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Updated: Mar 28, 2022

We humans are social animals, so connection and belonging are essential to our survival. This is what makes shame—the fear of being cast out—so intolerable, nearly existentially terrifying. And shame itself feels shameful because it reveals our deepest, most tender insecurities. It is perceived far from “manly” or “masculine." It is weakness. It is vulnerability. Many men aren’t even fully aware of their shame. It has taken me many years to face mine, and I still have a way to go.

By “masculinity,” I am referring to an energetic quality, called “yang” in some traditions, which assertively initiates, sows seeds, and forges ahead. Yang exists in all of us, whether we identify as men, women, gender-fluid, or otherwise. Similarly, the feminine energy, called “yin,” exists in people of all genders. Complementing masculine, the feminine is open, receptive, inclusive, and nurturing. Both yin and yang, masculine and feminine, are necessary for life, health, and wholeness. And both can have their distorted, shadowed side. The shadowed expression of the masculine is when the assertive turns violent or aggressive. Similarly, the shadowed side of yin is when, instead of being receptive, we become passive. In the leadership domain in which I coach and practice, yang would entail leading from the front—“This is where we are going, follow me.” Yin style leadership, which is just as important and powerful in its effect, would entail leading from behind—supporting, trusting and empowering others to actualize their potential and find their own way. Thus, yin and yang are both essential to the vitality of not only us as individual organisms, but also to entire organizations as well.

And though yin and yang energies exist in all of us, most men would tend to have a more naturally developed masculine side to them, generally speaking. As men, we need to harness our healthy, assertive masculinity. We also need to rid ourselves of our distorted masculine, which renders us violent. And in support of the cultivation of our healthy masculinity, many of us could benefit from the development our yin, so we can also become more open, receptive, and empathic to others, without which no mutually satisfying human connections can exist.

Freeing ourselves from the distorted masculine will uncover the dignity of our healthy masculinity—a masculinity that is authentic, potent, and mature. A masculinity that honors, respects, and protects all. Such masculinity will benefit us and all those around us. It is our “response-ability” to embark on this journey towards healing, growth, and transformation. Though it might not be immediately clear, it is also an opportunity—our opportunity as men and as human beings.


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