Why are Men so Violent?

As I write this, another shooter in the U.S. is being cast as someone who was “descending into madness”. This man is older than other shooters we’ve seen recently—and he had plenty of money too. So we wonder, what was his motive?

We naturally want to understand what causes a person to create a plan and then carry out that plan to open fire on a public crowd of strangers with an automatic weapon. If we can understand, perhaps these events can be prevented.

Hearing the term “mental illness” (to explain the cause of the event) will satisfy some Americans. Others will say it’s a problem of too many guns. And many will go no further to understand the root of the issue. However, if we don’t understand the root cause of such violence, we’ll be putting band-aids on a wound that requires much more.

I don’t believe the only problem is just mental illness (though I do believe in social services that offer mental health support) or just the ease of access to weapons (though I do believe stricter gun control is a good idea). And it will be nearly impossible for us to agree on any solution as a country without agreeing on the problem. We need to first collectively acknowledge what got us to today’s dependency on violence and guns.

I believe the deeper problem here is a cultural reliance on solving problems through violence and a glorification of guns as the means. And I include our military as an indication of this glorification, in the name of visions I agree with such as freedom and peace.

It’s worth noting here, however, that we generally don’t ask, why are men always the ones committing these horrific acts?

In our culture, men tend to be the ones who are encouraged to be violent and then either praised or punished for being so. This encouragement is born out of our current culture’s outdated need (not a current need) for breeding violent men. Specifically, a cultural choice to teach men to be dominant and to ignore their difficult emotions in order to succeed at dominating.

Killing another human being is the ultimate form of dominance. And what does killing require of a man if not the shutting down of his capacity for feeling?

As author Mark Manson put it:

“For most of civilization, young men were the ones responsible for protecting society. By the time they were adults, they needed to be battle-hardened and physically strong — the survival of the community often depended on it. As a result, brutal, physical violence among men (through organized sport) was celebrated (and still is today, although this is beginning to change). And men who weren’t able to make the cut were shamed for their physical weakness, for their emotional displays and vulnerable demands for affection. Men were meant to be ruthlessly competitive, and emotionlessly self-contained.

And this was the hidden cost for their physical, and later political dominance, in human society — as men, we are taught from a young age to hide from our emotions rather than to engage them.

Well, this may not surprise you, but repressing emotions fucks people up. And shaming people for weakness and vulnerability can result in all sorts of mental health problems, not to mention encourage them to lash out in anti-social ways (i.e., shoot up a school, or ram a car into a crowd of people, sign up to be a militant in some crazy religious organization — sound familiar?)”

So this is a pretty grim picture of where we are and how we got here. You may be wondering, where’s the hope in what I’m sharing here? And what can you do about it?

The hope I find is taking action to acknowledge and support efforts that restore men to a new role that today’s society actually needs.

Efforts that teach men to become strong peacekeepers without a dependence on violence. That teach men how to be collaborative and to explore their difficult emotions in order to be successful collaborators. Shifting the mindset in our culture by learning about and sharing stories in which heroes are the ones who seek to solve problems while holding others with dignity. And supporting efforts that reward men who model this new way of manhood with gratitude and respect.

Here are just a few of the group efforts I find worth raising up in support of moving from a dependency on violent men to welcoming men into a role that suits today’s world:

  • The Mankind Project, a nonprofit training and education organization with programs for men (described in the video above), was created with the vision that it will be the emotionally mature, powerful, compassionate, and purpose-driven men that will help heal some of our society’s deepest wounds. http://mankindproject.org/

  • The Ever Forward Club is a secondary education program (featured in the same video above) supporting the needs of underserved, at-risk teens. It was created by Ashanti Branch, a former high school principal who recognized that young males are not achieving their potential, often as a direct result of wearing a false mask of bravado that hides their repressed emotions. https://everforwardclub.org/

And here are a few organizations already offering solutions for dealing with violence (beyond the tactic of threats or retaliation) in service of a more peaceful world:

  • Life After Hate was created by former members of the radicalized American far-right movement to educate people about the threats of violent extremism and inspire individuals towards a place of compassion and forgiveness, for themselves and for all people. https://www.lifeafterhate.org/

  • The Metta Center for Nonviolence works with students, educators, activists, the media and military personnel from around the world who see, however far off in the future, a vision of healing, respect, justice and compassion based on a much higher image of the human being and the meaning of life. http://mettacenter.org/
  • Nonviolent Peaceforce is an unarmed, paid civilian protection force, fostering dialogue among parties in conflict and providing a protective presence for threatened civilians. http://www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org/

About Matthew Sloane

Matthew Sloane is the artist and author of the forthcoming book, 'Alexander and the Battle He Could Not Win'—a graphic novel about demonizing and inner demons. He’s also a leadership coach and brand strategy consultant for Soulful Brand.