The Danger of Raising Soft-Minded Men

The Danger of Raising Soft-Minded Men January 21, 2016

A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan. –Martin Luther King, Jr.

One afternoon I was at my granddaughter’s house. She was watching a cartoon designed for young preschool children. In each show, the cartoon teaches a lesson about getting along with others and/or about diversity. The main character is a girl and she has three male friends (all of them, animals!).lichtspiel-2-1503229

In this particular episode one of the boy-animal’s was acting like a boy. He was a bit rambunctious. He wanted to move…to play…to make noise. The other two boys were having nothing to do with it. Each time he splashed them or ran a circle around them, they would whine and say, “He’s being rough!”

The girl character taught them a new song: Don’t be rough…be gentle. Each time the boy got rough (and he was never really rough, just a boy moving and playing) the other boys would whine, berate the “rough boy,” and sing the song, Don’t be rough…be gentle.

The longer I watched, the more my testosterone began to boil! On so many levels this cartoon was teaching the wrong lesson. Rather than helping that boy harness his masculine energy in appropriate ways, the lesson essentially said that boy behavior is always wrong. Never be rough. Always be gentle. Never once were the whining boys encouraged to stop their whining. Instead, their whining led to the rough boy being told to stop acting like a boy!

That same bias against masculine energy is practiced over and over again in subtle and not so subtle ways. For example, every time boys are made to sit quietly for extended periods of time and then reprimanded for moving they are being told that boy behavior is bad. After all, who is usually rewarded for the “good behavior of sitting still and listening?” Girls.

Education that favors sitting, listening, talking, relating, and emoting over action, building things, and moving subtly tells boys that there is something wrong with them.

Most of us raising boys want to raise them into gentle-men; into good, noble, heroic men. But…could it be that over and over again, through subtle and not so subtle messages, we are draining masculine energy out of our boys—turning them into soft-minded men?

When Dr. King talks about the danger of producing soft-minded men, I’m guessing that in part, at least, he means men with no moral substance; men with no values; men with no fight for justice and righteousness.

Certainly, we want to pour values and moral substance into our boys as they grow. But when we demean or quench their masculine energy—their God-created identity as Image of God male—we are taking dramatic steps in creating soft-minded men, because moral substance and values and the drive for justice are fueled by testosterone or masculine energy.

To devalue that energy is to raise boys either into passive or overly aggressive men—both being forms of soft-mindedness…and both debilitating to culture and society.

My friend Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys, says that testosterone levels have dropped by 30% in men in the last generation or so. While we may celebrate that as a victory for kinder, more gentle men, Michael argues that the opposite is often true. In a recent interview he told me:

Much of the male violence we are seeing in our culture daily—school or mall shootings, massacres at churches and Jewish family centers, street killings in inner cities—are committed by males who are depressed. Existing simultaneously with male depression is, quite often, low testosterone. In fact, many of our nation’s most famous serial killers have low testosterone.   Low testosterone is not a blessing—it can be quite dangerous.

We are increasing that danger every day and have been for about three decades as BPA in plastics, endocrine disruptors and estrogen receptors in food and fertilizer, and other environmental toxins (such as those in pop and soda) are lowering male testosterone and increasing male depression, lack of motivation, and in some males, violence.  

Everyone who cares about children, whether about boys or girls, must pay attention to this dangerous phenomenon in our culture. For many decades we’ve attacked testosterone as inherently dangerous but, in fact, the lack of it in a male can be much more dangerous. As we get to really know the science of what it means to be a boy and a man, we’ll need to protect our sons from the toxins that drive their testosterone levels too low, and we’ll need to alter our culturally superficial gender paradigms of ‘masculinity’ to see boys in holistic—not limited—ways.

A culture that produces soft-minded men is a culture built on sinking sand. A culture that values masculine energy as a God-given gift, that molds and shapes that masculine energy with vision, values, grace, strength, compassion, and service, is a society built to change the world.

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  • axelbeingcivil

    I’m with you on agreeing that kids need to move and explore and run and such. I’m not quite sure I agree on the show thing, just because I think they were more going for unsolicited roughness in play; learning to find receptivity is a part of empathy developing in kids.

    Where I take umbrage is talk of hormone levels and the fluctuations thereof. That’s a broad statement and needs backing up. Even if true, what’s it suggest? Testosterone is a hormone; it isn’t happiness or fulfillment. If its levels are demonstrably linked to disorders, by all means, cite that. Just remember that it’s a chemical and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. People’s levels might be great for their happiness in their own lives.

