Category Archives: spirituality of men

Warrior Basketball as a Spiritual Experience

I confess that I have rarely been attracted to professional basketball—more excited by football frankly.  But lately, and perhaps because I am older now (in my 75th year), and because my local team, the Golden State Warriors, are the best team in the NBA, I am allured to watching them.  That and because their play at times resembles a ballet or an art form as much as a competitive sport.  It can border on the sublime.

Their number one player, Steph Curry, voted Most Valuable Player (MVP) by sport writers and broadcasters for the year 2015 in the team’s amazing run of winning 67 games, is an artist with the basketball—not only with his dribbling and behind-the-back passes and in his jump shots from way behind the three-point line, and his often soft lay ups that float high above seven-foot defenders at one time and are off the board at another time, but in the quiet way in which he sets the tone for the rest of the team and leads them and feeds them the ball regularly often with breathtaking passes.  As well as his apparently very contented family life that features his two-year old child who likes to break into news conferences following games thereby stealing the spotlight from her father.

Much goes on in sports and one of the wonders is lessons of getting along, lessons of a common task, therefore of team work and community building.  Regardless of personality differences or role differences or differences in builds and physical stats and positions, a good team learns to get along together to get to a common goal.  That is what community is about—cum-munio—share a common task.  Team work happens and it happens constantly with the Warriors as sometimes Steph or some nights Klay Thompson or some nights Andre Iguadola stand out.  No room for envy within the team itself, rather they learn to think for the whole and play for the good of the whole and rejoice when one player is standing out one night: That’s what teamwork or community is all about.  “Collective unselfishness” is how one person described the current Warrior team.  Several star players actually sat on the bench to make room for other players to emerge this year and did so apparently with very little resentment.

The team comes before the individual—and in a narcissistic culture like ours has become, such modeling is rare.  But the Warriors team did indeed model it this year and perhaps no one more than Iguadola who won the “Most Valuable Player” award for the finals championship games coming off the bench to play fierce defense and important offense.  Interviewed about his award, he said, ‘its an honor to win the MP.  But for me, it’s not about that.  It’s about getting guys to buy in.”  And that means buying in to the team as a whole.  Character matters and they have their healthy share of the big “C.”  This shows a capacity for taming the ego that most spiritual traditions promote.

For some time I have been speaking about meditation as being a powerful way to calm the reptilian brain—and it is–for reptiles are accomplished at solitude more than at bonding and meditation puts humans in touch with the solitude (or monk) in each one of us.  So to meditate is to calm that reptilian brain and this is a very important task in our time.

But now, after watching the Warriors, I am convinced that we have another way to calm the reptilian brain (or is it just another form of meditation?).  Sports too can help calm and redirect the reptilian brain.  Sports too can be a meditation.  Why am I so sure of this?  Because the reptilian brain wants to win—it’s win/lose with a crocodile.  Athletes want to win too—that is why they practice so hard and sacrifice much to get to their common goal, a goal usually defined as winning.  But what makes the reptilian brain in sports different from the reptilian brain in war for example (or often in business), is that in sports there are 1) a spatial parameter (the ball court) and 2) a temporal parameter (the game is only 48 minutes long as such) and 3) referees and 4) a beginning and an end.   And if one loses, well, “it’s only a game.”  That is where the excitement derives: Will the reptilian brain win or lose tonight?  Which team’s reptilian brain will triumph?  Sports exercise the reptilian brain—but safely and within parameters.  And if one wins, the larger tribe, the followers of the team, go bananas and rejoice and express themselves in irrational ways that are exactly what one needs after suffering through the daily grind of work and bill payments and children’s sicknesses and all the rest that life offers on a daily and sometimes humdrum basis.

When done well, sport addresses the critical question of How Do We Tame the Reptilian Brain?  For when we can calm the reptilian brain, our mammal brain, the brain of compassion, can begin to assert itself.  The former is 420 million years old, the latter is 210 million years old.

