by: Ben Bradley
But it ain’t all buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of flying is?
You can learn all the math in the ‘Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens. Makes her a home.
- Serenity (2005)
This world can be a rough place to live in. I think pretty much anyone can say that. As a social worker for the homeless, I spent each day with people who were broken, hopeless, looked down on, and generally forgotten. I worked with people from every social identity living out of their cars, living in roach infested slum housing, and drug ridden motels. Wives and girlfriends would come in and show me their bruises and tell me they were afraid to go back to that man. One of my client’s daughters was raped by the ice cream truck driver… It became easy to get down about the world; about people.
I spent and continue to spend a lot of time trying to piece this whole thing out as a person and as a man. There are so many things I still don’t get, but there are a few things I may have figured out. I think about being a man in America, and we get a surprising amount of direction on how to be. You look across the thousands of miles that span our country and the many different backgrounds people come from, and boys growing up right now and men who grew up will relate a number of fairly similar notions of what it means to be a man.
And to be perfectly honest, there are a bunch of these social norms for men that don’t, from my vantage point, particularly make this world a better place. There are a lot of good social themes and norms out there, but in working to try and help disenfranchised people for a few years now, I must question some norms of masculinity; because if I do not and had not, I may not be where I am today.
Men are told don’t act like this, don’t be like this, don’t feel like this so much, that we don’t always hear to love. Love is the most powerful force on this planet, that’s the characteristic of masculinity we should be aspiring to. Unlike social norms which are taught and reinforced or broken over time, love is written throughout each of us, found at the very core of our humanity. Love is the very best way to be; it should not be shunned or played down. When men have real human love for each other, other people, the world, ourselves; that is when we start to really be great and really be strong.
This world is full of heartache. It’s not fair, but that’s just how it is. We can’t run from that. But we can stand up to it, as true people. Money, power, lack of showing emotion; these kinds of hyper-masculine ideals are not there for us during times of heartache. They quickly abandon men when they hurt. It is a heart full of love; one willing to let that love shine out as power, that’s what helps us get through the many difficult and sad times in life. Being loving, accepting, and compassionate to other people does not guarantee a life that will be less painful, but it does give us the strength and freedom to face that hardship and try to make this world a better place. And to me, that kind of love, that kind of power; that’s what being a man is all about.
Ben Bradley, MSW is a social justice activist and is employed in Adult Protective Services, where he works to protect vulnerable elderly adults from neglect, abuse, and exploitation. He graduated from Syracuse University and obtained his Masters of Social Worker from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ben continues to be a strong advocate and participant in the movement to end sexual violence and domestic violence, and is a proud member of MasculinityU. Find him on Twitter @TheRealBenBrad