Spirituality &
Social Change

Young Men Today – Looking for a Path Forward in the Long Emergency

“By Time and Age many things are taught. Time growing old, Teaches all things.”--Aeschylus

I get to know a lot of people in Denver and Boulder at meetings and community events. Although I am clueless about women, I am a 65 year old man and have learned a few things about manhood.

I’ve been around men of all classes, races and ages –at retreats, in personal friendships, business relationships, and various spiritual communities, men’s groups, and 12 Step groups. Over the course of six and a half decades, as a son and a father of two sons, I’ve learned a few things about how men think, how they smell, what they like to eat. and what their unfulfilled emotional and spiritual yearnings are all about.

My sense is that something has profoundly changed for young males in the 20-25 age range. Robert Bly says in his book, “The Sibling Society”, that adolescent males don’t really come into their own until they are thirty years old.

And Bly’s book was written twelve years before the global economic meltdown. What is missing for young men according to Bly is mentorship by older men. I am speaking here not of technical or professional mentorship, like dental, medical, legal, corporate or scientific mentorship.

Rather I am talking about psychic or spiritual mentorship. Only older men can provide the organic nutrients younger men yearn for – whether those young men realize it or not. It’s hard to go looking for what you need-- if you are clueless about what you really and truly need.

Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Robert Bly, James Hillman, Michael Meade, Robert Moore and others who have studied masculine psychological structure and the male archetypes point out that the biological father can play a significant role. And yet, in the final analysis, far more is needed by the young man than a good Dad. The reason is that the father-son relationship is too intensely rooted in biological connections and family dynamics. “Psychic contamination” is the phrase Carl Jung used.

In the last two years, I’ve encountered many young men who are adrift. Or at least they sure seem that way to me. I could be wrong. And yet, I have a deep feeling that they know at some level of consciousness why they are drifting.

In their gut they are aware that the Long Emergency is descending upon them in a very up close and personal kind of way. “In your face” is the feel of it for a young man today. For the context and implications of the Long Emergency, see the author of the book with that title, James Howard Kunstler.

With 70 percent of Americans fearful of losing their jobs, according to recent polls, what is a young man to make out of the future that is coming his way at ever-accelerating rate and intensity?

My observation and reflection from experience with some of these young men is that the deeper the consciousness of the young man, the more disorientation he experiences. In the 60’s, many young men said a profound “NO!” to the corporate America way of life. They dropped out, tuned out mainstream culture and turned on with drugs.

For young men today, it often comes out as “holy shit” or “what’s going on?” Being overwhelmed by economic meltdown, the response may be to turn off the economic realities of life and drift. And yet, it is a subtle kind of drift. Not a full blown depression -- but a deflation, likes “someone burst my balloon and I never saw it coming. What happened?”

It’s like waking up and for a few moments not knowing where you are. Young men who are well educated and awake,” get it” that the foundations are shaking. And what I see is that “the best and the brightest” young males are getting pounded by their own depth consciousness.

Whatever “the American dream” has been – it is clearly in the process of foundational deconstruction. I would hasten to add that all of us are at risk. Therefore, we fervently hope and pray that reconstruction and transformation are coming some place down the road.

But the facts are troubling indeed. In one month, 57 people die in mass murders here in the USA, all committed by men.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health statistics, males are four times more likely than women to take their own lives. And males 20-24 are six times more likely to commit suicide.

If you read Bly’s “The Sibling Society”, you understand the double bind all men are in. He characterizes the majority of men in their thirties and forties as adolescent males in older bodies-- lacking the full capacities of mature manhood.

Therefore, our problem is that you can’t give a younger man what he needs if you don’t have it yourself. And the lack of capacity within older men is compounded by the economic meltdown that Kunstler characterizes as “The Long Emergency.”

This combination of factors is our “double bind” and our dilemma.

What then is our way out and our way forward as men? How do we practically retool emotionally and spiritually?

One solution I propose is to form small groups of 8-10 men who live in the same neighborhood or community. These small men’s groups would meet at least twice a month. The conveners would be a man in his 20’s and a man in his 60’s.

The wisdom of the older man borne out of standing near to death’s doorway cannot be overemphasized. At the age of 60, most men wake up to the fact that they are standing in the sunset time of their lives.

Simple chronology dawns on a man with a rude awareness when he reaches 60. More of his life has been lived than is yet to be lived. Some of his intellectual and physical powers begin to wane. This can be an epiphany for an older man.

As Robert Kennedy said, quoting The Greek poet Aeschylus: “And even in our sleep, Pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the human heart. And in our own despair, against our will, Wisdom comes to us by the awful grace of God.”

The role of the older man is to cool things down, reassure, and bless the younger man. The role of the younger man is to fire things up. This is the alchemy of male soul work and restoring the inter-generational bond among men that was cut asunder with the rise of the Industrial Revolution.

As the famed mythologist and historian of religion, Marcie Eliade said:

“The fall into modernity has been the single most catastrophic event to ever afflict the human spirit.”

What he means is that when we moved off the land and into urban areas, we lost our sacred connection to the Earth, animals, plants, and our own consciousness of being one with the Earth.

The second solution I propose is for national, regional and local mentorship groups to get gender specific. The elephant in the room is “political correctness.”

Yet the biological and psychic facts are that men and women are hard-wired in fundamentally different ways. And if we are to strengthen and deepen mentorship programs across the United States, we need to own up to and implement a gender specific context which will have salience and impact.

There is a fierce urgency to the Now -- for communities across our country struggling to retool and realign economic structures and public services. And there is a fierce urgency for older men to mentor young men who are seeking a path forward in The Long Emergency.

©2010, Forrest Craver

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Man becomes great exactly in the degree to which he works for the welfare
of his fellow man. - Mahatma Gandhi

Forrest Craver has been doing men’s work for more than 20 years. He was senior interviewer for Wingspan: Journal of the Male Spirit for many years. He has led or co-led more than 40 retreats or workshops for men including The Mankind Project, Men in Recovery, and regional clergy retreats for United Methodist and ELCA denominations. He is a lawyer and a nationally recognized fundraising consultant for nonprofit groups. He is the author of a short book of Spiritual Poetry entitled “This Well Has No Bottom” and is finishing a book about intergenerational breakthrough approaches for boys and men in American culture. His websites are cravercreativeservices.com/and transitioncolorado.ning.com/profile/forrestcraver or eMail.He lives and works in the Denver metro area.

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