Men's Issues Article
THE RELEVANCE OF A 21ST CENTURY MAN’S LIFE
(50PlusPrime) LATHRUP VILLAGE, MICHIGAN --I recently had the privilege of attending my 45th high school reunion and the 40th anniversary of a Chicago social fraternity’s weeklong retreat (having been a member for a decade).
These caused me to stop and ponder the meaning of my own life (how did I get to be this ‘old’ among other thoughts - ‘laugh out loud’ - LOL). That has also lead me to further consider what I hear from SO many men about their own lives (during my three+ decades of working with men on their lives). From their stories, and reflection upon my own, I believe I have come to a more refined conceptualization of what it may mean to be a ‘man’ in today’s rapidly changing world. Of course, how each man has arrived at their own place in our current times will be from their own unique perspective, but I would suggest there are some common themes among their own special stories...
You’ll notice I use the ‘LOL’ (laugh out loud) phrase during this writing, as I believe we need to laugh at the current state and expectations of men in today’s world, for without such laughter the topic can get pretty ‘heady’ and downright depressing when first considering such important aspects of men’s ‘reality’. Each individual needs to decide for themselves what aspects of possible choices are important to integrate into their own mix of ‘reality’.
I still remember when I was growing up how I was fortunate to be among the first generation to have television as a regular part of my life, and there were a number of shows which we excitedly looked forward to with each new weekly segment. “Father Knows Best”, “The Ozzie and Harriet Show”, and “Leave It To Beaver” being among those remembered to this day. Fortunately, for newer generations these are faithfully reproduced on the Internet and one no longer has to wait to see what happened next to a favorite ‘family’ member - again, LOL! While some now come to see these ‘characters’ were merely time fillers for the sponsors to get across their commercial messages, for many others of us, at the time, they were our role models! And, as there were only three network stations, anyone watching TV had little choice of shows (or role models), so there was a unconscious ‘consensus’ of what was considered ‘normal’ (everyone somehow knew what to laugh at and when... then they developed laugh tracks which explicitly told us something was to be considered funny, and the more laughs the better). Some took it as mere entertainment (and some as something to be avoided as evil), but for probably a majority these were the people telling us what to expect of our lives and how we were expected to respond... ‘life’s lessons’. Books and public institutions (like schools, churches and even earlier generations of an extended family - ‘elders’) were often being put in the back seat. Remember back seats in automobiles... everything keeps changing - more LOL!
It is still debated what schools are expected to teach, especially with the advent and spread of charter schools, and that ‘morality’ is most often concluded as something to be left to the home, church, elders and society’s ‘leaders’ to determine. The concept of ‘street lessons’ (including on the then new medium of TV?) on the important social and personal elements of life (particularly ‘sex’, recalling we recently ‘lost’ four male Congressional members due to their ‘private sexual activity’, but that is another separate issue and discussion!?!), the teaching or even publicly discussing of any ethics were and are usually seen as something to be frowned upon... recalling the storyline of the now considered and naive and ‘cute’ Broadway and movie musical “The Music Man”!?! I suggest too often today the ‘elders’ and leaders are too busy with their politics to get to the lessons that people need and long for. Which brings me back to the topic of ‘men’ (laugh, snicker or cry as you choose here).
We now have a host of new mediums and messages about what is expected of men today, and they often contradict, send conflicting messages, or leave the observer to wonder what was the sender intending (now, we can laugh together!?!). As least we now call those earlier and current TV shows ‘sitcoms’ (for ‘situation comedies’). When I was growing up, however, we didn’t have such terms of enlightenment... only ‘soap operas’. Computer ‘games’, HD (high definition) television and instant online movies/videos are taking our new ‘situation comedies’ and ‘reality games’ to HUGE new levels, too! Again, simply entertainment or possibly ‘life’s lessons’ or a bit of both - I suggest ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder’???
I spend considerable time counseling and educating men (and their family members) around the general concept of ‘dysfunctional families’ and the roles that are played out to keep these families going. Where they are going and what are their intentions is a whole different and often absent discussion!?! It can be comforting and enlightening for men to simply hear that they are appreciated for what they do (in their family of origin, and maybe in their current family and in their marriage). They too often end up concluding, usually unconsciously, that their ‘worth’ is dependent upon what they do, and to have ‘worth’ they need to keep doing things (especially since they don’t usually get regular and timely ‘evaluations’ - LOL?!?). This may translate into: “You are loved for what you do, and you need to keep earning love to feel loved!” Who the man is, or wants to be (and under differing conditions and situations, white collar, blue collar or no collar - sports), or how we are perceived by others often appears to be missing in this equation or relationship negotiation?!? I’ve previously written on this in my article, “When Good Guys Wore White Hats”. I find men are seldom appreciated simply for who they are... VERY powerful when it does occur! And, as I’ve previously written, women have been spending the last several decades working on these elements of their lives, with exciting (and often satisfying results). Men need to learn these lessons, too!!!