    • Joslyn Renfrey

      Precisely. As someone who takes testosterone blockers, I can assure you that just because my testosterone is low, doesn’t mean I’m soft and weak.

      Also I think you might want to double-check that statistic on violent depressed men. As far as I know, the primary effect of depression is that it slows people down, makes them less active, I don’t how see how that makes them violent.

      • axelbeingcivil

        Depression can manifest in a variety of ways. While most depressed people are far more likely to hurt themselves before anyone else, people are unique and react differently to different stimuli.

        My chief problem is correlation and causation. For example, it was discovered some time back that a great many inmates in the prison system had multiple Y chromosomes. It was suggested maybe this increased aggression. However, with time, it was found to simply not be abnormal.

        Likewise, depression can be correlated with lowered testosterone (maybe, assuming any of this is correct), but did one cause the other? Does being depressed result in some cases from lowered testosterone? Does lowered testosterone result from conditions that can also cause depression? Does some change in behaviour resulting from depression change hormone expression?

        These are important questions. Even if you find an absolute r = 1 correlation, you can’t call it causative on that alone.

      • RevTim

        Gurian’s point on the 30% drop of testosterone in men over the last 30 years is not that it is THE cause of depression but that it can lead to depression. And yes, depression manifests itself in different ways…passivity or violence. Often depressed men act out their depression through anger.

        • Joslyn Renfrey

          As well as axel’s point about causation, I have to ask you if there is anything you have to support your assertion that men often act out depression through anger and even if they did, how that then leads to violence.

          • RevTim

            Joslyn, if you are really interested in this you might check out the work of Jed Diamond as a starting point:

          • Joslyn Renfrey

            That website looks like an advert for a self-help program. A source that’s intent on selling me a book and stuff is going to be biased.

          • RevTim

            Sorry about that. Try It has some blogs etc that may be of interest. Jed has done a lot of work with men on the issues of depression, etc.

          • Joslyn Renfrey

            I already visited the site its an opinion blog, and Jed wants to use it to sell his books through it, so, again, it is going to have that bias, not just because of that but because a lot of it is Jed’s own analysis, the analysis of one person. Do you have links to a consensus source?

            When you have pages like this:
            The impartiality of this source is very much suspect.

          • RevTim

            Joslyn, it’s always easy to write off an author as biased simply because he wants to sell books. I’ve read two of his books and they are very well researched and science-based. Lower levels of testosterone can lead (doesn’t always do so) to depression in males and depression in males can lead to aggression and violence. We’ll have to leave it there, methinks, as methinks no matter what source I give you you will find it biased. I appreciate you hanging in there with me in this thread…It’s important stuff.

          • Joslyn Renfrey

            No, I am saying he is biased not only because he wants monetary gains, but because he is only one author and also, and he is heavily into the ‘spiritual healing’ kind of stuff, as shown by who he partners with.

            Now, if you showed me a publication in a psychiatry journal, I might be more inclined to investigate it. The journals would be more reliable because they are focussed on integrating research from many sources.

    • RevTim

      See my comment to Joslyn below. We have vastly underestimated the significance of testosterone in males. It plays a far more important role in their overall lives than it does for women. Not all low T guys struggle in life. But speaking generally about men…the drop in testosterone over the last 30 years is not a positive development in the biology of men.

      • Joslyn Renfrey
      • axelbeingcivil

        If you’ve got any journals to cite there, I’d be more than happy to read them. I’m not personally aware of any underestimates in regards to the importance of testosterone any more than I am estimates in regards to estrogen for women; the medical community has acknowledged their role as critical hormones in the development and regulation of bodily features and processes.

  • rockorbe

    How things have changed. I recall once being 10 and I was about to get beaten up by two girls way bigger than me. For once I discarded the “thou shalt not hit girls” rule for the sake of self defense until my older brother came to help. Reading this article, I cannot imagine myself how I would have turned out if I wasn’t able to fight back, even against girls.

  • candide

    Another weirdo in a weird blog.

  • Danny

    So, it sounds like you have a lot of insecurity about your masculinity. Do you really think forcing your twisted version of masculinity on somebody else’s kids is going to make you feel more secure with your own, shall we say, short comings?

    • RevTim

      Danny…I’d appreciate it if you could point out, from this blog post, what you find twisted about what I said about masculinity. That way I have a better feel for how I might respond.