Monday, January 09, 2006

Male Dysfunctionality and Learned Behavior

I had success blogging from my journal (that I keep very sporadically). I thought I would share another past entry. I feel my last post of lyrics was a perfect prelude. You might find interesting to re-read that post after reading this one.

August 27, 2003
I am reading Pat Conroy's My Losing Season. The dialogue between the basketball players, the derogatory jaw-jacking, brings back memories from my days of organized sports and private high school (Conroy played basketball at the Ciadel).

The abusive intercourse between teammates presented as a perverse form of camaraderie. Don't they see it for what it is? I did even in my youngest years, and I detested it. I did not know the term for it then--dysfunctional behavior--but I recognized its manifestation. Males not secure or happy with themselves and masking it with a defensive, often aggressive exterior; and so many times this behavior resulting in the degradation of others.

I saw so much of this in organized, ritualistic or segregated groupings such as private school activities. It did not take place with my 2 or 3 closest male friends, or with my neighborhood playmates before junior high school and suburban lifestyle seperated us even though we still lived in the same neighborhood. I did not witness such becahvior near as much in public school clicks, teams, and organizations. It seemed that the wider diversity of public school versus private promoted more tolerance and acceptance. Maybe the reason was you could always find a group in which you fit and these clicks tended to leave each other alone.

At a small private school, the school was the click and you were either in or out. The absolute worst existence for a human is to be on the inside, physically in the midst, while knowing you are on the outside in every other aspect. On the inside looking out--captive yet excluded.

I think most males from at least half-way normal environments are fine until around 10 years of age. Then the world rips us apart. The pressures of hormones, acceptance, and awareness coupled with the false teachings of advertising and other social influences rob us of the inner peace and confidence we had. All these things pull at us and tell us we aren't what we should be. Who we are is not enough. We aren't cool enough, tough or strong enough, attractive enough, athletic enough, etc.

Who is teaching us to love, to care, to discern? Who is teaching we are not Christ enough and that is the real problem?

Around ten, all of a sudden we don't fit in. What really changed? It is like Adam and Eve eating of the forbidden fruit. We suddenly have awareness disguised as knowledge, but we lack maturity and experience. We are left on our own to be functional, and therefore dysfunctionality reigns.

We all are just seeking a common ground of acceptance. But, we don't have the total self-awareness, knowledge, and maturity to build each other up to a higher common plane. So we react rationally to the system and drag each other down trying to reach a common level.

Do our parents, teachers, and churches see this happening and help? In most cases, no. Help is sparse and infrequent. By being so, we disregard wisdom with our defensive bravado when we hear it. We know there is truth there, but we look around to see if our peers are too saying yes. No one is, no collective dropping of the guard, so no change.

Why don't our adults help? They are probably not even aware of what we are feeling. Wrapped in our insecurity and pain and unreality, we think we are the problem so we do not open up to our adult community. In addition, they are too busy to slow down to ponder what are our children going through at this age? What should I be watching for? How did I feel at that age?

Besides, how could they really help? They have already been through this cycle, and they think it is the norm thus reinforcing and perpetuating the brainwashing. It will pass. It is part of life. Suck it up, life ain't fair.

Young people need a constant barrage of love, truth, and compassion, and discipline to counter the constant influence of the opposite.

But when a couple of hundred of these southern French boys were thrown together in the prison of that Lycee, a sublte change was operated in their spirit and mentality. In fact, I noticed that when you were with them seperately, outside the school, they were mild and peaceable and humane enough. But when they were all together there seemed to be some diabolical spirit of cruelty and viciousness and obscenity and blasphemy and envy and hatred that banded them together against all goodness and against one another in mockery and fierce cruelty and in vociferous, uninhibited filthiness. Contact with that wolf pack felt very patently like contact with the mystical body of the devil: and especially in the first few days, the members of that body did not spare themselves in kicking me aournd without mercy.

--Thomas Merton. The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith. Harcourt Brace & Co. 1948, renewed 1976 Merton Legacy Trust.


JMG said...

Males aren't the only ones that can be mercilessly cruel. Girls can be really nasty to their peers as well. I wouldn't go back to adolescence for any price.

Tony Arnold said...

No how would I go back.

jettybetty said...

ooo eeeekkk Tony! I read through this a couple times and all I could think was did we give our son the support he needed during this time of life? I don't know! Of course, JMG is correct--girls can be quite cruel, too. They are *allowed* to express in our society though.
{Guess we should homeschool!}

Steve Duer said...

Good post. I am not sure some of us ever outgrow it. We learn to relate to each other on that level and that becomes our source of interaction for life.

Reminder to self: cut out the silly trash talking.

Tony Arnold said...

I think you are right Steve. Love your picture with your son.


erinlo said...

Yikes. We have talked about homeschooling our boys through middle school because my husband experienced much of what you are talking about (he was an outsider) and is very afraid for our boys to go through it. I guess we'll figure it out when we get there. But your post really scares me.

Tony Arnold said...

I did not mean to scare anyone, but I do carry a few scars from my school years. I was an outsider too until I left a small private, Christian school for the shelter of public school. I loved my last year and a half of high school at a public school. Keep in mind I am 43 so this was in the late 70's and early 80's, whatever that might mean.

My recommendation: just be very attune to our children's attitude, especially be aware of sudden changes in their attitudes. And work very hard to develop a trustful, open dialogue with them so they feel as comfortable as possbile coming to us in times of need and pain. And I truly believe you can do this while exercising discipline, demanding respect, and requiring a certain standard of behavior.

In fact, I am not sure you can have true openess with your child without those things. I think that is how they learn to trust and have confidence in the strength and protective nature of their parents.

BTW: I had great parents, not perfect, but good parents. But from 5th grade until my junior year in high school was mostly unpleasant.


Amy said...

Thanks for this post, Tony. Love the comment about leaving the small, private Christian school for the shelter of a public school. That speaks volumes.

I also appreciate your encouraging comments that I see scattered around to myself and others.

Tony Arnold said...

Thanks Amy.