In my previous post, Random Male Violence, Part I I began to unravel the mystery of why the random violence we regularly encounter happens in the U.S. on a level unlike any other country. Our soul-searching requires that we recognize that we are developing wounded males. But all countries have wounded males.
There’s another inescapable reason random mass slaughter happens within American borders so much more than anywhere else— the ease with which anyone, regardless of capabilities, mental health or training can get their hands on assault rifles—weapons of mass destruction. The solution to this issue has proven exceptionally difficult to find, but I don’t think there is any question that this is a central part of the problem.
Why is it that the perpetrators are almost always males? Simply put, because the male “heart,” our core design, is different from the female “heart.” The historic essence of how we understand femininity is that it’s open, relational, inclusive, and fiercely protective of others. The essence of how we understand masculinity is that it’s aggressive, adventuresome, initiating, and fiercely competitive with others. The power of femininity draws others inward; the power of masculinity extends itself outward. If you notice the parallel with our respective anatomies, that’s not a coincidence.
When wounded women turn violent they so often turn their anger inward. They harm themselves: suicide, cutting, prostitution, eating disorders. Even when mothers attack or kill their own children, which we read of with awful regularity, I’d suggest that’s the ultimate attack that causes her the deepest pain possible.
When wounded men turn violent they so often unleash that anger toward others. Yes, of course, men are capable of suicide and self-cutting with frightening effectiveness, but no one can deny that the vast majority of assaults, beatings, murders, terror incidents and, yes, random mass killings, across the globe come from the hands of males. That same male quality—aggressive outward action—is also the reason why the majority of those who heroically run into the building, who face the gunfire, who stand in front of those who are risk, are also men.
It’s why a Kenyan pastor told me of an African proverb that strikes close to the heart of what we are seeing: “The boys in the village must be initiated into manhood or they will burn down the village just to feel the heat.” Almost every month we see “boys,” not-yet-men whatever their age, burning down American villages—schools, movie theaters, university campuses, or outdoor concert arenas— just to feel one blast of heat before they die or head to prison.
In the United States we have an awful culmination of cultural and gender issues at work creating a heart-rending example of American Exceptionalism. What can we do about it? The causes of this condition are numerous and they didn’t happen suddenly. The solutions are likewise multiple and won’t resolve the problem suddenly.
But we must take steps forward in every path that is part of the solution:
- Our schools, places of faith and community organizations must understand that boys are not the same as girls. They must have healthy, non-shaming opportunities for play, competition, communal connection, bonding and success.
- Just as Jewish, African and Native American cultures have practiced for centuries, elder men need to “call out” boys in the “village” and acquaint them with values and a vision for who they can be as healthy contributors to society. I’ve developed an approach from a Christian perspective in the Passage to Manhood Field Guide.
- We need to pay particular attention to boys who are on the fringes of our schools, who are loners in the lunch room, who express their rage on social media, and provide them with insightful, effective mental, emotional and spiritual care.
- We need to press against the expanding levels of brutality and violence marketed as entertainment in video games to our sons who are making life-altering decisions about how to connect with others, relate to those who are different from them, and how to resolve conflict.
- Somehow we need to dramatically limit the accessibility of firearms for those who have no business getting them. In many ways the genie is way out of the bottle in the U.S. in limiting firearms—there are more guns in our country than there are citizens. But certainly we can do a much better job of limiting assault weapons, conducting background checks, sharing crucial information between branches of local and federal police agencies and tracking those with violent histories.
- We must insist on requiring training and certification in all states for anyone who wants to buy or own a firearm to ensure they actually know how to use it safely.
There are more factors to address, but can we agree to begin with these?
Radio commentator Dennis Prager says, “One of the most important issues for any society is to answer the question: How do we build good men?” That’s not because men are more important than women. Of course we aren’t. It’s because the difference in impact between good men and violently wounded men is so huge. Our headlines prove this every day.
