Exploring Toxic Masculinity


 

 

–by Neal Lemery

 

What is it to be a man in these times?

There are a lot of mixed messages, and outright confusing and contradictory “principles” and models for behavior. It is easy to get lost in the wilderness of our social contract.

The “#MeToo” Movement and the rhetoric and behavior of popular politicians and popular culture figures send conflicting messages. One is often left confused about what is accepted, what is appropriate moral behavior and thinking. Political and religious leaders, who should be exercising healthy leadership and conversation about these issues, are themselves in the center of the storms of outrage, of being called out for their own transgressions and immoral acts.  And, their failure to be effective spokespersons for what should be healthy masculinity.

For many of them, there seems to be no consequence for their words or their actions.

The goalposts of morality and decency seem to have fallen into quicksand.

For most of my life, the most popular “templates” for manhood involved being the tough, aggressive guy, who was focused on “scoring” with women, drinking, smoking, and pushing others around in order to get his way. Aggression and being emotionally cold were the benchmarks of a true man, the battle flags of male privilege.

The “soft” man was seen as weak and sissified, certainly not a real man.  The consequences for that were brutal: verbal and physical abuse, ostracism, and being branded as “not a real man”, inadequate, a failure. Shame and guilt were powerful weapons to destroy a boy’s soul.

When I was growing up, the real question of the day was “how tough am I?” The unforgiving world of the school playground was also the world of work and the world I grew up in and raised a family.

That methodology of raising boys unfortunately remains a part of our culture today, often perpetuated by our language, marketing, politics, and acceptance of the idea that such thinking and acting are just who we are, inadequate and deficient as men. A big challenge I faced when I was raising my kids was to not repeat the harmful actions and words of those who raised and influenced me as a kid.

Treating others with kindness, being artistic and creative, being one of those “sensitive, soft men”, was subject to being thought of as not a real man, not “macho”, and certainly not a role model.  Unless, of course, you wrapped yourself in the armor of a warrior, and couched your rhetoric in the language of the soldier, the athlete, and an all-around tough guy. Only a few savvy men were able to pull that off.

I struggled to find a new template, new words, and new actions. The role models for that were few and far between. Yet, I am grateful for their courage, and for showing me that there was an alternative path to masculinity.

A lot of that attitude of intolerance, of cloaking one’s self in armor, so no one could see your tenderness, or get close to your kind heart, has eased off lately, in spite of the power and tenacity of the “old thinking”. Change is scary, and acting differently leads one into uncharted waters, marked with fear and self-doubt. Even toxic familiarity offers comfort.

Today, I see young men publicly being attentive, kind fathers. They speak out about treating others with kindness and compassion.  They not only “talk the talk”, but they “walk the walk”.

Expressing your creativity, and being open about one’s fears and uncertainties, and struggles to be a good person are becoming widely accepted and appreciated. The times, they are a changing, and that is good news.

The good role models, the brave men who cracked open their own armor, and were able to express their worries, their doubts, their insecurities, have taken a lot of heat.  They have often been shamed and derided, mocked and scorned.  Years later, when we take another look at what they’ve said and what they have done, what they have revealed about their innermost selves, we often just take such courage for granted, and assume that we as a society have always explored those issues, and those personal stories, with sensitivity and appreciation.

We live in challenging times, but we always have.  Engaging one’s own courage, determination and self-confidence to know and live your own core values, to truly be yourself, to be genuine, has always been challenging.  You need to take risks, and to step out on shaky ground.  Each one of us has those doubts, those uncertainties inside of us.

“What is it to be a man?” I still ask myself.  Each day offers a new challenge, with obstacles both inside of me and in our society.  I often think it is easier if I just kept quiet, if I just put these questions aside, and focused on something else, anything else, for the day ahead.  But, healthy masculinity, true manhood, calls me to take on these questions, and to take a hard look at myself, and to take steps today to be a real man.

 

 

–1/23/19

Anticipation


 

 

The mid-day sun still low,

The sky’s blue subdued, mellow—

Fog and mist rise from the river

Swirling amongst the moss, the limbs, river rocks, and hills,

A winter’s day dance.

 

Background for the naked trees, gray and white bark

Camouflage in winter mode,

Against ever-green dark—

the metallic river soloing in the still,

Its aria loud after winter rains.

 

Winter’s chill not quite done,

Last year’s leaves still on the ground.

Weeks still to go, hoping for snow,

Long icicles, crunchy steps on icy mud,

Being dressed all in white.

 

I know hints of spring hang in the air,

Only because I’ve seen this play many times,

Each day’s sun only a minute longer,

My third eye beginning to notice–

Almost blooms of alder, witchhazel, cedar

Needing just a little more sun, some more

Sunny days to come.

 

–Neal Lemery, 1/12/2019

 

 

Passing On


 

 

They say life’s a journey and time moves on

And lives end and and now you are gone.

