I was with my “solve all the world’s problems” group at Louie’s last Thursday morning, and I asked the other three guys, “Do the recent mass shootings and the flood of sexual abuse allegations have anything to do with each other?”
And without missing a beat, one of the guys answered, “Testosterone.”
Two days earlier I was talking to another friend, a woman this time. We were discussing the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and, without asking, she said, “Can you think of any mass shooter who was a woman?” I could not.
Which makes me wonder, “Is testosterone the source of all evil?
A joke — sort of — that has circulated in my men’s group for years goes like this: “God created men with a brain and a penis … but only enough blood to make one work at a time.”
According to the medical information and advice website Healthline: “Testosterone plays a role in certain behaviors, including aggression and dominance. It also helps to spark competitiveness and boost self-esteem. Taking part in competitive activities can cause a man’s testosterone levels to rise and fall.”
By that logic, maybe gun rights advocate Wayne LaPierre is simply high on testosterone when he declares, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
And does that imply that we would achieve world peace if we castrated all boys at birth?
Would women be happy and/or safe if the other gender were all eunuchs?
I don’t think so, and I’ll explain why by making an analogy with dogs.
Americans own almost 90 million dogs as pets. Now dogs are really domesticated wolves, right? You wouldn’t want a wolf as a pet. Too dangerous. Yet do we want the men in our lives to be domesticated pets who give unconditional love but are completely dependent on their masters?
If you don’t want a pet for a partner, then you have to accept that there is a wolf in every man. Herman Hesse, author of the aptly-named Steppenwolf, put it this way: “If not for the beast within us, we would be castrated angels.”
Commenting on Hesse’s statement, a recovering alcoholic who identifies himself as M.A.F. writes: “We are on a spiritual path that leads to fuller manhood. We accept the beast within. More than that, we like him and take pleasure in him. He has the same source as our spiritual strength. As we get better acquainted with him, he brings a sense of awe and mystery to the untamed parts of ourselves. He instills us with zest and vitality that we release as explosions of energy and power. He comes out in our daydreams and night dreams — in our labor and sweat.”
I don’t expect women to fully understand that part of what we might call the male mystique, but when it’s working right it’s not something to fear. That deputy in Parkland who failed to enter the school wasn’t accessing his inner beast. The football coach was.
If we picture that inner male beast as a wolf, here’s what we discover. Wolves are wild dogs, if you will. They kill. But they don’t abuse their mates or their children. According to the website Wolf Country, “The whole pack takes care and raises the pups (non-breeding females produce milk and males compete to baby sit).”
Again M.A.F.: “To reach for power seems to come from the deepest part of our nature. … Men have used power in many ways for the good of all people. We have been defenders, protectors and active community servants. At our best, we have taken strong stands for what was right.”
Martin Luther King Jr., for example, refused to be a compliant Negro. He accessed his inner beast and aggressively worked for good. But he did in a way that was aggressively non-violent.
A comedian named Michael Ian Black said a week and a half ago on PBS, “There is something going on with American men that is giving them the permission and space to commit violence. And one of the main things we focus on correctly is guns and mental health, but I think deeper than that is … a crisis in masculinity.”
Five other guys and I formed a men’s group 25 years. We have met every Thursday evening for what I estimate is 1,300 times. We’ve become vulnerable to each other, sharing our deepest feelings. Some friends half-jokingly called us SNAGS — Sensitive New Age Guys, but that hasn’t turned us into wimps. On the contrary, it has helped us learn to not only access the beast within but, by acknowledging its presence, we’ve also learned to manage it for good.
And, yes, for two and a half decades we’ve been talking about testosterone. Our conclusions? Number one, it’s a gift from God. Number two, most women think it’s a gift from God, too. Number three, like any good gift, it can be misused, so the trick is learning how to manage it. Number four, thank God we have a group of other men with whom we can open up, especially if the time would ever come when we felt like hurting someone.
We’re still working on our understanding of what it means to be a man, and although we have not arrived at our destination, we’ve begun the journey. As one of the guys likes to say, we’re “in the struggle” and that perhaps is the most important aspect of becoming a mature man.
What’s more, I know a lot of men in this village who are on the same journey.