Surprisingly, one activity that is very healthy in the emotional development of boys is hunting. Societal wisdom might suggest that killing an animal (hunting) breeds violence and cruelty in males. But research suggests just the opposite is true. Hunting in fact actually develops respect and reverence for life and other universal virtues in males such as generosity, fortitude, respect, patience, humility, and courage.
According to noted family therapist and bestselling author Michael Gurian, hunting paradoxically makes males more empathetic and develops responsibility, fairness, and compassion. Besides war, it is the most powerful way for males to learn these virtues. Gurian contends that healthy, safe hunting under the guidance and training of mentors actually produces a holistic experience that creates less violence in young males. In contrast, the one-dimensional experience of violent video games that do not show the real-life consequences of life and death instead generates more violence in males. Hunting helps develop a sense of self-mastery and impulse control in males that contributes to a healthy self-esteem. As Gurian says, “Hunting has proven to be across the spectrum—especially in those males we think of as violent, criminal males—as having great results in teaching those guys to hunt and getting them reoriented toward things they couldn’t get in the inner city, so they even see a gun in a new way by learning to use it to hunt. It’s why we are having success at places like Idaho Youth ranch. Places where boys are hardened criminals, but they’ll kill an animal and hold it and weep.”
Dr. Randall Eaton is an award-winning author and behavioral scientist with an international reputation in wildlife conservation. During a recent conversation I had with Dr. Eaton, he told me,
“Hunting is one of the most transformative experiences a boy can have. Women are adapted to bring life into the world, but men are adapted to take life in order to support or protect life. I conducted thousands of surveys on older men and asked them to choose the life experience that most opened their hearts and engendered compassion in them. It was not becoming a parent, which was extremely high for women who had birthed a baby, nor was it teaching young people, nor the death of a loved one or beloved pet, but it was “taking the life of an animal.””
According to Dr. Eaton, hunting makes men more compassionate and more peaceful. As he says, “Hunting and killing are as fundamental to male development as birthing and infant care are to women. . . . Men take life to support life, and the kill itself is the event that engenders compassion, respect for life, and the moral responsibility to protect it.” In his surveys of men who had hunted all their lives, the men overwhelmingly selected three universal virtues that they acquired from hunting: inner peace, patience, and humility. He cites Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela as just two of many famous men who are examples of both exemplary hunters and peacemakers.
Boys need to learn compassion for others or they become self-centered and self-focused. When that happens, other people in their lives suffer.