There’s something about elite athletes joining together in teams to battle for victory that fuels my husband and three sons with energy and hilarious humor. I watched my men more than I watched the Super Bowl itself! And because I’ve been watching and loving them for years I have a big heart for boys and the men they are called to become.
Recently I watched the embedded video, The Mask You Live In, with my two teenaged sons and they confirmed that it is sadly true. Boys are given mixed messages through peer pressure and misguided adults about who they are and who they need to be. This confusion can lead to suffering, violence and despair. Boys want close and trust-worthy relationships, pride in themselves, meaningful work, and respect from others. How can families support them to be happy and do what is right?
We can start by empathizing with boys. All boys. Not just with the boy who gets pushed around on the playground but also the boy who is doing the pushing. It is a false dichotomy to divide boys into generic categories of bullies and victims because all boys need guidance, support and encouragement.
This week I read Why Empathy is Your Most Important Skill and How to Practice It by “passionate programmer, author, speaker, musician, technologist and CTO” Chad Fowler who shares:
I’m not an expert or even remarkable at it, but I work on it consciously and consistently. The it I’m describing here is called “empathy”:
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner—Merriam Webster
As exhausting as it is for me, this is the primary reason for the success and good fortune I’ve enjoyed in my life.
Empathy is an internal process dealing with emotional sensitivity and reasonable boundaries. Some boys are naturally sensitive and can use this gift to easily feel emotions but they need help to manage them. They can learn how to avoid emotional hijacking and avoid becoming overwhelmed by having healthy boundaries with others. Some boys have naturally reasonable boundaries and can use this gift to have a confident sense of self but they will need help to be sensitive to the needs of others. They can learn how to trust and be vulnerable.
One way to make the internal process of empathy into an external behavior is to expect boys to be kind. Boys can learn kindness, which is a key to kids’ happiness and popularity.
Parents can also talk about kindness at home – and, even better, they can model it. Children are particularly sensitive to parental actions and beliefs, and they are natural mimics of their parents’ behaviors.
Families can help boys to be happy and do what is right by providing them with an environment that encourages empathy and kindness. Whether a boy aspires to be a Super Bowl Champion quarterback like Russell Wilson, an entertainment star like Bruno Mars, or his own hard-working dad, these habits of thought and behavior will build strong character and confidence to be his best self.
How do you see past the masks and stereotypes in order to be there for every boy in your sphere of influence? How do you support boys to be happy and do what is right?
I’m sending my very best to you and the boys you love ~~~~~~~~ Angie Mc
17 thoughts on “Boys, empathy and kindness. #Relationships #Parenting”
I’ve been pondering empathy myself, and just blogged about it with our relationship with patron saints. These are all great points — as a mom with 2 boys I’m very sensitive to this!
I love that we’re pondering similar themes these days, Jenn!
I see siblings as a phenomenal way to increase empathy, especially among brothers. My sons are so different from each other, yet share common traits, so I think it is easier for them to see themselves in each other’s shoes and learn from each other.
If you have a chance, will you link here to your post that you’re referring to? Thanks!
Here it is: http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/blog/index.cfm?ID=113
I agree about the brothers. I come from a family of 7 children, and I think we really fostered that. We are pretty close and very aware of each other’s emotional needs.
Thanks for the link, Jenn! What a fun coincidence that we connected empathy to our current ponderins 🙂 You wrote, “Christians look for empathy in dealing with crosses in life. Through our baptism we become adopted children of God. This means the saints in heaven are not just friends but family — our brothers and sisters. We are looking for saints who have walked a mile in our shoes, saints who knew these particular sufferings personally. We hope to find empathy and intercession for help either in cures, alleviation, or just help bearing the weight of the cross.” And we can consider putting ourselves in their shoes! Hopefully to gain strength and hope in the fact that people can endure through so many challenges.
Curious, would you say that among your 7 siblings, some were more inclined to empathy while others needed help to be so?
At times it depended on their age and struggles. If they were more navel gazing at times they were less empathetic naturally. I’d say one brother particularly had to be guided more. My mother fostered the time at home to be with each other, so family first, then other activities. I think we still are very close, and think of each other even if not present. One big example was to be fair in the food distribution. We never did first come first serve, but would choose to divvy up everything, particularly treats, even when one or two were not there. I remember evenly dividing a roll of Sweetarts, even down to the same number of colors. Perhaps my mom started that, but we willingly did it over the years. The prevailing thought was “how would I feel if I didn’t get any?”
