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!).
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.