“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Winston Churchill’s admonishment to humanity is frequently quoted. Yet, how often do we heed the warning? How often do we seek to step up and make the change?
Four years ago this month, a beautiful and talented 22 year-old University of Virginia lacrosse player, Yeardley Love, was murdered just before her college graduation. Her 22-year-old ex-boyfriend was eventually convicted of the crime. His previous death threats revealed warped and untrained emotions. Now he will be spending much of his life in prison.
How will we treat this? Will it continue to fade away as headline news — a sensational trial to follow? Or will this be a wake up call? Will we learn from this tragedy or face the risk of repeating it?
After Yeardley’s funeral, former NFL standout and high school football coach Joe Ehrmann wrote an open letter calling us to get to the root of this alarmingly common tragedy: America’s epidemic of bullying, dating and sexual abuse, and gender violence.
In the letter, his cross-hairs are aimed pretty near the bulls-eye as he signals out one of the main causes — the failure of society and parents to model and teach authentic manhood to boys and young men. False definitions of manhood lead to poor relationship building, and an inability to empathize with others.
In Jeffrey Marx’s book, Season of Life, Joe fingers three counterfeit definitions of manhood: physical prowess, financial prowess, and sexual prowess. This is a fool’s scoreboard — tracking sports, money, and sex as measures of masculinity. Joe teaches his football players and the kids he works with that being a man, first and foremost, means the ability to enter into and maintain meaningful relationships. A man lives for a cause greater than himself and his needs. Authentic manhood means accepting responsibility, leading courageously, and enacting justice on behalf of others.
Emotional Deficiency: Conquering an Empathy Deficit Disorder
Joe emphasizes that when we teach our boys to “stop crying,” “stop those emotions,” and “don’t be a sissy,” we incorrectly define what it means to “be a man!” As he notes, this leaves many men unable to relate to the feelings of others — including women. He warns that when this happens, women become objects “… used to either validate masculine insecurity or satisfy physical needs. When the validation ends or is infused with anger, control, or alcohol, gender violence is often the result.”
Too many boys have wounds from their fathers, the break in their family, or shame that they are damaged goods and don’t measure up. Boys and men must be taught that emotions are valid, but they need to learn how to control those emotions. They need respect, encouragement, and training in empathy, a missing characteristic in a culture focused on self. Allowing empathy to grow helps prevent anger or jealousy from being acted out in the violence depicted in most entertainment.
Authentic Manhood, Strengthening Relationships … How We Can Take a Stand
In addition to damaged emotions and false definitions of manhood, I submit that the breakdown of marriage and the treatment of sex as an a-la-carte item in America’s cafeteria of libertine choices are linked to the crisis of relationship violence. These are currents that must be curbed if we want hope for our next generation. Our nation’s freedom to disagree about what is right and wrong is fundamental, but to shirk from defining right and wrong is neither love nor compassion. It is sabotage of precious young lives.
So what can you do?
- Love your spouse: Resume dating him or her. Ask them what their main needs are from you and work at meeting them.
- Spend time playing and praying with your children.
- Prioritize the relationship skills of communication, apology, and forgiveness.
- Train your teens to build friendships, not exclusive, clingy, sexually-involved romances. Stop treating sex and violence as entertainment and sport.
- Ask questions and have dialogue with your sons and daughters.
- Affirm their worth … show respect.
- Get candid with your sons about treating women as if they were their little sister; it’s not a game.
- Pass on a vision of love, relational maturity, and commitment that is anchored in humanity, identity, empathy and transparency.
Oh yes, we parents are imperfect. That does not disqualify us from stepping up to parent this generation. Anything less is neither courageous nor loving.
Don’t let the tragic death of Yeardley Love fade away as another headline sensation. Imagine if she was your daughter? What if the ex-boyfriend was your son? Honor her memory. Prevent his path to shame. If you know someone suffering from domestic violence or you yourself are caught in that battle, read this article on Domestic Violence Awareness for ways to get support. Also, read Joe Ehrmann’s article “One Team-One Heart-One Love = One Movement” to help end this tragedy.