Is Masculinity Toxic?

Sometimes masculinity is toxic. Sometimes it is juvenile, confused, hurt and insecure and sometimes those things are covered with aggression, manipulation, dominance, control and other defensive and offensive tactics to cover the toxins. When relationships are formed around the acceptance of those unacceptable reactions to internal turmoil, the culture of that group is toxic. The working out of a mature man is a process that requires recognition of the immaturity present far beyond puberty.

I’ve been toxic at times and so has every man who I know. That doesn’t mean that the healthy expression of masculinity I am called to is the wrong target. The opposite of toxic masculinity is not femininity; its healthy masculinity. It’s not time to neuter men; it’s time to empower them. Empowerment, however, is not for the abuse of power but for the unleashing of purpose.

Men need to be affirmed in their identity as men to breed the security that overcomes the toxins that are inherent in both genders. Affirmation and empowerment produce security and security produces humility. Humility is a key indicator of healthy masculinity.

For men, our responsibility is to tend to the toxins by honestly admitting that they are present. They are present from life’s hurts, disappointments, mistakes and challenges. They are present from dads that were absent, neglectful or abusive as they wrestled with their own toxins. The toxic form of masculinity often gets passed from one generation to the next. Healthy masculinity declares to the heritage that produced toxicity, “no more.”

  • No more abuse.
  • No more anger.
  • No more isolation.
  • No more domination.
  • No more manipulation.
  • No more.
  • Not on my watch.

But there has to be a target as you can’t really be defined by what you aren’t. So where there was toxic masculinity the determination has to be emulation and duplication of a model of masculinity that provides a greater alternative.

That Model is the man of Jesus Christ. He was strong enough to be accused and not fight back. He was courageous enough to suffer and not duck out. He was secure enough to love and not pervert. He is the model for healthy masculinity and I’ve yet to meet a man who has it perfected like He did. I count myself among many, however, that are determined to keep trying.

Working From Truth vs. Working for truth

There is a growing belief that truth is flexible and that there are evidences of what is actually right based on circumstances, feelings, compassion and preferences. Many are forming a “belief” system based on their experiences and our culture is embracing the flexibility to ensure that nobody is left out, offended, marginalized or contentious. Truth, it seems, is increasingly an archaic concept.

The problem with that is me. And you. We are too messed up to figure it out; we need a fixed point which is reliable, has stood the test of time and demands more from us than the limits of us. Truth calls us to a higher perspective and changes us in transit by stretching our capacity for actual understanding instead of contextualizing everything to our liking.

“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” (Ephesians 4:17-18

The definition for “futility” indicates “what is devoid of truth” and even includes the idea of idolatry. That is, to try to figure the truth of everything out from our own perspective or even the perspective of others is lacking. That inside-out production of “belief” is, by definition, working from a faulty source which his absent the thing it requires (truth). Furthermore, it’s what we all have wanted all along; to be our own little gods. It’s exactly what happened at the fall of man, as Adam and Eve opted for control over wonder and sovereignty over dependence.

Pick a Source beyond yourself and choose One with an eternal scope. For me, it’s the Bible. Written by numerous authors, yet fitting together perfectly and standing the test of time for century upon century, I’m going “all in” with the written Word of God as a reliable Source to work from.

The pursuit of Truth will bring you to uncomfortable intersections; that’s good. Wrestle and ask the Author of the Word; relate with Him and allow for Him to change you where otherwise you might attempt to judge and/or define Him. The beauty of that as a path for pursuit is that He is incredibly faithful and He is good; He loves you more than you even love yourself. And as for the left out, offended, marginalized or contentious? He loves them, too, and His plan for them is better than your well intended attempts to rescue them.

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast and Leaders for Lunch

Peter Drucker is credited with saying, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That quote indicates his conviction that strategy is good, but culture dictates capacity and outcomes.

Last week, I wrote about how supervision of results is relatively easy. Strategic duplication of those results is more difficult. Cultural change to multiply impact requires the discipline and determination to forego control. That type of multiplication requires release.

Release of others to carry the vision and culture as multipliers means that they are likely going to do things different than how you might. It’s the cost of multiplication. The reward of tending to culture is the satisfaction of knowing that you didn’t have to matter directly but got the privilege of being a part of a multiplying impact towards a common vision.

Some leaders, however, won’t possess the security or emotional intelligence to be unnecessary. They won’t want things to happen around them indirectly, but they need to be in control directly. They may never know the deeper satisfaction of multiplication beyond themselves.

Culture change will only be attractive compared to tactics and strategy when leaders are willing to get out-of-the-way. When it isn’t about the individual, the group can flourish. Until then, the capacity of the organization is directly tied to the limitations of an individual’s insecurity.

Freedom is rooted in identity. A by-product or fruit of freedom is security. Where there is an assurance of identity, there will be a security that overcomes temptations of control. The capacity of the organization will be tied to the soul of its leader as the insecure leader won’t empower and entrust others. Without release, the culture will be and remain stagnant yet predictable.

The cost of release includes the messiness of mistakes. The security of a leaders allows for mistakes to be opportunities, not definitions. They won’t define others by their mistakes nor accept the whispers of definition related to their own worth when the results are less than excellent.

Being quiet when you know the answer is more difficult than being right. Yet, stepping back is the only way that others have space to step up. Ultimately, them stepping up or not is what defines the leader; not the skill of that leader being applied directly to a task.

