Within the last ten years (and certainly the last 100 years), if the classroom, or the dinner party, or the small gathering discussion waded towards gender roles, the conversation would have focused on women. We were trying to figure it out; our mothers were trying to figure it out. Career vs stay at home Mom? Children? How many? Studies in the Science/Math--equal pay, equal rights...etc, etc.
Today when a student disputed a film director's claim that women were more compassionate, the classroom conversation determined that it wasn't necessarily true. With that claim proven false, the young men started to speak up in a way that took me by surprise. They were sincerely investigating through conversation and questioning, what it meant to be a man in the 21st century. Who was this new man? Who were they supposed to be? That they could express their confusion, their longings, disdains and hopes, the desire to change stereotypes,---amazed me in the most wonderful way-- enough had changed so young men could dialogue about a previously taboo subject.
You're a man--just suck it up. Act like a man. Real men don't cry. Men are buff and they don't eat quiche.
One student pointed out that his male role models include a man who treats his daughter like a princess, and another man whose consideration to his wife is what he notices and admires.
The young men acknowledged that the day has passed when men were measured by their buff and braun. With an automated society, the need isn't as great for hunters and bicep bulging lumberjacks. A man today, is more likely to sit behind a desk than bale hay on his ranch. Was it the physicality, the lessening need for braun in our society that was helping to change roles?
The entire discussion was carried out with the utmost respect and thoughtfulness. Hours later, I look back and marvel that this was a conversation among teenage boys.
As we reached the end of classroom time, a young woman raised her hand and with great warmth, marveled that such a conversation could take place.
As the teacher in the classroom, I contemplate how it could have all happened.
Previous to our conversation, we had read a speech given by the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Gandhi. He speaks of non-voilence and peace and from where his grandfather's desires of non violence came from. His grandson believes Gandhi's desires sprang from personal humiliation that drove him to find a better way to anger. Gandhi challenges us to not be ashamed of anger, to not, not talk about it, and to resist teaching about it. It's not enough to get anger out of one's system. One must find a solution to anger and commit to that solution.
We must resolve conflict, but Gandhi believed the secret to peace was to avoid conflict altogether.
Conflicts emerge from two main sources: inability to deal with anger and our inability to build good relationships, meaningful relationships.
The ability to deal with anger comes from writing with the intention of finding a solution and committing to the solution. As a writing teacher, I teach "write to discover," so this was a sweet back-up to the power of writing.
Concerning the inability to build good relationships--there is very little room in this world for another Gandhi. He was at the center of a perfect storm of politics, personality, experience, and era. For most of us, the greatest peace and change we will ever bring will be to our own families, neighborhoods and communities. If everyone brought this sense of peace to their own dominion, it would change the world. So, we must build good relationships within our realm of influence, and that is most likely within our families. Strong relationships depend on sacrifice, care and devotion.
In reflection, the reading of Gandhi's words is why, in-part, the young men were able to open up and discuss such an important subject. The study of peace, brings peace.