In this same line of thinking, the industrial revolution gave men the opportunity to earn a defined wage by performing a defined set of work tasks, a simple idea (furthered by the rise of unions to enforce these expectations). Quickly jumping to our new robotics revolution, we have a reinforcement of tasks being performed in a clearly defined series of steps, with one HUGE change - men are being replaced as the performers of these defined tasks by robotic machines, and seldom is anyone looking at the impact on these men (let alone replaced without new positions being readied for their next ‘job’ or career change)!?! As women grappled with this question of how important they were within the family, now decades ago, some challenged their men to find replacements and learn how much it would cost them to maintain their present quality lifestyle (for those who remember the early ‘women’s liberation movement’ - mixed LOL probably appropriate here?!?). For many men today, especially young men looking for their first jobs out of high school, trade school or college, there are programs that they can find to possibly help them learn newly emerging job skills, BUT I don’t see much discussion on the feelings of ‘displacement’ (or ‘abandonment’?) and its impact on men and their lives!!!
Combined with this new emerging ‘transition’ of manhood and their expected work life in America, is the ongoing impact of the economic crisis/struggles of Wall Street, a rapidly emerging global economy, combined with the home and mortgage industries crisis, and too often the messages are boiling down to only dollars and cents (HUGE dollars many people have trouble even relating to!?!)?!? I would suggest many men are probably adopting this current debate into their own equation of their ‘worth’ and seeing their value as a man plummeting - machines do it cheaper, computers allow fewer people to do more work, and the job market is being shipped overseas, and increasingly occupied by women (and this last is definitely not a ‘bad’ change but something that may further a man’s expectations of being less ‘valuable’ in today’s world). What does an ‘underwater value’ of a man look and feel like??? And, most often each man ‘takes it personally’, believing it is about him (rather than a place that seldom supports men in their personal and social struggles). All of these concerns are hopefully starting points for discussion and dialogue among interested parties... ‘men’s issues’.
In his recent CD, “AWAKE” (remember when they used to be called LP’s, long playing albums which were records we physically played on turntables, and then stereo came along, too - humor here!), the singer Josh Groban has a song titled, “In Her Eyes”. Among the lyrics are the lines:
I am not an angel
I am just a man
A man who’s trying to love her
Unlike any other”
The two points that struck me are how he is trying to be ‘just a man’ and also wants ‘to love her unlike any other’. Both of these go to the heart of what I find men have yet to learn and then practice, practice, practice - the skill of simply ‘being’!?! Many eastern religions (and some western) talk about ‘being’ as important rather than ‘doing’, resulting in a person ‘being present’. I would suggest this is an important concept that we would do well to remember in discussing what it means to be a man in America today, too. IF we could begin to slow down the climb up the corporate ladder, the building of our ‘McMansions’ to house our isolating ‘worlds’ in our new modern ‘castles’, and then the purchasing of new technology to ‘connect’ us to this ‘outside world’ we often feel alienated from, perhaps, we might literally not die so early! The death is not only that of a physical nature (to remind the reader how some studies strongly suggest most physical ailments and diseases are the result of not effectively dealing with ‘stress’ in our lives), as well as the emotional death of ‘simply surviving’ in today’s corporate and fast-paced, low-paying McJobs (anyone remember the now ancient play “Death of a Salesman”!?!) Equally important to our physical health, perhaps, we might discover the often lost concepts of ‘happiness’ and having ‘fun’ and ‘passion’!?!
This is where I find it now gets VERY exciting, from my perspective after three+ decades of professionally working, struggling and now playing with the basics of manhood in America. I’m suggesting that once we can get the basics of what it possibly means to be a man in today’s world somewhat up and running in our lives, and in our relationships with others, we can then finally turn to what we ‘want’ (in addition to what we ‘need’ in healthy balanced ways, including possibly having dealt with various addictive behaviors) and begin to put some exciting and ‘passionate happiness’ into the mix of being men. What we decide to determine as important to us, and how we present it, can vary widely, excitedly and we get to personalize it, too!
For those who are working within a corporate environment, perhaps it might be enlightening and useful to revisit your corporation’s mission statement. Are all the workers (you!) included in it, and does it balance profits (quantity) with other aspects of work (quality of work and personal life)??? Within our families, too, do we discuss our family’s short-term and longer-term mission(s) of each member, so they can see where they fit and what’s expected (hoped for) in their lives??? What IF we were all considered ‘valuable’ for simply ‘being’, and what we do or contribute to our families of origin, families of choice, communities, and place of creating resources for living (‘job’) were all bonuses of our efforts. We would all get our regular turn at feeling needed, wanted and especially feeling ‘special’ on a regular basis... ‘happiness’ might become the focus of our energies and efforts, rather than the newest ‘fear’ that is espoused by our bosses, the media, and our ‘leaders’ to keep us going on the corporate and social ladders (like the exercise wheels hamsters use for exercise and entertainment - LOL appropriate here!?!).
Comments and feedback always welcome!
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