make the big time where you are.
-frosty westering, football coach, pacific lutheran university (1972-2003)
several months ago, i had the privilege to spend some time with some young men and women who were mentoring other young people (teenagers) through a local faith community (one of the most amazing faith communities i’ve ever had the blessing to be a part of — upper room community, minneapolis). the young people they were mentoring were adolescent boys and girls. for my part, i spent the majority of the time with the male leaders. we talked about what it means to be a man in our world today, specifically in american society, and how to teach and guide young boys–so that, they will be great men one day. it was a really great opportunity, to sit with these male mentors–to hear from them and to talk about doing life together in this way (they are a really awesome group of committed men, i can tell you–and the boys they work with are lucky have these kind of guys in their corner)! as a part of the time together, we viewed the first 25 minutes of the video, tough guise 2–it’s about the challenges and struggles that men face today, the expectations and pressures imbedded in our society, and what it means to be a man in america–and what we teach all boys and men in our society. what is the core message of the video? to bring awareness to mainstream society’s ‘tough guise’ posture–which teaches boys and men to never back down, to never show weakness, to be able to dole out verbal abuse at a moment’s notice, and to use violence as the “go to” for resolving just about any problem or conflict–shtuff that can be really damaging to the world at large–trust me, i teach criminal justice for a living 😉 the video is based on research done by sociologist jackson katz and it is very thought-provoking, to say the least. all in all, good things to think about if you are teaching, raising, or guiding boys today. especially, in a faith community, where the emphasis and importance in how you live your life can and should challenge the expectations and goals of each individual–as well as the very fabric of our society--to the good!
after we watched the video clip and discussed some of the challenges of being a man in america–and being a christian man at the same time–one mentor asked…
how do we teach this stuff to the kids we mentor?
well, you’re probably doing it already. by showing up every week, hanging out with a teenager, spending time talking to them, that’s huge right there…how many men do that every week?!
then, i told them three things:
1. teach from what you know. in your twenty plus years of life, you’ve had experiences that can be meaningful to these young men. you know the pressures and expectations that our society puts on boys and men–because you’ve lived it (at least in some way, shape, or form). now, technology has changed the game. because of social media and phones and instant messaging–the stakes are higher for these boys. the pressure is more intense and unrelenting today. kids can’t escape the shtuff that they once left behind at school (peer pressure, bullying, harrassment, etc). it follows them, everywhere. that makes what you’re doing every week even more important. your ‘being here’ is big time. and, the fact that you (a young, cool adult) are showing up in these kids’ lives every week is most likely because you know that there’s more to the story than what the world gives us, at least you hope there is. so, you’re already heading in the right direction. run with that.
[teacher’s note: in my opinion, every single man in america should watch the video ‘tough guise 2’ (and read everything they can by jackson katz). it gets at the core issues of how we teach some really harmful things to men in our world today, while still giving men room to think about things without thinking the worst about themselves. importantly, to know that you can still be a tough, gritty man–without harming those around you. from a faith perspective, a lot of what the world teaches boys and men, is pretty much the complete opposite of the life of Jesus–and in that space and tension, understanding and change is waiting to happen.]
2. don’t lie. one of the quickest ways to undermine the rapport you are building, and ultimately, your own self–is to lie. hard to recover from that. be as honest as you can be within the bounds the experience–share as appropriate.
[teacher’s note: most kids can sense bullshit before most adults do. and since we’re all human, we’ve all lied. some of us are really, really good at it. but, it can be really destructive. so, tell the truth–as much as you can, as often as you can.
and, to be honest, some kids want to know more about you and your personal shtuff than is appropriate–just tell ’em: no comment, or that’s personal to me, or some things are just for my family — because, get this, they don’t get to know some things. gotta have those boundaries. at the same time, honesty and directness go a long way with kids. especially, when there’s already so much bullshit floating around out there in the world.]
3. spend time around men who are older than you on a regular basis. older than me, too, for that matter;) i’m talking grandfather types. if we’re only relying on each other, people who are our peers, then we’re in trouble.
[teacher’s note: one of the ways men get into trouble is by just relying on themselves or their friends/peer groups for guidance. if we are just around other guys who…look and act like us, who are the same age us, who just have the same experiences as us–then we reinforce those same things–and some of these things aren’t at all healthy for ourselves and the world at large. and, because of that, we can mislead the young men we’re working with because we ourselves have been misled. unfortunately and nowadays, we often think that our peers are the best ones to lead and guide us. that is wrong thinking. today, we are not often enough around our elders. we intentionally and deliberately abandon and sequester them away in rest homes and care centers. and, in isolating them–and us–we are missing out on some of the most important generational learning and wisdom that can be passed down and exchanged. honestly, these people need to be around and among us–and we need to be around and among them, regularly!]
Last, I finished off by telling them that this job doesn’t require that they are perfect, that they are doing a really good thing for these kids–and that most of what we’re talking about with ‘men in the world today’ is about awareness—so, keep doing the good job you’re doing, but keep ‘what we talked about’ on the forefront of your minds as well!
Honestly, speaking with these men about this stuff was one the of the highlights of the past year. Kudos to them and to the church staff for the chance to have this kind of conversation! I wish communities everywhere could have these kinds of discussions–they’re big time!
*A special thanks to my friend, the Rev. Katie Sanders, for her great leadership of these mentors and for inviting me into this time and topic–thank you so much, it was an honor and a privilege!!! How many years have we be talking about doing this?! At least three?! Additionally, it was a pleasure to team with my friend, Jeannette Vickman, a strong woman and professional counselor, who led the breakout time with the women (which, based on what I saw from the puffy-red eyes of the women in the crowd…was a success!;)–great to work with you!!! Cheers!!!