Most men I know are shitting themselves right now trying to avoid hurting people. They're "good men" and they don't want to be perceived as an asshole. They're terrified of the shame of being seen as anything other than a knight in shining armor.
And it's costing them not only meaningful relationship--its costing them their own sense of self.
THE KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR
When I was five I watched as a neighbor began to beat the shit out of my cousin. They were both several years older and a few hands taller. That didn’t matter. I threw myself in. I attacked with everything I had. And guess what: that bigger kid took my arm and twisted it—and broke it. Yup. He actually snapped my arm with so much force that it dislocated in two places and sent a bone through my skin. Ouch. I still remember the actual pain of the ambulance ride and then resetting the bones into place. And I learned an important lesson. To stay the fuck out of fights that aren’t mine. “Nobody likes a hero. It hurts.”
Skip ahead a half dozen years. By that time I had grown into a substantial kiddo. My friend and I were swinging sticks around, pretending to be warriors and such. He was substantially smaller than me, as I recall. That’s when it happened. My stick collided with his head. Whap! I just remember the blood spurting from the gash at his hairline. I felt so guilty. So ashamed. I felt large and unwieldy. He ended up being a ok. A few stitches, nothing more. But that’s another lesson I learned. Don’t be unsafe. “You’ll hurt people. You’ll hurt yourself. You’ll get in trouble.”
For the longest time I existed in the tension of those events and numerous others like them. The lessons globalized in such a way where I became terrified of any confrontation. Why? The stated reason in my mind was “because I don’t want to hurt the other guy.” Or “because I don’t want to get hurt.” In my head I became a lover of peace, and avoider of conflict. I attempted to pacify any situation, often through avoidance. This extended to romance, to friendships, to work relationships. Any place where conflict could possibly exist I minimized through a variety of strategies largely aimed at “protecting THEM.”
Isnt that weird? In my mind I was a fucking super-hero. I was saving the world from my (self identified) toxic aggression and rage. I became something I hated in those I had watched go before me: a diplomat. A politician. Never saying what it was I fully meant. Isolating and disappearing to avoid devastating the other person.
I watch this happen with men a lot. Sure lots of people avoid conflict, but the reason here is unique we are taught, through events and through culture, to protect the world from ourselves. We are the enemy. We are “demon males” and at even the smell of aggression in our self we have to back the fuck off. Because we could hurt somebody. And getting hurt is the worst thing possible
Hurting feelings. Hurting bodies. Hurting psyches. Triggering wounds. Triggering trauma. Triggering negative thoughts. Causing sadness. Causing damage. Causing harm. Avoid. Detach. Neglect. Hide. Obscure. Pacify. Protect.
*What if pain was inevitable?
*What if an unavoidable part of being alive is effecting others negatively, both physically and emotionally?
*What if human beings were not fragile--stronger than they are taught, resilient and capable, and need not be fragilized (handled with kid gloves)?
*What if suffering was less about the inevitable painful experiences of life, and more about how we respond to them and attempt to mediate them?
*What if ending unnecessary suffering didn't mean protecting others from our self, it means learning how to regulate the discomfort of having an effect on others?
*What if part of the vitality of manhood was learning how to take a position, make a decision, find a stance, and then bear the consequences of this?
I'm not talking about being or becoming the worlds biggest asshole. We have to learn to practice effectiveness in relationships. We don't always have to say our mind, or push our weight around. We shouldn't necessarily make it a practice of being a bull in a china-shop. But maybe we should experience going where angels fear to tread more often--because we can handle the fall out of what happens when we do.
Hiding our authentic self, with all of its offenses, wounds, irritations, and frustrations--along with sadness and anxiety--creates an inpentrable barrier between us and others.
GET AQUAINTED WITH SHAME
I was a part of group of men for a significant amount of time and we became extraordinarily close. Of course conflict developed. By that point in time I had learned to push past my fears of standing up for my values, having a voice, and even raising my tone in anger when appropriate. But I remember one young guy who began to come to the group. You could tell, when tense conversations happened, he had opinions. He would sit and stew and froth and look all faklempt. Then one day, he stopped attending. He vanished. When I followed up with him, he said an interesting thing: "I didn't want to hurt anyone. I didn't want to lose my cool."
Here's the point...this was an extension of my own "protect others" mentality. But even deeper it showed me that he was scared enough of the experience of SHAME, that he was willing to pre-emptively disconnect. See the real thing going on, in both him, and me, was not protecting others but fear of shame.
Shame comes when we commit a breach in the shared values of a community or relationship. It serves as a mechanism to motivate us to change our behavior or to shift our perspective in order to come back into line. It is also a powerfully intolerable emotion. And in todays Mono-Culture where relationships are disposable, businesses and organizations are somewhat ubiquitous, and people are abundant enough to each have an understudy waiting to take their place, we don't really feel a need to tolerate shame. It's easier to disconnect.This is one of the reasons why video games are so particularly addictive to the male psyche. When we lose, no one has to immediately watch us experience the shame of defeat. We can simply hang our head alone, and hide in our silence. Relationship-not-required.
My son is in 5th grade. He's getting picked on. And the likelihood of a physical altercation is brewing. He confided in me that what he's most afraid of isn't getting hurt--its being embarrassed. That's it--right there! And I totally get it. I'm with him.
In the community of men that I'm forging today, and in the men I am connected to, I encourage tolerating the shame of not being the white knight. Risking hurt feelings in others, and shame in ourself. Say the thing you'd have gone home and stewed over. Unbottle the strong brew of your emotions you're imagining protecting others from. Yell. Growl. Wrestle. And get it out. Then let the chips fall where they may. If you ever come to the events I host--such as The Fire--get acquainted with feeling fear, shame, aggression, and practicing allowing it to pass over you, through you, and being the one who remains in the end. Get ok with taking a hit, and giving one. Guess what--they're probably not going to wilt and die, and neither are you. In fact, it creates an elegant embrace of your own self, and enables you to strongly live with others.
I don't have this 100%. AT ALL. I'm still learning--most of all to take a stand, form a position, and be ok with looking like an idiot. It's about developing a solid sense of self. Who knew it'd take half of a life time to do so.