Sport can be a medicine for our hyper-active reptilian brains.  Why do I say this?  First, because the reptile in us sees life as win/lose, one winner takes all.  One does not readily compromise with a crocodile.  What does sport do with this desire embedded in all of us to be Number One?  It plays with it.  It lets it run its course, but according to a limited parameter (think: Soccer field, basketball court, football field) and with referees or umpires to keep the “players” on track.  What this does is to allow the reptilian brain to “do its thing” but within parameters and lucid rules that all are subjected too.  Playing with the reptilian brain is not the same as making war with the reptilian brain.  In fact, it is medicine for the war compulsion.

Sports then are more than merely a “distraction” and a re-focusing of one’s energy and attention for a specific time period.  They are also a recharging of the reptilian brain but also a keeping it within bounds.  In this way, as in meditation, the reptilian brain finds its outlet not in beating up on others or conquering others but in re-learning how much of life is merely “a game” and one can lose one day and survive to start over the next.

There is a certain “high” when one’s home team wins; it puts wind in one’s sales for the rest of the day; it awakens optimism and even hope, that victory (that elusive archetype) is some times possible and even something that can happen close to home.  Furthermore, the joy and optimism gets shared when others in one’s tribe also take delight at the results.  Here too community is engendered, the community of hope and joy that pleases not only team mates but the larger tribe.  Surely this is a better use of the reptilian brain than is war?

Of course, only one team wins and ultimately only one team wins a championship—that is the definition of championship after all.  But others live on to play another day, or another season as the case may be.  And hope runs eternal (as it did in Oakland since this was the first championship for their team in forty long, draught-fill years).  And we praise those who win the day, especially if they have done it with grace and good sportsmanship.  The tribe grows larger through praise and respect for excellent play.

One cannot take delight at basketball without marveling at the athletic grace and endurance and wakefulness and fierce warriorhood that the game requires.  Such grace does not come easily but through plenty of blood, sweat, tears, workouts, hours of practice and lots of discipline.  One sees all that in the results, “by their fruits you will know them,” as one spiritual teaching once said.  This is a special gift that came our way this season from the Warriors, a gift of grace, of the artistic genius it takes to steer a ball into a hoop and to hustle down the floor and to find the open player ready to receive a well-directed pass as well as defending a hoop by severe fierceness and perfectly timed leaping and reaching.  Watching such aestheticism and athleticism together can move one to tears.

There is also an intergenerational sharing that can take place in sports.  One’s playing days are over usually about in one’s mid-thirties and there is lots more living and watching to do.  So it’s exciting to see another generation of young adults put themselves through the rites of passage that it takes to be proficient in the sport and to show up with the same kind of energy and alertness and grace and beauty to play the game with gusto.  Thus one generation cheers on another; and both generations profit from this mutual exchange, one providing the play, the other the encouragement (and the coaching and managing and ownership also).  Sports can generate intergenerational sharing and joy and understanding.

In the grand order of things, one can easily conclude that winning (or not winning) a basketball game is of no great consequence.  But wait!  Maybe it is.  Just because leading a graceful and generous and fierce life is something we all are called to do.  It does not hurt to see one particular profession, gathering five people on a gym floor for 48 minutes over a period of several months a year, strive to do exactly that: To apply the human gifts of the athletic and the aesthetic into a 48 minute event that one spends months and years preparing for.  Such an event is archetypal, it is a mini-pattern of our lives that, granted, are the big game but that require mini-games that condense the dance of beauty and grace, effort and stamina, perseverance and community teamwork, into a ritual reminding us of our better selves, our most beautiful and community-oriented and generous and warrior selves, our reptilian brains put to the service of community and excellence here to delight and spread joy that others can participate in deeply.  The reptilian brain feeds the mammal brain in sport insofar as when there is a victory there are lots of hugs to go around.  Affection is felt and friendships are made and a sense of community is expanded.

Yes, basketball is a ritual and it crosses the line between so-called “secular” and “religious” rituals.  Spirituality links the two at times.

