The Trouble Facing Our Young Men
In July of this year I was blessed with the birth of my first child. Telling you that having a son is a life changing experience is a bit of an understatement. 120 sleepless nights later, I often find myself daydreaming about his future soccer games, and the new role I will have to assume; Overbearing Soccer Dad (worthy of a bumper sticker?).
I’m looking forward to the good times. However, I am also inconsolably nervous thinking about the tumultuous times I may face 13-15 years from now. Before turning into the functional man-child that I am today, I spent a few of my formative years getting into as much trouble as I could muster. If someone were to have asked me the age-old question ‘what do you want to be when you’re older?’ at age 15 I probably wouldn’t have given them a clear answer. That is in spite of the fact that, at that age, I was certain I wanted to be a gangster.
To be fair to my adolescent self, I never wanted to sell/grow/smuggle drugs, traffic humans, rob, steal, extort, or do any of the things typically associated with being a gangster. And yet, I knew that is what I wanted. Consequently, Grade’s 8 through 10 were incredibly self-destructive years for me. Thankfully, I have been blessed with a guilty conscience, and parents and siblings who love me dearly, so my self-destruction was not long lived. When I look back, however, I am forced to ask myself the same question over and over again: Why was I, like so many of the young men I see today, engaged in a cycle of self-destruction?
A Culture of Failure
Success is something beyond material comfort. Being successful means being true to yourself. Being successful means achieving your goals, while not becoming a worse person in the process. I believe that the strongest reason for why so many of our youth turn to such a nihilistic lifestyle is because young men from 13-17 typically view success as uncool. Any attempt at impacting society in a positive way – whether it be through artistic expression, or academic self-betterment – is usually met with ridicule. On the other hand, failing all of your classes, stealing your parents van, disrespecting a substitute teacher for absolutely no reason, is viewed as a form of comic relief.
The reason why I believe this is the most powerful ingredient in the idiot-soup that our boys have been drinking is because this culture of failure begins to manifest itself earlier than some of the other well-known culprits. Boys often develop this perverse sense of positive and negative behavior well before they develop any meaningful love for money and power, or a lust for women. While I will not be proposing any short-fix solutions in this piece, I am adamant that this should not be dismissed as boys-being-boys.
The suggestion that this culture of failure is either normal or universal is absolutely incorrect. I have spent numerous summers in the Middle East, where I often go to visit family and soak in the political instability. While in Jordan I discovered that entire neighbourhoods take immense pride in the fact that a youth from their school/city/street/family/district received the Kingdom’s highest cumulative score on the grade 12 final exams (the marks are made public and published in the local newspapers). Moreover, academic prowess in Jordanian society is not synonymous with either a poor social standing, or physical vulnerability. In other words, the stereotype of the bookworm-nerd does not necessarily translate into many other cultures. For those of you who are of Korean, Chinese, African or Eastern European ancestry, you may have made similar observations.
Many of the friends that I had 10 years ago are now adults with children of their own. Some have moved on to become teachers, bank managers, lawyers, and even police officers. It would be easy, then, to ignore this whole piece as simply the way things are. I think that is an irresponsible mistake that we have been making for too long. While a large number of my friends have grown up to become responsible adults, a sizeable figure grew up to become criminals, and many are no longer with us today. Even those who got their acts together after years of hoodlumism look back and lament over the wasted years of unproductivity; finishing University is hard enough when you are in your early 20’s, it is much more difficult in your mid 30’s.
I do not have a comprehensive action plan to solve this cyclical problem. But my primary aim, at this point, is to identify that we have a serious problem when our youth see success, productivity, community involvement, engagement, and universal respect, as uncool.