Take kids for instance. Years ago, Carol Gilligan showed that girls up until age 9 or 10 are confident and expressive of their feelings. But as they move into adolescence, they begin to hide their feelings for fear of not fitting in. Now my newsfeed tells me that boys are also born with a great talent for emotional openness, but that in adolescence they begin developing their manhood and differentiate themselves from girls. As a result, they often turn stoical, unemotional, tough and apathetic. The authors of one study report that girls begin to say, “I don’t know” and boys to say, “I don’t care.” In this way, children begin to push away from emotional honesty and deep connection.
And then we become adults. As adults, we’re meant to seek purpose in our lives, unfold work that sustains us, participate in building our communities, find partners and, if we choose, raise families. Yet today we find ourselves in the midst of unprecedented cultural disruption. Studies are showing that we have an epidemic of loneliness and isolation. One report describes a “crisis of connection.” We could wonder whether this is because of exponential growth of social media. We readers of news have also learned that suicide rates among youth in the US have gone up 70% in the last decade. And that is only the beginning. Articles tell us about machines taking over human jobs, furious political tribalism, climate upheavals; the list goes on. Just finding time to read about how to protect one’s privacy online is a challenge. What are women and men to do? David Brooks, writing about societal changes in the New York Times says that, “All of this was survivable when religion played a bigger role in national life, with its gospel of mercy, charity and love. But now we have an ethos of detachment and competition all the way down.”
When our roles in society were more strongly defined, we knew what was expected of us. Now, having earned our hard-won freedoms to choose how we want to live and work and be in relationship, many people find themselves confused. Many women have lost an awareness of the feminine qualities that are their birthright and what those mean to the world and to their partners and families. Men question how they are meant to express their masculinity in a time when relationships in the workplace and other places are becoming charged.
… we need to recover our coherence between the masculine and the feminine in this day when there has been so much cultural dislocation.
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And while I don’t promise to completely forego my laptop media consumption in the New Year, I am compelled to push back from my desk and better use what I glean to inspire action for innovation — in real-life nourishing relationships, in our circles, our meetings, our fires, here and now. These times of social crisis are calling for each of us to step up. How will you join me?