May 24, 2007

A Man’s Hardwiring

In a book by Joseph Campbell titled Primitive Mythology - The Masks of God, there is a chapter called The Enigma of the Inherited Image. In this chapter he talks about how newly hatched sea turtles have built into them a natural “quest for the not-yet-seen.” At birth, they already possess instinctual survival behaviors that cause them to pop up through the sand and run, “. . . like a field of sprinters at the crack of the gun, and make for the heavily crashing waves as fast as they can, while gulls drop screaming from overhead to pick them off.”

Campbell says, “There is no question here of learning, trial-and-error; nor are the tiny things afraid of the great waves. They know they must hurry, know how to do it, and know precisely where they are going. And finally, when they enter the sea, they know immediately both how to swim, and that swim they must.”

In the scientific study of animal behavior, the turtles are utilizing an innate releasing mechanism. In other words, they are instinctually utilizing their hardwiring to respond to circumstances they have never before experienced, in order to guarantee the survival of their species. There are many examples of this kind of behavior in the animal world.

One of the premises I offer in the Man-Making book is that men and boys are hardwired in this same way for important and necessary actions between them. This is why, at the onset of adolescence, boys begin to pay attention to men. They instinctually look for clues about what it means to be an adult male; how to feel, think, emote, laugh, posture, and relate as a man. They know something amazing is going on inside them, and consciously or not, they know men have their answers.

I believe that men possess complimentary hardwiring. Just one example is when a man is in the presence of someone else’s, slightly-out-of-control boy. In that moment most men will “light up,” possibly give the kid a look, have feelings, and then act on them or not. In their genes, men understand this adolescent boy energy. Whether they are conscious of it or not, they are uniquely prepared to contain, manage, and direct its flow.

When men trust their hardwiring and step into some form of action, it feels right to both the men and the boys. Ask any of the males you know who’ve experienced it. The boys get and absorb precious gifts, critical knowledge, and necessary skills for their successful journey to manhood. The men get clearer about their place in the male hierarchy and fill in critical blanks in their mature masculinity left over from their adolescence. When that happens, I call the result Man-Making, men helping boys on their combined journey to manhood.

When men don’t trust their hardwiring, don’t show up at the critical times in boy’s development, boys are lost. Boys, like a baby sea turtles, born into a world with a sky full of seagulls overhead, some will make it, some die, some adopt horribly misshapen notions about being a man, and too many wander aimlessly in the never-never land between boyhood and manhood . . . some times for ever.

If you’re a man reading this, you know it’s true. Your hardwiring is telling you so. What do you want to do about it?