Looking at Men from 38,000 Feet



Men are at risk.


I listened to a talk by Marianne Williamson yesterday, one of the wisest and most spiritual people I know.  She was talking about the mythological and psychological underpinnings that shape the way we think about and act in our lives and relationships.  Deep within – and the psychologist Carl Jung would say among – our minds, powerful forces of meaning shape the way we think . . . and, therefore, act.  We are seldom aware of what’s there, but from these realms come strong fears, assumptions, expectations and hopes, and without being consciously aware of them, our actions are moved by them.  Marianne offered a powerful connection between these potent, murky depths in our consciousness and the significant surface of our economic and social life, and concluded: These are especially difficult times for men.


The compelling suggestion we discussed – and I’d love to hear from you on – is this:  Men have been equipped to work, to lift and toil, to exert, to direct and manage, and if necessary even to fight.  We are programmed, deep in our minds and cells, to protect and to provide.  And now many men are adrift in a massive sea change.  Women already outnumber men in supervisory positions.  Soon they will outnumber men in the workforce altogether.  And “women’s characteristics” are increasingly valued in the workplace:  cooperation, collaboration, relationship, listening, tolerance, diversity are surpassing assertion, competition, and command – let alone aggression.  These changes challenge men in the white collar world.


The blue collar world is even more treacherous for men.  Automation and low wage global competition continue to suck men’s jobs from Michigan and America.  And so men wonder: How do I provide?  How do I protect? Where is my place?  How do I adapt to a world, where I can’t find a “real job” and where (hopefully) my wife is able to step in and lead?  


In all candor: I live in this world, where the footing is hard to find.  I was born and raised to provide and protect.  Anyone who has a son knows this: if you don’t give us guns or spears…we will make them!  At our best, we have nobly protected: put up with grimy factories, or in my dad’s case, stultifying corporate bureaucracies.  But now we struggle to find a new way.  Many of us exult as our wives and daughters soar, yet it’s a treacherous time to find our own footing, to learn to play # 2, to learn to nurture our kids, and to figure out both at work and at home, nothing less than what it means to “be a man.”  I can’t protect my wife from a Republican attacker or media assailant, no matter how much my wiring stimulates me to do so.  (Clearly: she does not need my defense.)


It’s not surprising many men feel like they’re under a cultural-economic attack.  We’re chromosomally-ready to fight back.  But against whom?  And how?  Glenn Beck and his ilk would have us fight “socialism,” or we can buy guns, or we can fight immigrants (there is legitimate substance to those issues, but there’s also some misplaced frustration at work beneath it all).  The truth is our predicament is not caused by socialism but by global capitalism that has changed the battlefield for us.  We can’t change that!!!  India, China, Brazil – they’re not going backwards (and by the way most of them are a lot more socialistic than we are).  No.  We can’t go back to some supposedly wonderful former America (ask Blacks, women, and gays about how wonderful it was for that 70% or so of our populace).  Global competition, fast-change, automation, the internet, diversity and (thank goodness) super competent women are here to stay.


Maybe we need to look not just to external reforms – health care and tax policy – but also to internal reforms:  cultural and spiritual, and certainly educational changes.  We need to train for brains not brawn in a way-big way.  And, men let’s treasure the impulse to protect and provide, but also talk about how we improvise and innovate.  Let’s find ways to raise boys and “be men” in this new and evolving world.  I’m confident we can adapt to  


Lead with our best selves,