Where it all starts
We live in a society largely stalled at adolescence. Many adult men seem to relish and prolong adolescence for decades. However tempting it may be to blame and punish disaffected youth, a range of adolescent psychopathologies are all too easy to identify in many adult men across the social spectrum. These include:
- recurrent physical violence
- materialistic obsessions
- a limited capacity for intimacy and empathy
- emotional numbness or outbursts
- substance abuse
- insecurity and confusion around their identity
- low self worth
- incessant greed
- lack of responsibility
Young men learn by imitation. As long as they continue to witness their peers and elders retain their sense of entitlement to remain adolescent in their attitudes and actions, they can have little or no inspiration or desire to become responsible, accountable adult men themselves. The symptoms of youth are the symptoms of society; and to a significant degree, the trouble with boys is the trouble with men.
Human maturity has probably always been a rare commodity. It doesn’t arrive with age and is by no means automatic. Our society has become so profoundly confused about both adolescence and mature adult manhood, we are no longer clear as to what marks the transition between them. For many the concept of manliness may seem to be out-moded and yet the urge to be a man still exists and is deeply ingrained.
Every adolescent needs to discover his own personal power and how to use it wisely. At an impressionable age and without guidance a young man will seek to find out his own level of power.
Most traditional cultures adopted the view that manhood is an accomplishment rather than an assumption and set up processes that have come to be known as rites of passage.
Such societies understood that if young men were not provided with adequate opportunities to find their limits, their identities and ways to prove themselves, they will create their own rites of passage, and the community would suffer for it. If the fires that innately burn inside young men are not intentionally and lovingly added to the hearth of community, they will burn down the structures of the culture.
Gang culture, risk taking in the areas of substance abuse, crime, sex and violence have all become arenas for meeting this inbuilt pursuit for initiation and acknowledgement.
“Left alone the young men will burn down the village…just to feel the heat.”
Old African Proverb