British men are not best known for emotional articulation. Our fathers were brought up in the wake of World War II where the national memory was fresh with a propaganda campaign to suppress emotions – they were taught that ‘careless talk costs lives’ in case German spies discovered useful information. A 1940 propaganda push told people to “Be Like Dad, Keep Mum”, that is, keep quiet. The Stiff Upper Lip had become a national personality trait to hide emotions rather than show them, and Real Men did not cry. In 1939 the Ministry of Information created the famous motivational poster “Keep Calm and Carry On”; more than a just a marketing slogan, it was the essence of national survival.
Thus, we have a crisis. What is a Real Man anyway? What worked for post-war Britain is proving woefully inadequate for the 2013 era of self-development and personal transformation. Gentlemen need to fully get in touch with their emotions and learn to express them – myself included.
I am moved by the experience of the advance party of 12 spies that Moses sent on a reconnaissance mission to scout out the land of Israel. 10 returned with a negative report when they saw people who were taller and stronger – “the sons of a giant [were in the land] – we were like grasshoppers in our own eyes” (Numbers 13:33) – while two spies (Joshua and Caleb) reported it as a “land flowing with Milk & Honey” (Ibid.13:8).
Does masculinity mean that we are not allowed to be scared? During a 1940 blitzkreig with the Zeppelins flying over London, perhaps. During a 2013 self-development programme, forget it. Real Men are allowed to be scared. Were Joshua and Caleb scared? Perhaps. But they kept on keeping on, and once they had overcome their fear of the giants, they discovered that an incredible blessing lay in front of them. It was this sort of attitude that merited Joshua stepping into the future leadership of his people. He and Caleb went further, imploring the worriers “not to fear the people of the land for they are our bread…do not fear them.” (Ibid, 14:9). In other words, we’ll make a sandwich of them…we’ll eat those guys for lunch! Interestingly the Hebrew name Joshua means ‘saviour’ or ‘deliverer’ and Caleb means ‘like a heart’. They got to the heart of the matter and helped the people through.
King David’s greatest hit was Psalm 23, which famously stated that “though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil”. My question is, if he didn’t feel scared at all, why did he even mention fear? Perhaps a more accurate reading of this could be ‘even though I am initially scared, I will remember there is a Higher Power, I’ll remind myself to overcome the fear, and I will keep on walking’.
There are areas in all of our lives when we bump up against fear. How many times are we held back because of it, and how many people do you know who fail to fully live their lives because they are not able to even express their fear?
Keep Calm, Feel Your Emotions, Name Them, and Then Carry On. Or, Keep Calm but Don’t Suppress Emotions. The adjusted slogan doesn’t fit so well on a souvenir t-shirt, but it could help the menfolk somewhat…and strengthen the world as a result.
HOW TO APPLY THIS IN THE BOARDROOM: where are you not being truthful about your emotions within business? What are the unspoken or unfelt truths – do you really enjoy your job? Are there clients or colleagues you are unhappy with? This week, try naming your hidden truths and begin finding ways to communicate and resolve them so that you can live in full power and authenticity.
HOW TO APPLY THIS ON THE YOGA MAT: which emotions have you buried deep or hidden away? Try enquiring with your meditation; “which emotions am I avoiding?”
Based on Parshat Shelach.