Saturday, September 30, 2006
A Fresh Take on Masculinity
Thanks to my friend Ig (pictured above), I’ve recently completed reading the autobiography of world champion kickboxer Paul “Hurricane” Briggs.
Heart Soul Fire: The Journey of Paul Briggs not only traces Briggs’ rise in the kickboxing and boxing world, but also powerfully documents his transformation from drug addict and thug to mindful individual, dedicated husband and father, and inspiring public figure.
It was particularly refreshing to read that part of the book in which Briggs talks about his idea of starting a mentoring group to “give young blokes a different experience of what masculinity is”.
Notes Briggs: “The most common word used to describe what is manful – macho – is all about ego, nothing about depth of character. [ . . . ] Boys need to fathom that being a man is not about being aggressive, sexist, homophobic, emotionally mute, overconfident, and pig-headed. Such qualities have no business being used as reference points for manhood. We have evolved too much psychologically to allow boys to be so limited in their thoughts and feelings”.
Towards the end of his autobiography, Briggs returns to this theme, observing that, “[t]he reason I’m telling my story is not so people will glorify my ring exploits – it is for people to hear me. And by people I mean men. In a broader sense, beyond my own family’s welfare, I hope my achievements in the ring will prise open the stubborn minds of men to ideas I have about masculinity, to listen to me talk of valour, honour, and responsibility.
“I’d like to show them a fresh take on masculinity, one that is not rooted in physicality and ego but in vulnerability, self-love, and noble values. [ . . . ] The torrent of gung-ho, aggressive, and vacuous male role models steamrolls over qualities such as kindness and gentleness and caring. They are seen as weak, disdainfully feminine qualities a man should avoid like rattlesnakes. I say the opposite. I say women are lucky. Generally speaking, they are closer to their emotional centre of gravity. They seem to be born with an emotional maturity that men inherently lack. So unless we develop this asset ourselves, we will never acquire it. If men made the effort, they’d realize what powerful, enriching rewards are to be had by tapping into their emotional wisdom.”
“To do so,” says Briggs, “is to become more of a man, not less. I think one of the greatest gifts a man can give himself is to learn to understand and process his feelings”.
I’m grateful that Paul Briggs has not only come to such realizations, but that he is willing to share them through his writing and his numerous speaking engagements. Through such efforts, young men, like my friend Ig, himself a talented and aspiring kickboxer, get to hear and reflect upon the “emotional wisdom” Briggs has gained and which he so eloquently expresses.
Of course, it’s not that Ig’s wonderful family hasn’t always embodied such wisdom, but I think that, sometimes, before a young person can fully understand and appreciate such wisdom, they may need to hear it from others outside of their immediate family; from, for example, the sporting figures they admire and wish to emulate.
Ig told me that he wanted me to read Heart Soul Fire: The Journey of Paul Briggs so that I would understand not only Briggs’ journey, but also his own journey. That both young men have, in their own ways, come through difficult times and emerged wiser and more compassionate is something of which we can all be grateful and proud.
Like his brothers and, thankfully, so many of his generation, Ig is a straight young man comfortable with his sexuality and respectful of the sexuality of the gay people he knows. Of course, this is just one of the many “enriching rewards” which result from a “fresh take on masculinity”.