Another spiritual dimension to Warriors basketball (and indeed to most sport) is the role that beauty plays—the beauty of a long three pointer, the beauty of a leaping rebound, the beauty of a fast lay up or a rapid pass to the one open player cross court and more.  Beauty is very much a spiritual term—in the Middle Ages many were the mystics who called God “Beauty” and celebrated how humans are “participants in the Divine Beauty.”

Sports address two primary chakras it seems to me.  The first, because it conjures up tribal consciousness—people root “for the home team” and assert themselves in the most whimsical and loud and irrational ways.  They raise the roof in appreciation of a good shot or a defensive stop or the seizing of a championship.  They become friends to others who share their “tribal status” of this or that particular team.  This too can be a great thing for again it is playing with the tribal notion that “we are the only ones” and expands the tribe to include strangers.

Of course this is nonsense but by playing with it instead of claiming its literal truth sports allow us to be ourselves, to pay attention to the tribalism from which we all emerge.  When one tribe wins and another loses, there is glee in one camp and sadness in the other.  But ultimately one learns that “it is only a game” and people do move on.   The first chakra is about not falling into tribalism as such even while we do recognize our specific tribes but in the context of a greeter whole—that of the universe itself.  The key to the first chakra is vibration and it is no coincidence that much of the cheering elicited in a basketball game is very much of a mantra kind—“Defense, Defense, Defense” or ‘Warriors, Warriors, Warriors,” goes the crowd—the mantra evokes vibratory power which engenders togetherness.  Group mantras feed not only group tribal feelings but the soul itself.  The lower chakras are fed and nourished by such mantras.  Lessons are learned and relearned about the role the tribe plays in our lives and always has for member of our species.

Another chakra awakened by Sports is the seventh chakra which, when healthy, is about our light energy climaxing in the back of our heads and extending out to other light beings to link up with them in shared community whether these beings be ancestors or angels or others on a path of light and fitness.  But the shadow side to the seventh chakra is Envy which also recognizes the light in other beings but instead of celebrating it chooses to shoot it down or go to war with it.  Sports awaken the seventh chakra: One recognizes the talent and light in one’s opponents (even while paying attention to their weaknesses to exploit) while seeking to defeat them.  But again, one plays at this, it is temporary, and limits are set by abiding rules that forbid an actual destruction of one’s opponent.  In this way one learns to strive to accomplish one’s best and most excellent gifts and while there is competition with others, the competition is not the last word.  Envy does not rule (envy being the great shadow of the seventh chakra).  Playing superlatively does rule.

The ritual of basketball (like the ritual that other sports are) has its altars for focusing points. “Ancient as the workbench is the altar” writes one poet and pastor.  An altar is an archetype of a focusing point, there lies its power: it gets us to focus and thus brings about meditation.  What sports have is usually not an altar but two altars: That is where the competition lies: Which altar, attracting which team, will prevail?  The altar in the basketball court is obviously the hoop: That is the focus of all that goes on: Get the ball into the hoop; prevent the other team from getting to the hoop.  (In hockey the altar is a net, as in soccer; in football it is the goal line or, lacking that, the goal posts; in baseball it is the home plate but three ‘minor altars’ precede it).  Everything is done for the sake of the hoop—but there are two so each team is engaged in a struggle both offensively and defensively to get to the hoop or to prevent the other team from getting to their hoop.  Getting to the altar is an adventure, a struggle.  It takes warrior energy and excellence and skill and craft and endurance to achieve access to the altar.  Above all, it takes focus.

Ordinarily an altar represents the axis mundi or center of the universe but since in sports that center tends to be binary, it is as if each team is fighting for its own universe.  And this the cheering fans, the supportive community, sense also: It is our altar and our universe vs “their altar” and “their universe.”  A mini-pageant ensues of one tribe vs. another.  There is a satisfaction in “winning” by getting to one’s altar more frequently than the others; and there is a sadness in defeat.  But still, life goes on.  (Though in some ancient ceremonial sports the losers were sometimes sacrificed if they lost.  Thus the altar dimension to the ritual of sport was taken more literally, the altar being the place where a sacrifice is enacted.)  The struggle and the injuries that happen on the court are part of today’s sacrifice at the altar of the hoop.  It is less final than those ancient sacrificial focal points.

