adequate to cause a change in inner orientation. Habits of aggressive emotional, mental and social reactions take time and practice to learn. They also take time and practice to unlearn. It matters little whether those habits were learned in a highly competitive family, school, sports, street life, military or other intensely performance-oriented setting in which a male’s identity is equated with success as an aggressor. Once such habits are taken to heart, men who are trained in this manner need generous and gracious help and abundant opportunities to release their mean habits and acquire new ones that are nurturing.
The A in mean men is not a permanent quality. Beneath it are the natural, lifelong and life-sustaining qualities of affection, appreciation, affirmation, acceptance and assertiveness. In short, other A-list qualities are far more natural to male members of society than aggression ever is. Aggression is artificial, not at all natural to men. Let’s no longer ask men to be unnaturally aggressive and instead encourage and allow them to be comfortable with being assertive and other A-list qualities. Let’s affirm men as expresses of God’s affection and appreciation and stop insisting that they be expressions of God’s anger.
Anger is not even an A-list quality of God. If we are willing to listen to Jesus who said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” we’ll realize that God is not angry with us and we need not be angry with or aggressive towards ourselves or each other. We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God or in the hands of anyone else who feels angry. We are innocent children of God whom an artificially oriented modern society born of centuries of mistaken ideas has wronged by insisting that we feel guilty and ashamed of ourselves for our best qualities. In God’s eyes, we have nothing to be guilty or ashamed of. We have made the mistake of believing those who do not speak for God’s heart and do not know God’s true mind towards us.
Jesus spoke and speaks for God. Other kind, gentle, nurturing and courageous males and females who are wholeheartedly committed to the welfare of all humanity have pointed us towards the authentic nature of God too. Those who have known God intimately have gently tried to redirect our attention to the qualities of God too often overlooked when we feel afraid and want God to protect us from harm. We expect God to use force and be aggressive on our behalf as we expect larger-bodied humans to do. In that manner, we have tried to reduce God to the limitations of physically expressed humans. God is bigger and more powerful than that even while remaining totally nurturing, accepting, affirming and actively in favor of each of us.
© Art Nicol 2015