Strong Enough to Be Gentle

 The first time I ever shot a gun.    

The first time I ever shot a gun. 


My ex mother in law used to say this. As I experience the America of mass shootings, I am reminded of her wisdom. It takes strength to be gentle. Or as Utah Phillips sang, force is the weapon of the weak. It feels powerful to yell or punch or dominate. We have all had those moments of feeling ourselves fill with rage that feels like power and acts like fear.

The current national conversation around gun violence focuses on more gun control and blames the mentally ill. This ignores the numerous gun control laws in place that are neither funded nor enforced. And we ignore the most glaring and obvious traits of the shooters. They are men, white men often. Obviously they are mentally ill, as they shot lots of people. Women are 40% more likely to experience some form of mental illness than men. However, out of the 134 mass shootings experienced in American since 1966, 131 were men. Being male is a much higher indicator of potential gun violence than being mentally ill.  

Why do American men feel the need to shoot school children and movie goers and gay dancers? When #metoo got legs in the fall, a friend of mine posted on his Facebook wall, what is good about being a man? I was startled and ashamed to realize I couldn't think of anything. I could think of things like "men have privileges in our society", things I didn't feel really spoke to what is good about being a man. Somehow in our efforts to identify and embrace female leadership, we have created a void for men.

With all the best intentions, we have left our men behind. And the most sensitive, most lost, are using the tools they have to tell us. Rage, violence and lust are the emotions we affirm for boys. So they express those emotions in ever increasing extremes. Traditional masculinity is either viewed as suspicious or bad, and literally fought against ideologically. And we haven't replaced it with a new way to be. Sites like the Good Man Project  do a good job addressing some of these challenges. Our national culture is lacking in leadership and examples of how to be a man in today's society.

#metoo and mass shootings have a common thread in my view. A thread that underscores what we are doing isn't working. The men in our communities feel repressed and isolated. They have unclear directives about how to be as people. They have uncertain acceptance of themselves as men. And as long as that is true, no one can be strong enough to be gentle.