The very funny early 1990's sit com Men Behaving Badly portrayed how a lot of young men at that time viewed life and particularly relationships. The men almost heroically stayed irresponsible in the face of ever-increasing duty and obligation.
It portrayed 'behave badly' as remaining true to the misogynistic past and drinking yourself into oblivion as often as possible. Many men led such lives, and many continue to this day. Most adolescents behave this way for a period of time, and the majority are able to grow out of it. To behave badly is a stop along the route of masculinity, it isn't the final destination.
I recently worked with a group of men in their late twenties and thirties. It's been a while since I worked exclusively with such an age group, and their 'friskiness' was refreshing. They were social and care workers, able to channel their vitality into jobs that the wider community value. This is the important difference between them and the men who behave badly. The social and care workers are not trying to avoid the challenge of responsibility, even if on occasions the alternative route can seem appealing. The badly behaved boys do not receive such recognition, and so channel their friskiness into self-destructive drinking and gambling. There can be strong peer pressure for young men to join such behavior, and it takes bravery to not conform.
In order for us men to move on from behaving badly we need to explore how we become more mature, and by doing so manifest a braver and more authentic masculinity. With this in mind, there is a conference for men and women, titled 'Real Men - behaving bravely' in London on 16 May. It has some inspirational speakers and dance performances which will explore such issues. In preparation for the day I asked men how they think modern day bravery manifests.
The responses are complex:
'It took courage to cry'
Some felt it was about being vulnerable in a diversity of ways:
'I admitted I didn't know the answer'
For some it was accepting a challenge:
'To commit fully to being a dad'
And the challenge of being authentic:
'To show up with an open heart, irrespective of the consequences'
Many saw it as resisting peer pressure:
'To come out as gay in a world that stereotypes it as the opposite of masculine'
Some related it to being in relationship with women and femininity:
'To be vulnerable with a woman, and surrender to her completely without needing to stay in control'
I think right now, men are in the process of moving on, growing up even. The old reckless and feckless behavior is being replaced by a more authentic response to life. Men are now finding ways of accepting responsibility without losing their spontaneity and lust for life. This is a good thing for all of us, men and women, and it gives me hope for the future generations.