Tearing Down to Build

In neighborhoods across much of the Eastern US, it isn’t unusual to see older homes purchased, then unceremoniously demolished, so that new owners can build from the ground up. The buyers want those parcels of desirable land, but the old structures are out of date. As most people familiar with building will tell you, it’s often more cost-effective to do a complete tear-down than a refurb based on old construction…

What little boy hasn’t looked up to his father (or another grown-up man in his circle) and imprinted a model of what a man is supposed to be?

How many teenage boys, bombarded by images of men in popular media, have stopped to ask if what they are seeing is realistic, desirable, or even useful?

Imitation is human nature – and vital to our growth and development. At the same time, and at least as important, are self-reflection, curiosity, and questioning what’s come before.

Those of us at the intersection of men’s work and leadership find ourselves at a pivotal moment. On one hand, some in the popular culture are clinging to (and agitating for) forms of masculinity that, in pointing to the past, are overly romanticized at best, and regressive, sometimes dangerously so, at worst.

The same is true of leadership, where weary command and control models are (largely) going the way of the wooly mammoth.

Nostalgia is one thing, but let’s be honest. Even though the price of gas was under 30 cents a gallon for the better part of the decade, the 1950’s were not universally good for everybody…

On the other hand, moving toward a complex, holistic, self-aware, and responsible mature masculinity has challenges of its own. For many, the vulnerability, reflection, and honest inner work required to get there is challenging.

For some it’s terrifying.

Because the work involves being willing to examine and think critically about old ways. Once that willingness is established, it’s time to look at what the inner child, inner teenage boy – even inner young adult – identified with, attached to, and adopted (or forced himself to swallow) as masculine ideals.

It’s important to remember that each of the above developmental stages take place prior to the full maturation of the pre-frontal cortex. That’s the part of the brain responsible for recognizing and understanding relationships between choice, action, and consequence.

Once those old models have been examined and, in most cases, recognized as limiting, (sometimes downright suffocating) it quickly becomes obvious that, like the old homes, tearing them down to build anew makes good sense.

Even though the old frames may have withstood tests of time, the plumbing isn’t up to code, and the windows are a far cry from being an energy-efficient match for the weather. The old wiring is a fire-hazard…

Best to reclaim whatever lumber is in good shape, create a new floor plan, and take it from the top.

I mentioned above that doing this kind of inner work can be scary. That’s often our very human response to both the threat and possibility of change.

I’d be flinging BS if I didn’t point out that conscious change is an acquired taste. The parts of ourselves that cling to the status quo are not big fans of tearing down or, for that matter, new construction. Hell, if allowed, they’ll hold out forever, even as the entire neighborhood around them grows and changes.

And because we’re part of a world – and universe – that’s in a state of expansion and constant change, that’s exactly what’s happening. All the time.

Circling back to things masculine and leadership oriented, there’s just too much good information out there telling us that it’s time for change. We’ve heard – from men’s circles and mental health organizations, neuroscience, sociology, therapy, and developmental psychology, to name just a few – that there are indelible lines connecting the dots between traditional, limiting models of masculinity and the current epidemic of male loneliness, suicide and violent acting-out.

I don’t think there’s ever been a better, more important time to tear down and rebuild…

And I hope to see you on the job site.