When someone goes, it’s never on my schedule

And I can mourn, I can scream, and

I can cry.

But our lives move on, and my friend has passed.

 

They say your time had come, your work was done

You were letting go, and moving on.

You let me know in many ways that this was goodbye,

And that was fine, this was what would be—

And life goes on, so the well-wishers say.

 

I’m not done with you, I scream in my head

In the darkest of my thoughts, not wanting to know

You are gone, that you have passed, before I was willing

To say good-bye.

 

You are right, I’ll hear you say,

Seeing a spark of light in the darkest of the night —-

The ache remains, the emptiness unrelieved,

Your absence is what I resent.

 

The path you made through life still guides my steps

Your smile, now just a memory—

Your voice still whispers in my ear

When the path gets rough.

You letting me know it will work out,

That I’ll know the way, the path will clear,

You still by my side, you still lighting my way.

 

—Neal Lemery 1/9/2019

My Favorite Books of 2018


 

 

 

Educated, by Tara Westwood.  An engaging memoir of a home-schooled Mormon girl in rural Idaho, struggling with uncertainty, violence, and torn between family ties and rigid attitudes, and a bright future in college, inspired by gifted mentors.  This is a book about courage and determination and a life well-examined.

 

Becoming, by Michelle Obama.  Another book of inspiration, determination. She offers thoughtful insights into her own life as one of a first generation to go to college, devotion to family, and living in the whirlwind of national politics.  Whatever your politics, this journey is motivating and profound.

 

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  What a wonderful journey about spirituality, science, community, and family connection!  Each chapter is a new insight, a new perspective on the world around us, the world we are so completely connected to.  I enjoyed it on so many levels.

 

Exit West, by Hamid Mohsin.  An engaging novel and fantasy about revolution, upheaval, refugees and immigration. This fast paced story digs into the humanity of current controversies over refugees and immigration, and change.

 

Art Matters, by Neil Gaiman.  This delightfully illustrated short book is a gem about creativity, writing, and the jewel of community libraries.

 

No god but God: the Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, by Reza Aslan. This is an engaging read exploring Islam and its complexity, destroying stereotypes and misconceptions and making for an entertaining and informative read.

 

The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson.  This fast-paced romp through modern politics is a delight, offering occasional outbursts and humor by the former president on current affairs and thinking. It is very entertaining and captivating.

 

Brief Answers to the Big Questions, by Stephen Hawking.  His posthumous book that offers those not engrossed in quantum physics and other “on the edge” thinking some insights and explanations.  I found it engaging and insightful and worth my time.

 

The Tide: Science and the Stories Behind the Largest Force on Earth, by Hugh Aldersey-Williams. This scientist takes us on a welcoming journey into the world of tides, and how they shape our world. This is an interesting read on a subject that is a mystery to most of us.

 

The River of Consciousness, by Oliver Sacks.  This is a delightful collection of essays on a variety of topics, which are thought provoking and engaging.

My 2019 New Year’s Affirmations


“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. “

–Neil Gaiman

 

  • I will love myself. I will remind myself that I am worthy of love, and the most important person in my life who should love me is me. This affirmation allows me to set aside the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” negative self-talk, the “I’m not good enough” thinking that often can stop me in my tracks, push me off the rails, and cloud my mind with dark thoughts leading me to believe I am a failure, so why even try.
  • I will be grateful every day, for the day, the opportunities, the possibilities of each and every day. I am able to do so many things, and I need to remind myself of that truth.
  • I will not take good health for granted, and will try to view health as a gift, and an opportunity.
  • I will honor my friendships and my commitments to others. I will be kind, I will speak truth, I will not gossip. I will remind myself that I do not walk in the shoes of others, and do not truly know their journey, their pain, their worries.  I will be the change I want to see in the world.
  • I will strive to recognize the value of empathy in my life and my relationships. I will strive to “walk a mile in their moccasins”.
  • I will ask for help when I need it.
  • I will be an instrument of change, of goodness, and peace. I recognize I am capable of doing the opposite, but I have a choice, and I choose goodness.
  • I will practice self care. I will eat wisely, exercise, be in nature, and take time to find myself in a place (physically, mentally, spiritually) where I can find calm, serenity, tranquility, and balance.  The most important medical care provider for me is me.
  • Food is medicine. So is nature, and time with myself.
  • I will reduce the drama in my life, and seek to avoid those who are toxic and try to overwhelm me with their drama and chaos.I recognize that toxic people exhaust me, sap my creative spirit, deny me from achieving my destiny, and distract me from the joys in my life. I will seek to not be dramatic and toxic.
  • I will read thoughtful, challenging books, and engage in meaningful, purposeful conversations with others, and surround myself with intelligence and compassion. I will welcome new ideas and perspectives. I will be open to being better informed, and to change my opinions accordingly.
  • I will nurture my creativity, by intentionally surrounding myself with creativity, art, music, and the positive energy and spirit of others. I will be deliberate with my time, and intentionally take time to nurture myself and my creativity.
  • I will reach out to the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned, the addicted, and be compassionate. I will listen more than talk. (I have one mouth, and two ears.) I will try not to judge, nor condemn.  I will remind myself that I need to seek understanding of their journey.
  • I recognize that I can be a builder in my community, and how this community lives and grows is, in part, my responsibility.I can be a destroyer or a nurturer. I get to choose, and I will strive to choose wisely.
  • I am a human being, not necessarily a human doing. Being busy isn’t necessarily better.
  • I will not be an instrument for communicating and perpetuating lies, mistruths, half truths, and propaganda. I will strive not to be manipulated. I will exercise self-care when exposed to any of that “information”. I will do so with caution, reserve, and skepticism.  I will be a critical thinker. When I communicate with others, I will recognize that I am a guardian of truth and will strive to be accurate, thoughtful, and exercise sound judgement.  I will be aware of my biases and prejudices and will so inform my audience.
  • I will strive to apply the “five year rule” to the situation at hand, and my actions, my words, and my relationships. “Will this really matter five years from now?” And, if the answer is no, then I can let it be, and move on.  The topic at hand may not be all that important, and I need to find comfort and peace in understanding that.  Breathe out and let it go. I am in charge of how I feel and I how I react.

