On the NPR podcast, Hidden Brain, there is a recent episode about male relationships, solitude, and sensitivity. The show focuses on how our culture intentionally attempts to erase all traces of emotional sensitivity from boys and men, and therefore destroys their ability to confide in others, trust their own feelings, be vulnerable, and share intimacy with others.
“This week on Hidden Brain, we look at what happens when half the population gets the message that needing others is a sign of weakness and that being vulnerable is unmanly.”
When we deny boys and men their feminine aspect, their innate sensitivity, in doing so we do our entire society and even the entire planet a disservice. We create loneliness, anger, frustration, even rage. Human beings – all of us – need some strength and solitude as much as we need companionship, trust, and the ability to express when we are feeling vulnerable and need comfort, assistance, and intimacy.
The interviews with young teenage boys on the show are revealing and compelling. Several of the boys explain that the only sanctioned space where they are allowed to be openly emotional is in a boyfriend-girlfriend type relationship. And that these types of relationships seem to require that they spend all of their free time with a single person. When the relationship doesn’t work out, the boy or man has lost touch with his own male friends and is isolated and made fragile.
All human beings are sensitive. Some of us more than others. It is time to celebrate and to cultivate our sensitivity. Often when boys or men are openly expressive with their emotions, their families or friends are afraid that they might be gay or “accuse” them of being gay. Why should only gay men be allowed to express their feelings? And why should both gay and straight boys and men be condemned for being sensitive? Why is it an epithet to be gay? Gay or straight, and no matter what our gender identity may be, we all should have the right to express our feelings and our uniqueness. Constant judgment promoted by social media and the cultural mindset are so damaging and set the stage for violence against self and others.
The podcast also reveals that suicide rates and statistics among men have shifted. At one time, men over 65 were more likely to commit suicide. Now middle-aged men have sadly taken their place. When a marriage ends today, a man is more often than not completely isolated. Work and a solid group of male friends once provided men with a vital sense of identity, importance, and belonging, and and retirement then proved the crucial time of transition with this removal of status. Today, when a spouse leaves or passes away, or a marriage ends, the surviving male partner is often left completely alone, with no one who knows him, understands him. With no one he can trust or in whom he can confide.
The contemporary career is less stable than it once was. It is harder to provide for self and family and to even survive than even decades ago. People work longer hours and make less money. The pace of life seems to preclude slowing down and just enjoying the company of others. Social media, social isolation and the breakdown of friendships and face to face contact with other human beings are reducing us to shadows of our potential selves.
How can we celebrate our sensitivity as human beings in contemporary society? We can honor our own sensitivity even in solitude. I believe that expressing self through all art forms, respecting and developing your own creativity, being in contact with animals and nature, and cultivating the feminine (by day dreaming, playing, relaxing, sharing, expressing affection and emotion) are key to bringing back balance, harmony, and happiness to our individual and collective human experiences. We all need real friends. And we all need real free time. Less time fulfilling duties, and more time to dream, to walk in nature. To sit at the kitchen table or at a cafe, talking to friends.
When we are face to face with another human being, and when we feel we are not being judged, a load comes off our shoulders. There is a long road ahead to rebuilding trust between human beings, because we have all been conditioned to forced separation from self and others so that we can be more easily controlled by a mindless system designed to exploit us and shorten our lifespan. We, as human beings, must take back our lives and demand the right to live, love, and be loved.