Eve Ensler (activist, author, and playwright most known for The Vagina Monologues) used the above title for a chapter in her book Insecure at Last. Since the first time I read this chapter I have been moved by the accuracy of her description of one part of the complexity of violence, particularly men’s violence in our world. I call it emotional amputation, and it's what a lot of us experience as boys who are taught to sever ties with any emotion outside of anger and rage. Our training takes place about the time we learn to walk and is instructed by any number of nurturers in our lives. We get this lesson on playgrounds, in backyards, locker rooms, on the ball field, in the band hall, the classroom, and various other common spaces that boys find themselves throughout childhood and adolescence. It sounds a bit like this:
“Get up! You ain’t hurt.”
“Quit crying or I’m going to give you something to cry about.”
“Suck it up!”
“If someone hurts you, you hurt them back!”
“Never back down!”
“Win at all costs!”
And the list goes on….
Ensler talks about two types of power in the aforementioned chapter, a power that comes from feeling and adequately processing emotions, and a power that comes with denying and suppressing emotions. She says:
"There is a power that comes out of surrendering to grief and a power that results in refusing it. I think they are two different types of power. The one that emerges through allowing grief feels clean, purged, and inclusive. You have experienced pain and grief so you would not want to inflict it on someone else. The kind of power that emerges through the denial of grief is aggressive power. It is trying to conquer something, annihilate something, and over come something. It emerges out of fear and a need to protect oneself from feeling, which then becomes a country, a people, etc. It is inauthentic power. It is not shamanic; one has not passed through something in order to arrive there. It is manufactured power in order to manipulate, bully or deny.”
In the midst of this tragic reality there is good news. We can choose to reclaim our full emotional lives and as Ensler describes above, surrender to moving through our hurts in ways that don't harm others but instead heal us and others. If more men would open themselves up to the full range of emotions, and process and express them in respectful ways, the world would be a much safer place. And if more men and women would stop emotionally amputating young boys and instead nurture them to experience, process, and respectfully express all emotions, the world could be transformed…because all at once the power to heal would replace the need for the power to harm.