Turning into a Man, Today.

Yesterday, after a surf session at one of my local breaks, I paused to watch the beautiful head-high waves roll in. It was, on this fall day in the midst of a our surreal election season, a peaceful moment.

Then, directly in front of me, seven young men taught each other to do standing back flips in the sand. A daring feat especially for learners.

Doing a standing back flip is not easy physically. But it’s even harder on the mind. There’s little room for mistake. Flip too short, you land on your head and risk serious injury. What I learned from watching (no, I cannot do a back flip) is that you have to get enough vertical height, and then commit your body around.

Seven young men, probably mid-teens, taught each other and reminded me what it can mean to turn into a man in this day and age.

That they taught each other and pulled the flips off was cool. How they did it really impressed me. They were supporting, teaching one another, even using their strong arms to help the others spin, mid air and land safely.

There was no cajoling. No teasing, even when some needed to conjure up the nerve for their first attempt. No daring each other. No showing off. They didn’t do it to impress some of the people who watched in amazement. They did it, seemingly, for the fun of it. And they did it with support, patience and daring.

After a week of hearing about Trump’s locker room talk, and the procession of conversation that followed, it was a refreshing expression of the masculine path of growth and learning. I want to be clear, however, I don’t mean to exclude women from this path and way of learning and teaching. More times than not, I’ve seen and experience women challenging and supporting each other in this way. However, it seems to be an unfortunate rarity among men.

Here’s THREE things these young men reminded me:

ONE: Growth happens when you go into your discomfort zone.

Everyday, we have options to step into that discomfort zone and risk ourselves. The things that we risk changes our lives, and the lives of others are often not pre-arranged events. They happen spontaneously. It’s very likely that your next chance to take a chance will leap out of nowhere. Opening your mind and heart to it, will keep you present to the opportunity and ready for almost anything. Taking chances pays off.

TWO: Daring to learn and grow does not have to happen through shame.

Thanks to the writings and speaking of Brene Brown, we’ve culturally pulled shame from the shadows of the closet and put it courageously out into the open. Some, but not all, of being shameful or embarrassed happens through an inner dialog. Shame and embarrassed means are emotions that often come from the internal voices of judgement. And sometimes shame come from the words and actions of others within our culture and community.

By fostering a supportive community and surrounding ourselves with supportive people, we accelerate healthy learning and chance taking in safe environments. We all play a role in this and have a choice to support one another in teaching and learning situations.

THREE: The power of “We did this!”

The words “I did this” carries purpose, chance-taking, action and intimacy within them. Certainly potent.

“We did this!” is even more powerful, as theses words in addition carry community, generosity and an offering with them. This is the work of a human communities pulling together for a common cause, be they seven young men learning together, a city looking to become an innovation capital or a country pulling together for a great future.

An excerpt from Teddy Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” speech gives a rightful nod to the risk-taker, the chance-taker, the maker, the doer:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

 — Theodor Roosevelt, Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

Questions for men, or men coming of age? What would happen if:

  • We supported others close to us when we knew they were putting themselves in their discomfort zone? (it happens more times than we think)
  • We help one more person, each and everyday?
  • We stood by and cheered others on to do the things we already know how to do? (hint: this requires that we re-frame others’ success as additive and not taking away from ours. When others succeed we all are better for it.)
  • We asked more of ourselves and others?
  • We give more, serve more, teach more, and take less

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2 thoughts on “Turning into a Man, Today.

  1. Geri Riehl says:

    This has brought up a tangle of thoughts and feelings for me. Raising men, shame, without dad, stepdads, not enough, how to, forgiveness, loving the masculine in them and me- On and on on. Thank you for starting this conversation.

    1. steve says:

      Geri — Thank you for your kind and candid comments. It’s a complicated time to raise children and even raise ourselves (meaning, give ourselves the things we needed but didn’t fully get through our childhood). And, as a father of two young men, I find it an especially interesting time to raise men, as we are hopefully redefining masculinity. Again, thank you, Geri.

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