The Golden Rule was applied all the time….and that does help with empathy!
Love it! The benefit of a caring group (sibling set, family, friends) can be that there are all types in the mix and all are encouraged to work together via behaviors that are satisfying to all. That’s the plan, anyway! Different seasons of life lend themselves toward empathy too, I think. The toddler years? The teen years? More guidance needed 🙂
Also, is there a way to add your Catholic Culture blog to my Feedly directly instead of to the whole site?
I just got the feed today, so here it is! http://feeds.feedburner.com/Catholiccultureorg-CommentaryOnTheLiturgicalYear If it doesn’t work, this page http://www.catholicculture.org/feeds/ has all the feeds.
A beautiful, thought provoking post Angie. Thank you for sharing.
From my own perspective, being one of five sons my mother brought up, on her own, and having two sons myself, I should suppose I have some experience of boyhood! My mother, poor as we were, and without support, was loving, compassionate and very empathic. All of her sons have done well. Non of us turned out bullies ( even though, at times, we use to fight like mad ), spoilt misfits with grudges. We didn’t have roll models, there were not many men in our lives, apart from the odd (!) uncle. So most of our contact was with females; of which I am very grateful. It is that influence that made me kind, compassionate and very empathic, like my mum.
From how my own boys have turned out, these qualities have been passed on, again. Non of us have sporting heroes. In fact, non of us are interested in sport. Even the swimming I and both sons enjoyed wasn’t competitive. Life saving is a cooperative activity, both interesting and useful.
On empathy, I think intuition is related. It comes from a deep connection with other people, related or not, and an underlying knowledge (of which we are only just aware) of what we are and will be: that is, spiritual. A connection to everyone who ever lived, is and will be. Some of humanity don’t feel this, but we are slowly coming together in mutual love and compassion.
I hope that more people will see that excess competition is not healthy, as child or adult. The human species is naturally cooperative, altruistic and gregarious. Males have, and still are, seen as victors, agresively competive and sometimes ruthless. Success is seen as needing these qualities. This view makes my heart ache. Somehow we must teach a balance between self reliance and community involvement. Personal ambition must be tempered with a view of how we fit into that community. But always community cohesion must take precedence, that is, if we are to live through this current bottleneck, of climate change, resource depletion and global equality.
Wonderful to see you again, Andrew! I’m privileged to have you share your wealth of personal experience with me. When I think of what it means to be a contributing member of a community, it makes sense that each person has a unique set of gifts to share. Speaking of boys, some will contribute excellence to their families and community through, academics, athletics, creative arts, volunteerism, and so many other life affirming ways. We can help them to see that sacrificing for others is important and that carrying the weight of responsibility is invaluable. Andrew, your mother sounds like a very wise woman and your sons are fortunate to have you as their father 🙂 May every happiness be yours ❤
I think it’s harder than ever for boys to grow into men these days. I think things have been so radically feminized on a lot of levels – i.e. the portrayal of women as the smart one and the husband/father as the stupid one on TV shows – and when that’s coupled with so many boys being raised without fathers in the home, it’s no surprise that our boys struggle. I’ve always thought it ludicrous to tell a boy to “be a man” when 1) he’s NOT a man, and 2) how can he know what that even means when he’s not often had a good example of one? It’s not instinctive, which is why we need role models.
