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You Can’t Inspire a Man by Using the Same Language that Took away his Inspiration

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"it hurts"I often hear from both men and women that men today aren’t pulling their weight—that women have been doing a lot of work on themselves and really desire for men to “step up.”

Have all men been lumped into a category of being privileged and lazy?

As a man who’s been engaged with inner work since 2004, I can agree that in group settings, there used to be a lot more women than men present.

That’s been shifting.

I can also tell you from experience that being told to “step up” rarely inspired me—in fact, oftentimes it had the opposite effect. Anyone saying “step up” who didn’t know me seemed to care more about themselves than about me, and may just be recycling a command that worked for them in the past.

With this perception—the perception that men are not “stepping up”—what makes anyone believe that all that’s needed is an invitation?

Such invitations can be patronizing. It’s like a parent noticing that little Johnny doesn’t do his homework and responding with, “Johnny, your family and the world needs you to do your homework now.”

Invitations to “step up” can come across as a quick-fix band-aid that ignores the individual. It’s a solution that sounds good to the observer, but not necessarily to the person who’s ultimately responsible for any personal change.

Any man who doesn’t consider problems defined by others as his biggest problems, can’t even hear an invitation to fix those problems.

“But it’s so obvious! Why don’t these men see things the way the rest of us do?” you may ask.

That’s a good start: asking questions.

How does anyone who sees his self-worth as directly connected to their effectiveness in the world respond to commands like “step up,” which carries with it the underlying message of “you’re not good enough?”

Have you noticed the trend in male suicides due to the shame of not providing a “good enough” income recently?

In 2010, in the United Kingdom, suicide rates were highest for those aged 45–74 at 17.7 per 100,000 for men and 6.0 per 100,000 for women. That’s three men for every one woman.

Do you think telling those men (or women) to “step up” before they stepped out would have made any difference?

Why not inquire about some root causes that have left some men without hope and let your response come from that understanding?

Maybe first, we’ll have to hear some things we don’t really want to hear.

In the United States, men repeatedly get the message that they’re disposable.

  • 98 percent of war casualties are men.
  • There’s no national office for men’s health.
  • Men are at least 38 percent of the injured victims of domestic violence but receive none of the billion-dollar-per-year support offered to women.
  • Men have no reproductive rights: her body, her choice (even when he wants to father the child).
  • This isn’t a pity party or a cop out—it’s a reality check.

An alternative to asking men to “step up” could be to celebrate the men who have been making a difference in their own lives, and the lives of their families and communities.

Isn’t it possible that there are movements underway to affect change that just aren’t being recognized?

Maybe it’s time to listen to what men have been experiencing before offering a prescription or a command. Even if some men aren’t ready or willing to talk yet, there are plenty who are.

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[ a version of this article first appeared on elephantjournal ]