The “bullying” story coming out of the Miami Dolphins locker room has dominated the news for the last few weeks. Though the details still aren’t fully known, it hasn’t stopped the public debate over hazings and bullying. The responses to Jonathan Martin leaving the team over alleged bullying by his teammate, Richie Incognito, have illustrated the confusion we have in our culture over how boys and men interact with each other, how they become men, and how they prove their manhood. (As an interesting aside, I just learned that my son graduated from High School with Richie Incognito.)
Boys will be boys:
These are the voices that tell us that this is simply an example of how boys and men bond: they tease each other. They play practical jokes. They “initiate” the newbies into the tribe because the hierarchy of boys and men demands that each person knows his place. Hazings are a normal part of male culture. It’s the way that men recognize manhood.
In truth, males are wired for many of these kinds of behaviors. Testosterone is the primary shaper of males, and testosterone, among other things, is an action chemical. It’s what motivates males to bond through action. It’s what helps shape hierarchies in their friendships. It builds relationships through oneupsmanship and teasing. When I put down a buddy, he knows I love him. In a sense, in a male world, you only tease or harass those who mean something to you.
But…while all that may be true, there are lines, and deep down guys know it. When testosterone isn’t shaped by character, respect, honor, loyalty, and commitment, it turns toxic. It becomes violent and abusive.
Handle this like men
One of our local sports reporters offered a quick commentary on the Incognito/Martin story: He said he believes that Incognito went way over the line but…that Martin should have handled it like a man. I’ve heard that one again and again. He should have handled like a man, meaning: he should have gone toe to toe with him, called him out, fought back, etc., anything but walk away (which is the unmanly thing to do).
Men do have this unique way of getting into each other’s face and then walking away as friends. Handling things like a man (standing up for yourself, fighting back, etc.) creates respect between men.
But…that’s assuming both men are acting like good men: men of honor, integrity, compassion, and courage. When coming out of that honorable place, handling it like a man can be a positive way for resolving issues.
When it doesn’t come out of that place, as appears to be the situation in this story—and far too many stories, handling it like a man devolves again into abuse, bullying, revenge, and other destructive forces.
Without a rite of passage boys will make one up. They have a divinely created need to know and to prove that they are men!
Hazings, at the risk of oversimplifying, are boys attempts to create a passage into manhood. Every boy needs to know when he’s a man. He needs to know how to become a man. And when culture doesn’t provide a healthy, strategic, character-producing process for leading boys into manhood, boys will make it up themselves. And usually they will choose a destructive rite of passage: binge drinking, hazings, sexual conquest contests, gang initiations, bullying, and the like.
Boys have a deep seated need to know how to become men, what kind of men they should be, and when they can call themselves men.
If we continue to rob them of good, healthy rites of passage, we will continue to hear stories of bullying, hazings, and the like.
Manhood is a primal call in every male. And males become men through a strategic process.