Young boys receive messages that do not prepare them well for the trials and tribulations they face as adult men.
"Don’t cry," "Shake it off," "Rub some dirt on it."
These are all messages that encourage boys not to express their emotions, to be leery of having emotions, and to push on no matter what happens.
When a boy skins his knee in a little league baseball game, his coach says, "Shake it off." This is a pretty explicit admonishment that this is not a place to cry and you are not supposed to want to cry.
However, boys, young men, middle-aged men, and old men do cry. The coach’s message confounds the boy as he grows into a man. It helps him fit in with his peers who also do not cry and say things like "rub some dirt on it and keep going."
The fact is that the coach probably said this to the boy because a little league coach told him something similar in his youth, who was told something similar by a man in his youth.
Most likely, the motivation to say "Rub some dirt on it" was two-fold: The coach wanted to instill manly virtues in the boy, and the coach didn’t want to see a little boy crying because it would be uncomfortable.
It would be uncomfortable because, by and large, it is not socially acceptable for men and boys to express emotions that make them seem weak to other men.
It is okay to be serious, it is okay to be triumphant, it is okay to be angry with yourself about losing a game. But it is not ok to cry about a getting hit with a ball, to be angry with your teammates (because teams stick together), or to be devastated after losing a big game.
This is the way boys are typically programmed. And, like computers, the way they are programmed is the way they operate. Computer programs can become buggy with repeated use, and both hardware and software can become obsolete with age.
To keep a computer useful for its full life cycle, old programs need to be uninstalled, hard disks updated, and hardware replaced.
An older computer can easily be upgraded to run new software by expanding the memory, the size of the hard disk, and replacing legacy interfaces with the current standard. It is not quite that easy with men, but the analogy holds up.
I remember taking an experimental English class early in my college career. We wrote our papers on computers and saved them on floppy disks. It was the only class of its kind in the entire school. Our class was a proof of concept test case for the college in a time when computers were not the norm in education.
Today, computers, tablets, and phones are used in academia extensively. The world has updated its programs and peripherals but, for the most part, men are still rubbing dirt on their wounds and continuing to limp on as best they can.
Despite the fact that we upgrade our computers and the software we use, we keep the same old programs running in our brains.
So you rub dirt on your wounds and keep on going when . . .
As men, we have rubbed so much dirt on ourselves by the time we reach middle age that we are covered with the stuff.
We are also encumbered with the feelings, emotions, and mental scars of a life lived without fully dealing with our emotions. This bogs us down and robs us of the triumph that we once felt. It also typically leaves us bitter and angry with others and ourselves, because anger is an acceptable emotion for men.
But our anger can lead to depression. In fact, a simple analogy for depression is anger turned inward.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 1 out of 10 Americans report depression. And a study reported in Reuters estimated that 31% of men are depressed. *
So it’s not too surprising that middle aged and older men have one of the highest suicide rates of any demographic.* Clearly, rubbing dirt on it stops working - if it ever did - at some point.
However, there is hope. Actually, there is a lot of it.
Just like the outdated computer, we can upgrade our programming to do much more than our original software did. As Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." In other words, we need to upgrade our thinking to solve our problems.
Our current programming of ‘rub some dirt on it and move on’ does not have the capacity to dig us out of depression, grief, and bone-numbing sorrow. This is where counseling, self-help books, and honest relationships with other men come in.
Through counseling, you can get help uninstalling your old program and installing an updated version. With the right self-help books, in conjunction with quality counseling from a licensed professional, you can learn to use significantly upgraded programs and their many new features that help you live with more serenity and peace.
Being in authentic relationships with other men holds you accountable, ensures that you are not alone in the journey, and reinforces the use of the new program. Men know other men. A man can call another man on his behavior because he knows it from his own life.
How does one find authentic relationships with other men? It starts with an upgraded program that allows for honesty, transparency, and vulnerability with others of the same gender. For many, there is an aversion to installing this program because it is not the way men typically interact with each other. It takes courage, humility, and risk.
Authentic relationships can involve sports, lawn care, and work accomplishments. However, authentic relationships also involve sober discussions about the trials and tribulations of daily life, struggles with integrity, and fears of tomorrow.
This is not water cooler conversation, but it is breakfast conversation or buffalo wings conversation. It is conversation in pairs or in small groups of other men who are looking to take their life to another level and cope with life together.
Where do you find authentic relationships with other men?
I have been involved in some type of group associated with one congregation or another for most of my adult life. What I value most in a group is realism.
Men are men. They burp, fart, use ugly words, and think shocking things from time to time. Real men in an authentic group will razz each other, call each other on their bull, and help each other through life that requires more than rubbing dirt on a wound and moving on.
Looking back on my life, there have been times that would have been touch and go if it had not been for guys from a men’s group or men that I have maintained friendships with since middle school.
The inability to express emotions in an honest way and be vulnerable with other men may contribute to the high number of men who are depressed. Suicide rates among some subgroups of men are alarming and excessive.
But if we install new software that allows us to express emotions in a healthy way and create authentic relationships, there is hope for us men.
"Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.," Tara Parker-Pope, accessed February 7, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/health/suicide-rate-rises-sharply-in-us.html?_r=0
"The Gender Inequality Of Suicide: Why Are Men At Such High Risk?" Alice G. Walton, accessed February 7, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/09/24/the-gender-inequality-of-suicide-why-are-men-at-such-high-risk/
"Percent of depressed men comparable to women: study," Andrew M. Seaman, accessed February 7, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/28/us-depressed-men-idUSBRE97R15V20130828
National Institute for Mental Health: Men & Depression
Suicide Prevention Hotline Call 24/7:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
WebMD’s Online Depression Support Group
Lifeline Crisis Chat
United Way First Call for Help