Some books destroy the restrictive ideas we humans carry around in our minds. Others create cartographies that help us explore what we already know; others illuminate the dark recesses of our thoughts that many would rather ignore. bell hooks probably imagined that her book, The Will to Change – Men, Masculinity, and Love, would be some combination of all these types of literature. I definitely agreed with that characterization when I first read the book as a confused young man in my early 20s.
But re-reading the book on the eve of my 29th birthday left me with a different feeling. The heavy reliance on Christian cliches about the soul and an overly moral approach to human life made much of the book feel trite. My inner Nietzsche, however, does not want to spend time criticizing things: I am a yes-sayer and want to carry on with what is useful in the text.
All ideas have force and weight— which is to say that an idea propels us towards a certain style of interacting with oneself, others, and the world, and each idea comes at the cost of living some other way. An idea that has neither is not related to living and therefore it is a dead thought. The ideas worth carrying with me into my 30s are as follows:
- Your suffering is common.
- Most men feel alienated in their daily lives due to their subjugation to meaningless work, social isolation, and failure to create an alignment between their souls, personalities, and routines. It is impossible to hate one’s life and feel good about oneself.
- You can’t heal what you can’t feel.
- Men are taught to abide by an emotional stoicism, but that kind of emotional repression only creates stomach ulcers or causes heart attacks. Suppressing painful thoughts — which usually stem from an alienated lifestyle — only encourages you to sink deeper into bad habits. In order to improve, you must first acknowledge the causes of your anguish. You must take your pain seriously.
- Much of what men do to cope with their loveless lives — addictions to drugs or work, pornographic fantasies, etc. — are simply attempts to release the feelings of agony, rather than overcome the causes. But the larger point remains: we must allow for a broader range of emotions. That begins with allowing yourself to feel.
- Healing does not take place in isolation
- Terrorist regimes use isolation to break peoples’ spirit because isolation causes a person to lose their sense of value and self-worth, which are categories that only exist in the social world. What occurs in one’s mind, in isolation, is fantasy. Therefore, we must connect with others in order to live emotionally satisfying lives; we must be with others in order to give and receive love, which is the basis of a meaningful human life.
- Develop relational skills
- All relationships are two-way streets, which means that we must improve our ability to share ourselves and to receive others.
- Additionally, we cannot connect with others while remaining disconnected from ourselves, which means our capacity to be social depends on the relationship we have with our inner selves. To put it in less spiritual or psycho-social terms, living in a way that forces us to lie to ourselves makes it difficult to be authentic with others.
- Being a feminist man ultimately means being a provider, which includes emotional needs.
- Feminist masculinity is not simply acting like a woman. It is being responsible for oneself and others, which includes financial and emotional means.
- People do not want to have relationships with people who are narcissistic, needy, and isolated. People want to have relationships with men who are: empathetic, connected, and responsible to oneself and ones’ loved ones. In other words, a man who can take care of himself and others— and who acknowledges that needs are not simply a matter of dollars or calories. People need love and attention, too.
- Personal growth may cause us to go through periods of denial, anger, barganingn, depression, and acceptance.
- The journey towards self improvement is a long one that will entail many emotions. Do not expect it to all be easy, fun, and unambiguously good.
I know I have bastardized the book by making it more about self improvement than a criticism of patriarchy.