ZEN MASCULINITY

At its best and noblest, masculinity is Zen.

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook some thoughts and questions regarding toxic masculinity. He wrote:

I’m told every day about toxic masculinity, but there’s not a term for the opposite. I’m never told to exhibit healthy masculinity; I’m never shown the positive identity of masculinity as an ideal to live up to. My guide is [to] not be toxic.
Toxic masculinity is real,…and is damaging to women, men, and society. It’s important, and needs to be discussed. Awareness is important.
But I think positive masculinity could make just as much difference, but in a positive direction. I think we’ll improve progress of our world if we as men are taught how we should be, rather than just how we shouldn’t be. In studies of human change, constant criticism isn’t an effective method of change, and removing one behavior is far more permanent when it’s replaced with a positive one.
Change is more effective when based on reward, not punishment (yes, it’s been studied, references on request,) and right now, we’re acting as if we’re trying to get men to change based on punishment of shame and fear (both important social motivators, despite them being used as bad buzzwords, don’t get me wrong,) but if we added a goal to achieve, I think that would create a reward to reach for, an identity to claim.
A female feminist seeks to be liberated, empowered, a strong woman. What empowering and noble thing is a man trying to be? Right now, it seems like it’s just “not toxic.”
Thoughts?

In essence, my friend is saying that men today are being told to “not be toxic”, but they aren’t being shown what to be instead. Men lack positive examples of healthy masculinity, and we even lack a term for the opposite of toxic masculinity.

I’ll start addressing my friends thoughts and questions from my personal beliefs and standards, and then broaden the argument to be as inclusive as possible.


Personal Views and Standards

As always, I go to the sacred texts (Bible, Book of Mormon, and other scriptures or inspired writings) for guidance and standards of truth by which I can discern truth from error, and properly frame the world around me.

The first thing that comes to mind is that modern day society would say Jesus cleansing the temple is an example of toxic masculinity. He was being aggressive, turning over tables, breaking stuff, whipping people, and causing a ruckus. Typical toxic male behavior. Right? Haha!

The Savior wasn’t displaying toxic masculinity. He was displaying righteous indignation.

The second thing that comes to mind is a distinction made early on in the scriptures. In the days of Adam there began to be a separation between the “Sons of God” (those who hearkened unto the Lord and gave heed; see Moses 8:13), and the “sons of men” (those who did not hearken to the voice of the Lord; see Moses 8:15). These “sons of men” were those who “…in those days ​​​[and in ours] Satan​ had great ​​​dominion​ among men, and raged in their hearts; and from thenceforth came ​​​wars​ and bloodshed; and a man’s hand was against his own brother, in administering death, because of ​​​secret​ ​​​works​, seeking for ​​​power” (Moses 6:15)​. Sounds like toxic masculinity to me.

The scriptures make it clear that in Heavenly Father’s eyes, the label He chooses for “nobel masculinity” or “righteous manhood” is Son of God. After the order of His Only Begotten Son. Meaning Jesus Christ is the pattern and example of manhood. One who is kind and loving and humble and noble and strong and obedient and indignant and courageous and etc, etc, etc. Heavenly Father wants us men to “be ye therefore perfect [sons of God], even as” Christ is the perfect Son of God.

…in Heavenly Father’s eyes, the label He chooses for “nobel masculinity” or “righteous manhood” is Son of God.

Satan and his toxic masculinity (because you better believe he is the author of it) seek to exercise unrighteous dominion. Christ and his Divine Sonship (which he wants to share with us) seek to empower all (men and women) “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;…By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile…Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love…[by] charity towards all…, and…[by] virtue garnish[ing] thy thoughts unceasingly…” (D&C 121:41-45).

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ remind us men that we are sons of God, and they invite us to ”put off [toxic masculinity], and [become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and [become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).

The “sons of men” will not believe in Father and Son, and will deny any divine relationship to the Godhead. They will also dismiss and ignore the scriptures. Even so, it is our charge as sons and daughters of God, to “labor diligently to…persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God” (2 Nephi 25:23). In so doing, toxic masculinity will cease to exist in the hearts of men.


A Broader View

I acknowledge that my comments above are Christ centered, and recognize they may not resonate with friends and neighbors of different faiths and beliefs, or those who do not believe in God or Jesus at all.

In thinking of you and wanting to be as broad and inclusive as possible, I propose the best antithesis to toxic masculinity is “Zen masculinity.

The best antithesis to toxic masculinity is Zen masculinity.

Why Zen masculinity? Because as a philosophy, Zen “emphasizes rigorous self-control, meditation-practice, insight into the nature of things (“perceiving the true nature”), and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. Also within Zen tradition we find the Shaolin priests, a spiritual man who is a warrior as well. Shaolin Kung Fu is one of the oldest forms of martial arts. In the Shaolin priest we see an example of masculinity in balance.

Other cultures throughout the world have their own versions of spiritual warriors like the Shaolin priest. Native Americans, Aztecs, Greeks, and Romans, all had a tradition of warrior priests. During the Crusades it was the Knights Templar. In fiction and pop culture, it is the Jedi Order.

Each of these examples has inspirational ideals opposite of toxic masculinity. They represent nobility of character and spirit, clarity in wisdom and understanding, service and charity toward others, strength and courage, respect and honor, and so much more. The spiritual warrior can serve as a pattern which men and boys may follow to unleash their ultimate goodness and potential.

Yes, these examples are not perfect and may contain some traces or elements of toxic masculinity. But if we are looking for a term that can subvert toxic masculinity, show men what positive masculinity is and looks like, and what each boy can aspire to, then I propose it be Zen Masculinity.


Featured Photo by Ricardo Rocha on Unsplash.

For more inspiration watch Limhi.Live. It’s an online show that is part TED Talk, part call in radio show, and part variety show. It’s all inspiration and entertainment. Broadcasting daily beginning at 5:30 PM (MST). You can also watch it over at Twitch.


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