A friend of mine with a doctorate degree in leadership still refers to himself as a student of leadership. He never stops developing. He is open to his flaws and needs for learning and growth. He is an excellent leader because he doesn’t consider himself a leader of note. We’re never done; there is always more. The price of leadership is vulnerability and vulnerability requires the security of not needing to be perfect. Imperfect leaders breed a multiplying culture as others are allowed to grow in their imperfections, too.

Multiplying Impact and Results By Developing Culture

I was reading a post-game interview with a major college coach who has been in his current position for two years. His team was coming off of a big, program defining win. There was a particular play where a team rallied with extraordinary effort around the ball carrier.

The play had come on 3rd and 19 and there was about a 10 yard pass; well short of the first down. The receiver pushed and pulled, with the help of his teammates, another 7 yards or so and set up 4th and short. Ultimately, the team went for it on 4th down and converted the first down.

The call – the strategy and tactics – only produced about 1/2 of what was required. It was the unity of agreement towards a goal that pushed the situation to favorable. The coach had done all that he could do and he was left to simply watch as the team took matters into their own hands beyond the result of the strategy and tactic.

Immediately following the play, the coach reportedly said, “That’s a culture play right there.” The culture was changing. He inherited a program with limited success and he was trying to get them to achieve more. He was going about it by attempting to change the culture. If the culture changes, the norms change. If the norms change, people agree related to how and what to do. They already know why; it’s cultural. They agree with the why and are unified towards the what.

Culture multiplies leadership. Culture is the multiplier because it extends beyond the direct control of the leader. The leader doesn’t have to direct the specifics, but can trust that hearts are aligned towards a common goal and the extra effort, creativity and perseverance is a produce of agreement. Skills, talents, abilities and creativity are released to multiply. All the leader is left to do, at times, is watch as the team results exceeds the strategy or tactics employed.

When the leader doesn’t have to be present but the vision is “caught” in the culture, there can be exponential momentum. Ultimately, it is the test of truly outstanding leadership; how do they perform in your absence? Additionally, how do they perform in your absence when faced with unexpected challenges? Can they adapt collectively and push through the variables that weren’t planned for?

Strategy and tactics are easy by comparison. Culture is the hard, slower process of agreement towards a common goal. It’s the “why” becoming so inherent in the language and consciousness of an organization that the leader’s immediate presence isn’t necessary. It’s also the only true multiplier of the three.

This is the Big One

I suspect every one of us has done it, but only because it seems minor compared to the “big” stuff. The harm is so hidden that it’s easy and it just makes you feel better. Yet, it’s tucked in right there among stuff that could get you thrown in prison:

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips.” (Romans 1:29)

While nobody is going to endorse murder or excuse depravity, gossip is commonplace. Among the church, it’s not only accepted, it’s embraced and even deployed for what might seem like the purposes and outcomes that God would prefer. He doesn’t.

Gossip is extremely hurtful as it isolates and degrades the person who may find out that they are the one being talked about. It tears apart relationships and creates division. There are real victims when we choose to target someone as worthy of our descriptions.

No doubt that when someone is torn down or division is created, there is harm. The other harm, however, is within us as we choose to entertain the stories. The deeper division is within us as the chasm is stretched every time we foster the desire we have to relieve ourselves by reducing others.

Reducing others makes us feel better in the wake of some discomfort as it helps us to elevate ourselves to a seemingly superior position on the imagined battlefields of our minds. This elevation is pride.

When we choose to tear down others, we don’t even have to mention ourselves to actually be promoting ourselves. Our insight, intellect and understanding that inevitably comes out in the shadows of our stories makes us feel better about us temporarily.

That’s a problem. God says so. He says that He will oppose the proud; literally going toe to toe with them to ensure that their schemes don’t advance. Pride sets us at war with God as our strategies will not be promoted above His ways.

“Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.” (Psalm 101:5)

I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it, and I repent. My battles will not be decided in my wit or words, but by His grace and sovereignty. I pray for the satisfaction He provides from within that will satisfy the temptation that I may feel to exact justice in my stories.

Living From the Inside

The truest opportunities we face in life are life-giving. That is, when we choose to step beyond what we currently know, our senses and purpose is activated. Once we see the possibilities of “there,” we are no longer comfortable with “here” but we are intrigued enough not to care anymore.

Nelson Mandela said “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

Our flaws can seemingly insulate us from any responsibility for the dreams which are within us. The fear of stepping past the hurdles of insecurities is contested by the greatness within our design. When we are aware of the potential, the compromises and excuses can no longer withhold the majesty of what we were created to be. By God’s grace, we can no longer resist that which we really were all along.

That’s one of the more intimidating things that goes along with a life of faith. What if our destiny awaits outside comfort and control of our current circumstances? What if the revelation of our greatness causes what we held as important to fade to insignificant?

That’s also one of the more attractive things that goes along with a life of faith. We are no longer bound by the visible and temporary once we come into agreement with the eternal. The illusion of control is exposed as the lie that it has always been. Letting go leaves our hands wide open to catch what was intended.

The adventure costs us everything. The first step is the scariest but the day that we quit taking steps into the unknown is the day that we exchange the call of our hearts for the cheap substitution of the American dream.

The transformation of your soul comes in the pursuit of your purpose. Your purpose was born from an eternal perspective by a God who cares more about you than He does what you think you can’t do. With agreement, the opportunity is to be different as you make a difference. He will take your insecurities and breath identity into them as you agree with Him in the eternal things.