As you know, I'm all about getting good men to show up in support of young males. I didn't have that blessing in my life, and the huge number of young dudes across the planet without any significant or positive male contact is a frightening notion for me. I call it an epidemic of under-male-nourished boys. This epidemic begs for an army of men to help deal with the crisis. Sadly the men aren't showing up.
At the same time, most all the men I talk to about man-making feel some sort of despair at the plight of our lost boys. Yet these same good men are held back from involvement because of a variety of valid and compelling fears which, taken together, create barriers to entry. So here we sit with so many lost boys, some dying or being imprisoned for lack of adult male attention, and too many men sitting on the sidelines.
In this post I'd like to offer what may be a partial solution to this dilemma. It's a very short course on how men (you) might be encouraged to move into action. Let me introduce the Continuum of Involvement.
The basic idea is to create a continuum of options by which men can gently approach involvement with young males. A pathway of sorts along which they can gradually learn that the man they are, right now, is perfectly suited for man-making, and that both they and a boy or boys will get a lot out of their stepping forward. I have laid out a continuum of action options, starting with those with low personal risk and little time required, and moving up to those that require more time commitment and more personal involvement with young males. Here's the very short course. It actually starts with men not doing anything!
Just Be You: As you'll see on the chart above, the least challenging form of involvement is actually not doing anything at all! For boys, men are the book about what it means to be a man. For that reason, they spend a lot of time watching what men do. Right at this moment, as a man just living your life, boys and young men are most likely watching you. That means without making any commitment or conscious effort on your part, you are already having an impact on a boy or boys around you. Whether you realize it or not, or like it or not, you are already in the man-making game.
Seeing and Acknowledging: Sadly, there just aren't many places a young man can go to hang out in their community without attracting negative attention. It's like they've been relegated to background action in community life. I believe invisibility is a horrible punishment just for being a young male. That's why simply noticing young guys, and maybe doing so with a smile or nod, can be a gift to them. Just like the rest of us, all boys want and need, to be seen in a positive light. So make it a point to notice young guys. Look at them, smile and give a nod. If you want a stretch, maybe tack on a simple acknowledgement. Could be as simple as "hey guys." If you do, there's a good chance you'll make a memorable dent in a young man's day.
". . . there is something a little spiritual about
clearly noticing, and then telling someone
how unique and amazing they are."
Blessing: The next step up on the continuum requires you to go just a little beyond acknowledgement. I believe there is something a little spiritual about clearly noticing, and then telling someone how unique and amazing they are. This kind of blessing happens when an adult male catches a boy doing something especially well or identifies one of his positive attributes, skills, or tendencies . . . and tells him. Men are often cast in the role of the disciplinarian, so it may take a little effort on your part to shift your perspective to be able to see all the things that are right about a kid or pack of boys. Try giving a brief and positive statement that celebrates him in some way. "Nice move on that board!" "Awesome sneakers dude!" Try blessing a boy or boys in this way, and then delight in the response you get. If you know a young man and your blessing comes out of your truth about him, it will be an incredibly powerful moment for him.
Natural Mentors: Take a moment to remember some of the men who knew you as a kid, and who took a special interest in you. Maybe it was a relative, the guy next door, a teacher, someone from your spiritual community, or a coach. Whoever it was, you probably liked or respected each other, and there were gifts for both of you in your connection. Natural mentoring relationships are unstructured and organically occurring, affinity connections between a boy and a man. They mostly just happen, and can be as brief as a 10 minute conversation or last a lifetime. As your young male literacy increases, you'll realize opportunities for these kinds of relationships are always nearby, and even looking for you! As you get more comfortable around young males, they will get that about you and, at some point, you'll notice a young man hanging out around you more. When you notice a young guy is circling you, take a risk, honor his attention, and engage him. What happens after that may just change both of your lives.
One-on-One: This form of connection is the one we all know as mentoring. This typically involves a long term commitment and a more personal connection between one man and one boy. These matches are most often supported by a group or organization. For a man willing to take on this level of commitment, he'll find training and support from the sponsoring organization and peer mentors, and one very grateful young male. There is plenty of evidence to indicate a one-on-one mentoring relationship is a powerful force for positively shaping a young male's life. It also happens to be very good for the older male too! If you're ready for mentoring, you won't have any trouble finding an organization that will be glad to meet you.
Events: Under this banner I include involvement in activities supporting male issues (Movember), regularly participating in organized activities for men and boys, or, as in my case, belonging to groups that are organized for the purpose of helping boys (and men) on their journey to manhood. This degree of involvement may sound unlikely for you, but let me warn you, there is an invisible force working to pull you in this direction.
Masculine Gravity: My name for the force that works on men who step onto this continuum at whatever place they are comfortable is Masculine Gravity. As men gradually learn that most of their fears are unfounded, they begin to be more comfortable with young guys. They start having fun, enjoying being involved, and liking the fact that they are having impact in young male lives. This makes them willing to risk just a little more involvement. I have seen it happen many times. A man can move from cautious and tentative to short-term involvements to becoming a full-tilt advocate for men and boys in a few years time. Masculine Gravity is the same force that has kept you reading this far in the article. Something gets kindled in a guy that hungers for a place in this very masculine work.
So that's the VERY short course on how to move currently disengaged men toward man-making. Going forward this year we'll explore the barriers that keep men from making a difference in boys' lives and also the very long list of the gifts waiting for men in the experience.
If you like these topics or might like to sit in on a conference call focused on these kinds of themes, you can let me know on the Annual Man-Making Blog survey. Let's all work together in 2013 to make supporting young males a major priority. I guarantee you'll become a better man for the effort.
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