This guest post was written by Brian Holers!
How men communicate
I’ve been thinking about the subject of communication between men for a long time, and have fielded many queries in this arena since the release of my literary/religious novel, Doxology. I expect to receive a fair share of grief for what I write here, given my nonexistent study in this field. Fortunately for me, limited knowledge has never kept me from offering opinions before.
No matter how advanced we become, men and women will never understand each other. We will try and try and try, and denigrate one another for failure to communicate again and again. Men will think they understand and have a means by which to judge women, and women will do the same for men. But the bridge will never be crossed.
As a child, I loved the Waltons. Remember how Olivia and her friend Verdie sometimes got together for a good cry? They’d plan a date and time to get together and talk about their kids, about love, about some of life’s heartbreaks. And they’d have a good cry. As a child I found this completely baffling—they’re going to plan a time to cry? —and as an adult male, still do.
But here is a truth; men are a lot more emotional than even we often know. We simply tend to hedge our bets where difficult emotions are concerned. Even the stiffest, least expressive men are filled with feelings. They have to be. Emotion is physical, and a necessary response to changes in circumstance. In many cases, women are more readily moved than men. Men respond to new situations metaphorically. We look for color, depth, poetry in what to women may be unlikely places. We crave expression and seek out beauty; we’re just more likely to find it under the hood of a car than in a vase full of flowers.
Feelings, whether for one another, for events, for the state of things, are physiological. Everything we see, everything we do, every change we experience, has an effect on us. We judge the way we feel to determine whether it’s good or bad. It takes us awhile to get good at it.
Humans need expression. Our experience of life must be shared to be real. However, in a man’s world, historically speaking, direct communication could be dangerous. In a dangerous world, where men fought for survival and competed for limited resources, men learned to measure risk. Like good writers, we learned to show, not to tell. This trait in men lives on. Arguably, it’s a better way to live. Anyone can say, “I love you.” Anyone can say, “I care.” Words can be hollow. Life takes place in stories. And life should be shared that way.
Men and women are different. We are wired differently. Here is a gross oversimplification. I am no scientist. I am no evolutionist. I am no doctor. I am a writer, and I offer observations. In the old days, way back, we played different roles. Men had to go out. They hunted. They fished. They fought the elements. They risked attack. They worked to survive. The job of a man was to feed and protect his family, to ensure they stayed alive. The ones who were appropriately wary, who never stopped paying attention to the dangers around them, whose instinct told them when to fight and when to flee, survived and passed their genes on to their children. Those who doddered, explored their feelings, contemplated the vicissitudes of a butterfly, let their guards down, didn’t. And didn’t pass on their genes.
Women learned to be social. They spent time with children, and in communities, with other women. Self expression was okay, in these venues. Nurture the children, nurture one another. That’s what they learned. That was their job. To make more babies, and to care for them. The ones able to care for their babies passed on the traits that made them caretakers.
All had the same ultimate goal. To feel safe in this thing we call life, whatever it took.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Despite what we read in the papers and see on the news, we are living in the least violent time in history. We all have a lot less to fear than ever before. Still, we can’t change our wiring. We are naturally vigilant. We are still inclined not to speak too directly. You just never know. In the end, it’s still “every man for himself.” We still put an edge on our words, just to make sure. Men rag each other, shoot the bull, break balls. We can take it. We prefer it this way. Anybody we don’t know, out of the ordinary, we’re not too sure about him. Men will never say to their friends, I’ve been thinking about you all day Bob, how’s your new job going? How do you feel about it? Men don’t talk that way. Men shake hands to show they don’t have a weapon, slap each other on the back, pat one another on the stomach and say, hey Bob, good to see you, I see that new job hasn’t helped your looks any. But it is keeping your weight up.
We all have emotions that need expression. We all need to seek a higher plane, to look for beauty in the things important to us, that give us our place of safety in the world. We respond to and label the feelings that accompany changes in our environment, as best we can. Fear and anger, we easily recognize. We respond instinctively. Other emotions, we’re not so sure what they are. We work to figure it out. We keep ourselves clean, try to look good for the ladies, ceaselessly search for our place. We’re unpolished, like lumps of coal, and a lot more generations will have to pass before we even begin to shine. Those of us most expressive, most able to manage the complexities of emotion so they don’t ruin our hearts or boil our blood, but rather add to our experience of life, will thrive, and will pass our genes on to our sons. They, like we, will seem happy. They will shout with their friends, dig their hands into machines to let off steam, one-up each other over beers, and solve their differences with softball games and shooting contests. It just may be awhile yet before we sit down, together, and have a good cry.