 

 

—-Neal Lemery, 12/28/2018

The Gift of Sobriety


“I know my limit,” one young man kept saying, his bloodshot eyes and pale complexion seemingly at odds with his statement, as he held his energy drink, hands trembling. We were both in line at a store, he and his friends rehashing last night’s alcohol-soaked party.  They boasted to each other about last night’s consumption, getting through hangovers, and the drunk friend who “overdid it”.

 

Addiction doesn’t care.

 

“It reverberates through the whole family, affecting entire generations for years,” a friend recently told me. “Our kids saw that, and it affected each of them. Some were drawn to drinking like a moth to the flame; others were repulsed, and became angry and bitter about their childhood.  The devastation was so widespread, and we are still dealing with it.”

 

Give the gift of sobriety this season.

 

This gift is not a gift to someone else.  It is a gift to you, from you.  Others won’t respond to your preaching and your nagging, except to become even more entrenched in their behavior.

 

Give sobriety to yourself.  Put some distance between you and the behavior, the “stinking thinking”.  Enjoy the quiet when that clutter has been moved to a safe distance away from your corner of the world.

 

Take care of yourself.  Nurture yourself.  Spend some quality time with the real you.  Surround yourself with the things you truly enjoy.  Indulge in the simple pleasures that you hold dear and treasure. Know your limits for addictive thinking and action.

 

Find acceptance in the silence, away from the chaos and noise.  Find the genuine you; that person is an old friend. Honor the innate, fundamental goodness that is your very essence.  Love yourself, for you are worthy of that love.

 

Being sober isn’t just about one’s consumption of alcohol and other drugs.  It is about clear thinking, about avoiding the pitfalls of untruths, propaganda, and self-aggrandizement. When we adopt falsehoods and fashion our lives around deceptions and lies, we lose our direction in life, our ability to fashion a life based on reality and honesty.  Being honest with ourselves is perhaps our most challenging task, but, in the end, coming to grips with what is really true truly serves our selves and our souls.

 

At its heart, sobriety is clear thinking and the pursuit of being honest with yourself.  Recognize the agendas and intentions of others to trick you, manipulate you and tempt you to serve the ulterior and selfish motives of others. Addiction enjoys the company, but it really doesn’t care about you.

 

Be true to yourself.  Search for the truth, as brutal and loud as it may be.  Ignoring truth chips away at our souls, and keeps us from finding and loving our true selves.  Seeing one’s own truth is the path to freedom.

—-Neal Lemery 12/24/2018

Yuletide Poems


 

 

 

  1. Yule

 

Shortest day

Longest night

Solstice, Yule

Yule meaning “wheel”

It turns today, a sign of the light

To come

Lifting, shifting

Into the light

The hope of newer

Change for the brighter,

The better.

 

 

  1. Failure

 

“Failure is a feeling

Long before

It is an actual

Result.”                        (Becoming, Michelle Obama)

 

I’m not good enough

Until I decide it’s my fear

That is my limit

And not my destiny.

 

The light in my life

Is for me to decide

How bright it shines.

 

  1. Ambition

 

Leaf in a storm

Sailing over, beyond where I thought I’d be

Expectation of average

Blown away when I accept

The potential

Within me, the wind

Catching me

On its way through

Where I thought I’d end up

And I soar.

 

–Neal Lemery, 2018