by Dave Sullivan
I was 16, male, queer, and all I wanted was a meaningful connection at my high school. I didn’t find one.
It was the typical high school scene, made up of types and stereotypes, posturing and ego-inflation, those who were in and those who were out. I spent most lunch hours hiding from the chaos in the library, waiting for the safe(r) structure of classroom learning. After school hours I went straight home.
I thought this story of discomfort, disillusion and isolation way MY story. But speaking to many of my male contemporaries it seemed they also lived their own brand of loneliness, suffered their unique personal identify crisis, plainly felt like they didn’t fit.
The conventional argument is that high school is traumatizing and that that we all just have to deal with it. I say this perspective never held water, still doesn’t, and never will. Those hostile hallways sowed the seeds of my adult anxiety, and those lonely lunch hours set me on a path to a decade of depression. I suffered, my peers suffered, and today’s boys are still suffering. This is not something that we should accept or shrug off as normal.
Of course, suffering is not limited to males. Female, trans, and non-gender-conforming youth could all be the subject of their own post. But I believe the average male youth experiences one important type of suffering at an alarmingly high rate — the suffering of being emotionally cut off from themselves.
The bottom line is this: More than math, more than science, more than gym — young males need to learn how to love themselves for exactly who they are.
Though the traditional definition of masculinity has evolved over the years and you no longer have to be an alpha, athletic, financially well off and a womanizer to be considered ‘man enough’, the box of what is considered acceptable masculinity is still fairly small. Notably, young males are still largely encouraged to be cut off from their emotions, and told that self-care is something that women do.
Similarly, male-to-male affection is far less common than with female counterparts. With male homosexuality often being viewed in a more negative light, homophobia has alienated young men from one another. The result is that other males are often viewed as co-conspirators or competition rather than true friends and confidants, and there is little room for real connection.
That said, I believe that we are starting to see a shift with today’s youth. As a ‘Big Brother’ with my local Big Brothers organization, I got to see my ‘little’ and many of his friends grow up both in the flesh and on social media. While at first complementary posts about other guys were customarily accompanied by ‘no homo’ and other such phrases, what I started seeing as they aged were displays of sincere affection, deep friendship, and even love. I am happy he got to experience in his teen years something that I never did — the simple act of giving and receiving love from a male peer.
So how can we better foster a sense of connection and affection both within and among young males? I believe bringing mindfulness education into schools, community centres, and wherever young men are is a crucial part of the shift.
Mindfulness is about bringing full awareness to the present moment without judgement. By doing so, practitioners are able to connect with the calm and stillness that exist behind the cloud of obsessive thinking, and thus tap into their deepest source of creativity, compassion, and love. In other words, mindfulness can help practitioners tap into their personal truth, behind all societal masks.
Imagine a society where boys are taught how to look within, see themselves for exactly who they are, and accept and love themselves and others without judgement. Gone would be the limiting definitions of masculinity, societal boxes, competition, and barriers from one another. Gone would be feelings of isolation, mistrust, anger and hostility. Eventually gone could be violence, sexual aggression and environmental degradation, largely perpetrated by men.
This new male would finally have to space to express feelings without judgement. He could finally connect meaningfully and deeply with others. He would be a source of peace and harmony in the world.
The new male would not be able to be defined. He would simply be.
Dave Sullivan is a Youth Life Coach and Wellness Educator. He is the Founder and Director of The Youth Happiness Project and is based in Montreal, Canada. Learn more at www.youngandhappy.org.