‘Compassionate men are happier.” Ed Adams has that on a bumper sticker on his car. It gets him a lot of supportive honks and thumbs up.
Mostly from women.
And in that dynamic is the crux of the difficulty Adams has getting through to people that compassionate men actually are happier; that compassion in men, in life and in business, is not some flight of fancy, it’s actually a strength. That “warrior” that everyone uses to define men’s nature, he says, is not what you think. The warrior is in the ability to be kind, because for men that’s often the real fight.
Adams, a psychologist who practices in Somerville, will present “Facing the Issues: Masculinities in Research and Practice,” a day-long conference designed to further the understanding of boys and men, presented by the American Psychological Association and the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers. The conference will be held on Saturday, March 24, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Rutgers University Inn and Conference Center, 178 Ryders Lane, New Brunswick.
Joining Adams will be Holly Sweet, founder of the Cambridge Center for Gender Relations; Brian Cole, assistant professor of counseling psychology at the University of Kansas; and Christopher Reigeluth, assistant professor at the School of Graduate Psychology at Pacific University. Cost: $180. Contact Jessica Benas at email@example.com or call 848-445-3987.
Adams grew up in Trenton and Lawrence and was the first in his family to attend college. His father served in the South Pacific for the U.S. Army in World War II and drove a bread truck for a living. His mother was a beautician whom the senior Adams met at Fort Dix.
Adams earned his bachelor’s and master’s in psychology from Xavier University in Cincinnati (1971 and 1973, respectively). He later earned his Psy.D. from Rutgers. He has been in private practice since 1990, concentrating on men. He also is the founder of Men Mentoring Men, a nonprofit organization providing peer coaching for men.
Outside of his practice Adams is an artist. He has owned galleries of his work in New Hope and Lambertville and was commissioned to do a bronze statue for RWJ Hospital in New Brunswick. He was also commissioned to sculpt a bust of Oskar Schindler that was presented to Steven Spielberg for filming “Schindler’s List.” His paintings hang in museums and private collections around the country.
The main focus of the conference, Adams says, will be taking aim at the stereotypes of men as cruel, angry, oppressive people. Yes, he admits, men have given plenty of examples of those traits, but the reality of who most men are gets lost in a lot of oversimplified, us-vs.-them rhetoric from multiple angles.
Take, for example, mass shootings. Website Statistica breaks down the number of male-led and the number of female-led mass shootings in the United States between 1982 and this past February. There were 94 mass shootings conducted by men in that time. There were two by women.
This kind of statistic tends to lead us to jump to conclusions. “We try to package things as cause and effect,” Adams says. The problem is, while men overwhelmingly are the ones pulling triggers, the overwhelming number of men are nonviolent and would never do such a thing. But the message that keeps getting delivered is that there is something inherently violent about being a man.
That message, Adams says, is pounded into boys’ heads and it continues through their adult lives. Messages tell men and women that the way to be a man is to be aggressive, to take the pain, to put yourself in harm’s way because that’s what a man does.
“What we’re missing is the extraordinary courage, the extraordinary sacrifice men make,” Adams says. “The willingness to suffer to make life better for others.”
There is also men’s creativity and imagination, he says. The efforts to improve medicines and machines so that the world can be an easier place to live. This side of men, he says, is rarely discussed, particularly as a way to balance out the unending messages that a real man throws himself on a grenade (on a good day) or treats women like commodities.
Getting through. At the core of male emotions, Adams says, is anger, an easily accessed emotion that boys are taught to show in just about every other kind of emotional situation: Get startled? React with anger. Like a girl? Dip her hair in the ink. It’s easy to tap into anger because it riles up the system, but emotions, Adams says, offer so much more nuance.
Getting through starts with educating guys that they can actually feel other emotions, and that it is okay. “It’s a huge task” to teach men to tap into more diverse emotions, he says, but to undo the damage men ingest from myriad sources men (and boys) need to be taught empathy and compassion.
Compassion as strength. When it comes to business, compassion is usually a mocked concept, at least for men. Sift through any business book section and you will spot countless examples of tough talk, militaristic analogies for running businesses, and no end of aggressive-sounding phrases — targeting customers, hunting clients, and so on — to describe different aspects of business.
But Adams argues that compassion is a lot more courageous than stomping over others, in business or in life. Compassion, he says, takes a man away from that security blanket of anger he carries around. It makes him more empathetic, more open.
“There needs to be a lot of influence in popular culture, in media, to accept that men are compassionate,” he says. “And here’s the thing, they already are. That comes built in. We wouldn’t have survived as a species if we weren’t able to care for other people.”
The real warrior. Men love to consider themselves warriors, but here’s another surprise, Adams says: the warrior is there on all kinds of levels. It’s the courage to apply for a new job, to open a bill you’re afraid you can’t pay.
What we need to do, Adams says, is to recognize that courage is the important thing, not force. If we could tie courage to civility, compassion, and openness, a lot of good could come from it.
Being “a man” is a fluid concept. Something to keep in mind, Adams says, is that how men interact with each other is not set. There is no inherent manliness that says men need to be aggressive. During the American Revolution, he says, men were very affectionate with one another. They wrote tenderly worded letters of friendship and openly admitted missing each other.
And these were the guys who suffered through brutal winters to fight a superior army. The point, Adams says, is that the homophobia men feel about admitting they care about other men is a recent construct. More importantly, it is one that can be reversed.
If only men could get it into their heads that actually having feelings other than anger is a natural thing for men to have.