Whoops! Sorry about the soapbox. It’s near and dear to my heart too, and I guess I feel pretty passionate about it. 🙂
Great thought provoker, Angie! 😀
Glad you feel passionate about helping boys, Ness 🙂 And thanks for trusting me with your thoughts. I enjoy the challenge of considering the many variables that contribute to personal and family happiness. And when it comes to boys, my greatest satisfaction is to just be there for them. Because of my sons, my home is open to boys of every age with a variety of personal gifts to share with the world. I’m comfortable with boys, especially teens, in a way that I see many aren’t. For me it has less to do with media solutions (to include the linked video) which tend to politicize the personal than it has to do with being personal; getting in the trenches with them. When well-intentioned programs veer off into adult projections of what boys need, they can miss the actual needs of real boys. For example, I ask real boys questions and listen to their answers. I hug them and laugh at their (often questionable) jokes, lol. I feed them lots of their favorite foods. I encourage them to do what is right and to consider the needs of those around them. I believe them. And I’m blessed to have some wonderful relationships with amazing people who happen to be boys 🙂
Keep you passion and comments coming, Ness! And happy Wednesday ❤
I can see some get a little stuck at the definition of what a ‘man’ is. Is a man any more real than a ‘real man’? Is a gay man any less real. No. There is no exact age when boy becomes man, no right of passage ritual. If you believe, as I do, our souls have no gender, we choose our mothers before conception, and we all have a life plan given before birth. Except, of course all this is very much forgotten as we, or most of us, get older.
Yes, there are a lot of single parent families, here as well as the USA. But we must be careful with statistics. I’m sure there are men raising a child/children through bereavement as well as divorce. And also men being full time house husbands. My nephew is one, and I consider him a good man by any definition. Roles are changing. More men are more engaged in taking a more equal share in bringing up a family. A lot of mores!, but there is more equality in the home than in my childhood days. Gone are the days the man ruled the roost. Thank goodness.
Boys need a good mother, a good grandmother, more so, I think, than non familiar role models. As very young children, we have high morals. Life a few years later, both within the family and outside, will attempt to change those values. Hopefully remaining for the good. It is a test of a child’s character to decide which way, and for us goodly people to help guide them ‘towards the light’.
I love to see child stereotypes reverse. Some girls Want to be engineers, some boys hairdressers. We should embrace this and give them all the encouragement they need. The future is theirs.
Hi again, Andrew 🙂 You wrote, “Boys need a good mother, a good grandmother, more so, I think, than non familiar role models.” After much study and work in the public sector, I agree that for children, the family is primary to their well-being as well as being the child’s first teachers.
Because I enjoy the fullness of my femaleness (hope that is right!) I want to be feminine while sharing my interests and talents unencumbered. For example, I have earned a degree in a male dominated field (Masters in Public Administration via a Political Science program) and I work from my home while also staying home to raise and teach my children and make a comfortable home for our family. That was a mouthful! I want the same opportunity for all of my children to embrace the fullness of who they are. For example, my one son plays baseball at a very high level and is an excellent chef. Good for me because I love to watch him play ball and eat his Tiramisu cake – YUM!
Gratefully, my grandfathers, father and husband never ruled over me or my mother and grandmothers. I am grateful that they have taken responsibility for the people in their care, truly sacrificing and serving for our well-being.
As for the politics of gender, I’ll leave that to the energetic! I was raised in a traditional, faithful family which produced my sweet parents, me and my amazing siblings. So I choose to follow that same proven path for our family; so far so good ❤
Your content is timely, as a father of three boys I am alert to how my boys treat each other and those in their world. As a Psychologist I see and feel the mask people live in, this mask is constricting and painful, it is full of hurt, regret, and sadness. Not great qualities to build a well rounded life. Despite these painful feelings and negative internal dialogue I have seen young men make the tough choices to redefine their mask to the person they aspire to be. Videos and discussions such as these give hope to those who are struggling to shed their mask by allowing them to try another one on for size to find a better fit. Once we find that fit we can better navigate through the masculinity minefield to get to a place of humility, kindness, and empathy for others. Once we arrive our next task is to help those young men and lead by example . Great post!! Thanks!
Why thank you, Dr. McIntyre 🙂 So it seems that the goal is to prevent these masks from forming in the first place, but if they do, then we need to provide a safe environment so that boys can trust and remove them. Thank you for providing that for our family, friends, and for all of your clients ❤
Great topic Angie. This whole idea often disappears when a well meaning mom or dad is trying hard but never had a dad themselves. No memories of how to do what you’re doing, but posts like this provide a direction!
You are so right, Gwen. Being a good man is very hard work and the more positive role models, the better. That’s where good man friends come into play. With good information, support, and encouragement, they can find their way together…and if they’re lucky, there will be a some fun along the way to make the work a bit lighter 🙂
Happy weekend to you & yours ❤