What Makes a Compassionate Man? Part Two
Most of my articles focus on women and the female perspective. This is sadly ignoring about 50% of the population. Men are also trying to find their way in our changing culture. I believe the changes are requiring men to develop more compassion. Yet, what is required of men to become more compassionate? For that answer I turned to an article written by Kozo Hattori that was published in the Greater Good.
As promised here is:
What Makes a Compassionate Man? Part Two
What does it take to foster compassion in men? To find out, Kozo Hattori interviewed scientific and spiritual experts.
3. Transcendence of gender stereotypes
All of the compassionate men interviewed broke out of the ‘act-like-a-man’ box. At a certain point in his life, Dr. Rick Hanson realized that he was too left brained, so he made a conscious effort to re-connect with his intuitive, emotional side. When Elad Levinson, program director for Spirit Rock Meditation Center, first encountered loving-kindness and compassion practices, his first reaction was what he claims to be fairly typical for men: “Come on! You are being a wuss, Levinson. No way are you going to sit here and wish yourself well.” So the actual practice of compassion instigated his breaking free from gender stereotypes.
Dr. Ted Zeff cites a study that found infant boys are more emotionally reactive than infant girls, but by the time a boy reaches five or six years old “he’s learned to repress every emotion except anger, because anger is the only emotion society tells a boy he is allowed to have.” If society restricts men’s emotional spectrum to anger, then it is obvious men need to transcend this conditioning to become compassionate.
Dr. Doty points to artificially defined roles as a major problem in our society because they prevent men from showing their vulnerability. “If you can’t be vulnerable, you can’t love,” says Doty. Vulnerability is a key to freedom from the act-like-a-man box, for it allows men to remove the armor of masculinity and authentically connect with others.
Both Dr. Doty and Scott Kriens emphasize authenticity as a necessary pathway to compassion. Kriens defines authenticity as “when someone is sharing what they believe as opposed to what they want you to believe.” This opens the door to compassion and true connection with others.
4. Emotional intelligence
In Raising Cain, Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson argue that most boys are raised to be emotionally ignorant: “Lacking an emotional education, a boy meets the pressure of adolescence and that singularly cruel peer culture with the only responses he has learned and practiced—and that he know are socially acceptable—the typical ‘manly’ responses of anger, aggression, and emotional withdrawal.”
In contrast, most of the men I interviewed were “emotionally literate.” They seemed to see and feel things with the sensitivity of a Geiger counter. Tears welled up in Dr. Doty’s eyes a number of times when he talked about compassion. Dr. Hanson explained how he landed in adulthood “from the neck up” then spent a large part of his 20s becoming whole again. Much of Chade-Meng Tan’s “Search Inside Yourself” training that he developed for the employees of Google is based on emotional intelligence developed through attention training, self-knowledge, and self-mastery.
Similarly, Father Richard Rohr leads initiation groups for young men that force initiates to face pain, loneliness, boredom, and suffering to expand their emotional and spiritual capacity. It is no coincidence that these initiations are held in nature. Nature seems to be an important liminal space that allows boys and men to reconnect with their inner world. Dr. Hanson is an avid mountain climber. Dr. Ted Zeff advocates spending time in nature with boys to allow their sensitivity to develop.
Almost all of the men I interviewed regularly spend some time in silence. They’d hit “pause” so that they can see themselves and others more clearly. When our interview approached two hours, Dr. Rick Hanson asked to wrap it up so he would have time for his morning meditation. Meng Tan had just returned from a week-long silent meditation retreat a few days before our interview. Scott Kriens started a daily sitting and journaling practice almost ten years ago that he rigorously practices to this day.
Father Richard Rohr practices Christian contemplative prayer, which he says leads to a state of “undefended knowing” that transcends dualistic, us/them thinking. Rohr argues that true compassion can’t happen without transcending dualistic thinking. “Silence teaches us not to rush to judgment,” says Rohr.
Self-awareness through mindfulness practices like meditation, silent prayer, or being in nature allow compassionate men to embrace suffering without reacting, resisting, or repressing. Thich Nhat Hanh says that mindfulness holds suffering tenderly “like a mother holding a baby.” That poetic image is backed up by more and more research, which is finding that mindfulness can help foster compassion for others.
So the path to making more compassionate men is clear: understand compassion as a strength, get to know yourself, transcend gender roles, look for positive role models—and become one yourself. If that sounds too complicated, 84-year-old Marvin Maurer sums up being a compassionate man in five easy words, “Be in love with love.”
You can find Part One of “What Makes a Compassionate Man” on my website. Click here. In the meantime, if you are a man who is struggling to find out how to be more compassionate in a patriarchal society, please contact Joy a call for a 30-minute complimentary consultation. Email Joy or call 415-819-8769 today.
You can find the original article at https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_makes_a_compassionate_man