“Be a man!” ~ TED talk speaker Joe Ehrmann (really?) describes what it means to “be a man” in our culture and suggests how that definition should be changed. Then he proposes a vehicle for communicating that new meaning to young boys trying to sort out their identity as they grow into men. Superb talk by Coach Joe Erhmann.
First, let’s briefly look at what Ehrmann calls America’s “Myths of Masculinity:”
- To be a man means you are good at sports or some athletic ability (or simply strong and big). Look at a school yard to see this in action.
- To be a man means you seek to have sex with many women and use women in general.
- To be a man means you have a lot of money, you’re financially successful.
Add to that: boys and men are not expected to show or even connect to their emotions well. More specifically, 80% of men have some form of a condition called alexithymia, or “the inability to put emotions into words.” Men develop this condition because as boys they are often told to stop crying, stop feeling, stop emoting, and are rarely allowed to know and label the emotions they are feeling (except anger).
And if men don’t understand their own emotions, it’s unlikely they will understand others’ emotions or develop real empathy for others.
So to “be a man” in our society means you are a star athlete, able to bed any women you want, and have more money than you can spend.
Since very few men can ever live up to this ideal, many of them become “covertly depressed” and isolate themselves from relationships; they use substance abuse to squelch feeling of inadequacy; and/or they lash out with violence (violence being unprocessed grief). It’s easy to see evidence of this happening all around. Men isolating themselves, men squelching their grief and other emotions with addictions and substance abuse. Men using and abusing of women, and frequently resorting to violence instead of open communication.
What do we do?
Be a man! A new definition
We start by redefining what it means to be a man, and the new definition is simple:
Number 1: “All of life is about relationships,” says Ehrmann. “It’s about the capacity to love and be loved.”
“What’s it mean to be a man? It means you can look somebody in the eye and say “I love you,” and receive that love back.”
Number 2: A man (or woman) wants to feel they left the world a better place, they need a cause, something that gives a sense of “giving back.” We innately feel a responsibility to “give back,” and it’s vital that each man identify for himself what that cause (or causes) will be.
So our legacy as men and human beings lies in the relationships we create and nurture, and in the causes we commit out lives to. That’s it.
That’s what it means to be a man. That’s what it means to be a human being.
Where can we learn to be a man?
Coach Joe Ehrmann says the perfect arena for teaching young boys this new definition of what it means to be a man is with team sports. Team sports provide the opportunity to build relationships and work together for a common cause. Team sports have been and still are the perfect playground for learning what it means to be man–we’ve just been giving the wrong message until now. With Coach Joe Ehrmann’s help, that will change.