On March 8th, an article appeared in Psychology Today outlining the sorry state of young men in America. Men are stalled in their development, the author noted. Fewer and fewer men are enrolling in graduate school. More and more men are dying by suicide and accidental death related to substance abuse. Gaming and pornography are all but acceptable methods of escape from many men’s painful reality. The statistics are bad all around.
While it was disturbing to read these disparate facts all collected in one place, I cannot say that I was surprised. As a life coach who focuses exclusively on supporting men in Minnesota, I have come into face-to-face contact with all these realities, and many others. In my work, I have come to the conclusion that men – as a social cohort – are uniquely underserved. As someone aware of and involved in conversation about the many ways I am socially privileged, it’s a weird thing to hear myself say. To be sure, it’s complex topic and controversial topic, but one well worth inviting into our homes, our friendships, our workplaces and our places of worship.
The question I ask myself – and my clients – is: “Where in your day-to-day life are you explicitly and positively supported to become a better man?” Crickets. Blank stares. Heads cocked to the side. Subtle smirks. These are the common responses. The uncommon – actually, the nonexistent – responses include: “My dad (uncle, brother) was a great role model who taught me to be clear about my commitment, but also never to close myself off to the experiences of others.” Or: “I have a great group of trusted guy friends who I can turn to anytime I’m feeling angry or blue – they help me put things in perspective and get me into action again.”
Indeed, it’s almost farcical to consider these words actually coming from the mouth of your average Minnesotan man. And we should all be asking ourselves why. More to the point, we should be asking ourselves what we can do about it – as individuals and as a community.
So, next time you hear a friend, neighbor, colleague or congregant make a side comment about how John or Johnny always has his head stuck in his games, consider pulling Johnny into the conversation. Ask him, sincerely, about the last time he felt really, deeply alive, and motivated to move mountains. Listen to his answer – or his non-answer. Then ask him another question. And another. And another. Draw him out of his isolation. Listen to him. It just might change his life.