There may be no more crucial domestic issue for the United States to face right now than to effectively answer this question. Let’s make sure that the recent violence in Parkland marks the beginning of us finding the answers and finally putting an end to this brand of American Exceptionalism.
Craig Glass is the founder and president of Peregrine Ministries and is the author of The Passage to Manhood Field Guide and the recently published Noble Journey: The Quest for a Lasting Legacy. Both are available on Amazon.
My greatest joy in life is my family. I know, that sounds like the comment you’re supposed to make as a man and father. All I can say is I literally shake my head in wonder at the family I have: my wife Beryl; my daughter Barclay and son-in-law Vince, their four daughters, Bella, Brynn, Brooke and Blake; my son Alec, my son Conor and daughter-in-law Bonnie, their daughter Gemma and son Calvin. Every one of them is a genuine gift. Beyond that, I have a calling that I live out through Peregrine Ministries. It is to help men: Understand their identity in Christ, Embrace their role as men, and Live out their God-given calling in life. Bottom line is I’m convinced men matter and I want to help them live life on purpose.
Good thoughts. It appears your ministry is zeroing on this critical need.
I just spent last week in Florida with my two sons – Nathan and Hugh – and Hugh’s family and Nathan’s girl friend and wife’s daughter and her family. It was a beautiful time watching all connecting. Our last night there with most of the adults sitting in a hot tub (kids had gone to bed) I asked “who wants to do this again next year?” All hands went up! God is good and we are blessed.
My sons and I were part of one your weekend retreats – look back on it with good memories!
Bob, I smile at the memory of you with at Passage along with Hugh and Nathan. Especially you taking the trust fall on behalf of all the dads. Thanks for reminding your sons they matter.
Spot on Craig! So glad you are doing what you’re doing with men and boys keep it up buddy my love to your family!
Thank you, Mark! So glad to have you as a brother.
Intriguing stuff, Craig. As a non-American, I’ve decided to (try to) stop speaking about this as it is so easy to dismiss my thoughts as someone from one of those “socialist liberal” countries — and the solutions, in my view, must come from within America, anyway. It is hard to stop speaking, though, for the reasons you outline in Part I. The rage, despair, sorrow.
The genie surely is out of the bottle, as you say, and so there is probably some truth to the NRA logic that gun control will leave guns in the hands of the bad guys. I’m 100% for more gun control, though, because I think we (you) face a 50 or 100 year process to change culture and society. Democracies tend to be bad at long-term planning, and so that makes it tough. However, it is interesting to see the younger generation beginning a protest. Most big societal change seems to come via the younger generation, so perhaps something is starting. It is also interesting to see corporate America starting to distance itself from the NRA. (Who knew NRA membership saved money at Hertz and United?) How interesting would it be if market forces drove gun control?
Thanks for contributing, Brian. I was hoping you would, partly because you pay attention and you’re insightful; and partly because as a World Christian you can help us see truth from the outside. There’s no question this is not a short-term fix; we are in for a long haul. The sooner we start the better.
Oh, and thanks for clarifying that you’re “non-American.” A better feel than “un-American” for sure.
Thanks for tackling a big, important, and somewhat overwhelming topic. I believe a basic human need we all have is to feel significant. You can replace that term with important, unique, valued, special, respected, etc. The point is we all have it. For some it is a top need, for others is a distant 3rd or 4th need. For teenagers (boys and girls) it is usually need number one or two.
When you combined a feeling of insignificance with masculine energy, it can get ugly real quickly. It leads to alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, and mass shootings. More often it leads to men who feel stuck and just unfulfilled with life.
For some knowing how significant they are to God is fulfilling. For others, that is a concept they just cannot accept, do not believe or it is not enough. We do need to call out the boys of the village. We need to model and demonstrated healthy ways to feel and be significant. We need to keep finding ways to let them know they are important to us, to the community, and to God. Doing this work is a great way for the men of the community to feel and be significant.
Keep up the good work Craig.
Paul, thanks for your thoughtful contribution to the conversation. At the core of this issue is a “broken male” problem. Thanks for what you do to bring healing for young men, too.