So sport conjures up profound archetypes among the participants and those who cheer them on.  More than ego is involved—the psyche and cosmos (symbolized by an altar or two) are at work, a struggle to engage psyche and cosmos is happening. Players offer their gifts and sacrifice much on the field and in preparation in their training and excellence to conquer, to give the reptilian brain the achievement it yearns for.  Lessons of victory and defeat are learned.  Mighty chakras are engaged.  Excellence is called for.

Is sport a mere “secular” ritual?  Or can it have more important and lasting consequences?  This depends on how we look at it.  If sport is just a “business,” then most likely it is thoroughly secularized.  But if it accomplishes some or most of the other dimensions I have named in this article, then it is very possible that the feelings of achievement and glory and the memories of beauty and artful playing, are “more than secular.”  They join the realms of awe and gratitude and beauty where the soul feeds and grows and nourishes itself and others and that the mystics call the “Via Positiva.”  Joy is aroused for many in the community. There is an intergenerational accomplishment as well since elders, who themselves may have participated in such games as young men and women, acknowledge and appreciate excellence when they see it played out by a new generation.  They cheer them on, as does Steph Curry’s father who was a professional basketball player himself.  There is a kind of ‘sacred tradition’ that is handed on from generation to generation.

Is there a shadow side to professional sports? Of course there is as there is to anything humans embark on.  Among its shadow side can be addiction, couchpotatoitis (when so much work needs doing in our culture and passion needs to come alive in compassion), hero worship that becomes an excuse for not taking on one’s own responsibilities, projection of one’s own greatness onto others, vicarious living via TV, capitalist greed, power trips and ego-trips, banishing the poor and working classes from watching live games, etc. etc.  So a “caveat” is in order, a warning to stay alert.

On the bright side, a championship run is a taste and hint of Joy and community and diversity and respect for excellence and hard work and achievement and beauty and grace that ought not be forgotten.  It is an eschatological occasion, meaning a taste of a better and fuller future.  The year 2015 for the Warriors was such an eschatological moment that led to joy for many, joy at being human yet still excelling, joy at being a team and community, joy at beauty and excellence and the marriage of art/aesthetics with athleticism, the joy of a job well done.  Thanks, Team.

Some people pontificate against the “secular” world but I am not one who is at home with a stark  separation between the so-called “secular” and the Sacred. On the contrary, in a healthy society much of what some call “secular” can be very sacred.  Grace is grace and nature can be grace.  Thus humans who do their work gracefully—and this includes those with a vocation to basketball or other sport—arouse a sense of the sacred by the splendor of their work and of course they share it with the rest of us.  This is true of our work and it is true of our sports.  If basketball can bring the sacred and the secular together—and it can—then basketball has its place among us and for good reasons.

But still, it is just a game—that is its appeal and that is its essence.  But it is a game with consequences, sometimes to the wallet but more importantly consequences for the soul.

Tip ball anyone?



Matthew Fox is a spiritual theologian and author of 32 books on spirituality and culture that have been translated into 58 languages.  The books include Original Blessing, The Reinvention of Work, A Spirituality Named Compassion, The Hidden Spirituality of Men, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Time.  He is an Episcopal priest and resides in Oakland, California where he enjoys, among other things, Warrior basketball.

Men Behaving Badly

Recent news stories have not been showing the better side of men. From police brutality to domestic violence and international terrorism, we’ve seen stories lately to raise horror and concern.

We’ve seen a white male cop gun down a young black man, apparently for walking while black on the streets of Ferguson, Mo. We’ve seen a NFL halfback, Ray Rice, slug his fiancée on an elevator so viciously that she fell unconscious. We’ve heard of another player, Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers, who apparently hit his girlfriend during a party in the Bay area. We’ve heard of Adrian Peterson, one of the great running backs of all time, beating his baby child. There are now documented cases of 56 serious cases of domestic abuse by NFL players in the past eight years, yet in most cases there was no punitive action taken by either NFL or law enforcement.

