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How Everyday People Can Change the World and Love Doing It

Three ways anyone can do good and feel good

You’re committed. You are going to break the man box, that unwritten code that dictates the narrow criteria of manliness. You’re going to challenge every sexist and homophobic comment you hear. The gender police got nothing on you. You’re hanging out with your group of guy friends, and someone says, “Why don’t you hit me with your purse next time?” Now’s your moment. Cutting through the chuckles, you say, “Hey, man. That’s not funny. That’s sexist.”

The group turns to you and grows quiet. Eyes are squinting — studying — and smiles are sinking in slow motion. Then, your friend says, “Looks like it’s someone’s time of the month,” and everyone erupts into laughter. Everyone but you.

Confronting expressions of masculine superiority is common on social media, but it’s often terrifying in person. While that is not a good excuse to support harmful patriarchy in silence, it’s a reality. It’s also not all that productive to hurl internet shame as motivation for change. Here’s an anonymous comment I received after writing The Belonging Paradox for Men (about the fundamental human need to belong and men being lost in their search for it):

Boohoo men 😢 No surprise men have problems with relationships when they set up systems where they exploit others and compete against everyone all the time. Real trust + intimacy killer there guys. You have created [and] enforced [the] very system that [is] hurting you. Drop [the] patriarchal bravado and build one based on true equality. It will be hard to feel any compassion for your plight until you make a good faith to do so. So far, you only seem to be protecting your privilege and resisting change. Until you exert some effort to change things systemically, you deserve to be lonely and jerking off by yourself. Everyone is DONE reinforcing you and the crappy system you created! 🤮

Fair points, but I don’t believe this flavor is the recipe for change — especially for boys. Boys inherit this frustration without understanding the history behind it, and most don’t learn the skills to navigate the competing forces that surround them. They are called on to be better men, but they are also pressured to emulate their peers and role models. They hear that boys can be anything, but they also hear that boys will be boys. They should be good guys, but girls like bad guys. These contradictions are confusing.

Boys ought to learn the history of gender inequality. People ought to stand for justice and against bigotry. There are lots of techniques and tips to interrupt and challenge harmful behavior — many of them unrealistic, patronizing, or ineffective. There is no universal approach to having difficult conversations, but there are three strategies that anyone can use to change the world.

Prioritize Relationships

Imagine there’s a bridge that crosses a raging river, swarming with flesh-eating salmon. You’re on one side, and your friend is on the other. Your friend calls out, “Hey, come over here. We need to talk.” Your brain questions if you want to walk over there. It’s a long way. Your friend lights a bundle of dynamite and tosses it onto the bridge. Is this a joke? It looks real enough — the bundle explodes, leaving the bridge crippled, flames licking in the gaping divide. Whatever your friend has to tell you, you sure aren’t going to hear it now. Not ever.

And the moral of the story is: don’t burn down your relationship bridge.

People are