Shame On You

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The May 30, 2011 cover of Time Magazine had this headline “Sex, Lies, Arrogance: What Makes Powerful Men Act like Pigs?” Stephen Frueh Time Magazine Men's Issues

This title neatly catches an old worn out paradigm – a Puritan thought police kind of thing- that reflects attitudes of shaming, blaming, self righteousness and judgment.

Here’s how it works. The fear of male promiscuousness predates the science of birth control. It lives in another era where the passion of men is seen as dangerous to family and community and so must be tamed. Tamed by shame and superiority.

I think most of us are grown up enough now to agree that promiscuous behavior is non productive, counter intimate, childish and unfortunate… but. The way out is not through shame or self righteousness. Doesn’t help. In fact, shaming only increases the self judgment and raises the anxiety. When we (privately, I’d guess) are fascinated with still another male foible or series of foibles we mask our own sexual insecurity. Thus the plenitude of jokes around the congressman (you know who) sound like first grade boys taunting their buddies.

High profile males strive to be high profile and that very path is filled with anxiety and self doubt. They are by definition risk takers. They like being in the spotlight and being in the spotlight inevitably invites adoration. Their path involves a kind of clawing their way beyond their peers who also would like the power, prestige and the glow of the spotlights. The adoration is addictive.

Risk taking carries with it a kind of emotional ‘edge’ which itself leaves a person vulnerable and in need of comfort. High profile men are attractive in a kind of subtle way because of their vulnerability which, though not the first thing you notice, is nevertheless compelling.

Marriage for these folks can be very demanding since their families are often expected to act as a supporting cast for the ‘star.’ When that kind of idealized situation takes over families stop telling the truth to their star. Distance becomes inevitable, vulnerability increases. Wives and children are easily marginalized. Is there a cure?

Dealing with male passion as seen through the kaleidoscope of uber success carries the challenge of empathy, truth telling, vigilance and the embrace of conflict. If you love you’ll insist on speaking the truth. If you want him to survive, you’ll get over your fear of conflict and confront the distance being created. You’ll be vigilant about intimacy within your family in all its many dimensions – psychological intimacy (who are you really, today?); emotional (look for emotional intelligence in noticing everyone’s feelings); spiritual (are we grounded in our love for each other?); and physical (lots of affection, insist on it).

And you’ll do some heavy lifting on the empathy front – walk a mile or two in each other’s shoes, don’t ever diagnose, analyze, predict, theorize or hypothesize about each other’s motives. Instead, ask. Then listen. Then feed it back (called ‘active listening). Then reach out.

It’s not shame men need but a compelling invitation to come closer, to slow down, to make time for the ones they love.

The lack of competency some men have around their own self care can look like ‘pig’ behavior, but right underneath that behavior you’ll find a needy person – just like you – who needs your full attentiveness.

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