And it’s not limited to the U.S., or the world of football. We hear of young men in ISIS who are beheading journalists at will while recruits for ISIS pour in from around the globe. Recently I saw a YouTube recruiting piece from ISIS where three young men, dressed in full beards and with machine guns on their laps, tell the viewers to join ISIS and “get over your depression.”

It is true that many young men are depressed these days. Given much that is going on in society and in our depleted earth community, one can see why. And given the dearth of healthy male role models one can understand the depression. Realistically, what are we to do with it?

As I see it, the real issue has to do with what passes as masculinity in our culture.

Recently two authors teamed up to express their opinion on these matters in a thoughtful article entitled “Depression in men is a public health problem” — Dr. William Pollack, author of Real Boys and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, filmmaker of The Mask You Live In, a documentary exploring the bad images of masculinity among boys.

In their article, they point out that boys are more likely to act out their depression than are girls, and so “the early warning signs of depression in boys are often missed, leading to a misdiagnosis as a conduct disorder or attention-deficit disorder.” Young men in the US are committing suicide on an average of three per day — five times the rate of women. The authors conclude: “Depression in males of all ages is a public health crisis that must be addressed. To do so, we must redefine healthy masculinity and recognize that even if men are putting on a face suggesting ‘everything is fine,’ real pain may be lurking beneath the surface.” (1)

Some years ago, I addressed the issue of redefining healthy masculinity in my book The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for Awakening the Sacred Masculine.. Even today, the response from people on the front line remains very strong. A Native American who has worked in prisons for twelve years told me that he’d found getting men to look within themselves was practically impossible — that in prison men are always trying to project on others. After bringing my book into his program, he said it was the first he’d found that got men to look inwards and “find the nobility inside.”

That is key: Finding the nobility inside, the original blessing, effectively heals the lousy self-image that most men carry. And this is the process I offer in Hidden Spirituality: I gather ancient archetypes of the healthy masculine that take us far deeper than superficial messages of our culture (be a winner; don’t feel too deeply; be a Marlboro man, etc.). Such metaphors as Green Man, Spiritual Warrior, Father Sky, Hunter-Gatherer, Blue Man, Father, Grandfather, and more alert men of all ages to the greatness of which they’re capable.(2)

In his recent Washington Post article, “I understand why Westerners are joining jihadi movements like ISIS. I was almost one of them,” Michael Muhammad Knight shares his own story to illustrate the appeal of jihad and ISIS to young men. He was attracted to jihad not by Muslim philosophy (of which he was ignorant), but by his growing up in American culture. Leaving his Catholic High School in upstate New York, he traveled to a Saudi-funded madrassa in Pakistan. He writes:

It wasn’t a verse I read in our Qur’an study circles that made me want to fight but rather my American values. I had grown up in the Reagan 80’s. I learned from G.I. Joe cartoons to (in the words of the theme song) ‘fight for freedom, wherever there’s trouble.’ I assumed that individuals had the right–and the duty–to intervene anywhere on the planet where they perceived threats to freedom, justice and equality.

He learned from his (conservative) Muslim teachers that Muhammad had said that “the ink of scholars was holier than the blood of martyrs” so he eventually gave up soldiery aspirations to become a writer.

But here is the crux of his testimony:

We [Americans] are raised to love violence and view military conquest as a benevolent act. The American kid who wants to intervene in another nation’s civil war owes his worldview as much to American exceptionalism as to jihadist interpretations of scripture. I grew up in a country that glorifies military sacrifice and feels entitled to rebuild other societies according to its own vision. I internalized these values before ever thinking about religion. Before I even knew what a Muslim was, let alone concepts such as ‘jihad’ or an ‘Islamic state,’ my American life had taught me that that’s what brave men do.(3)

What DO “brave men” do? That is the question. What awakens a man’s soul? What calls for courage and generosity and sacrifice and community? How does a boy mature to become a man? What values are we passing on to our boys and young men? The values of the reptilian brain (be number one; conquer; win at all costs; control others)? Or of the mammalian brain (compassion, caring and justice-making)?

We are living in a teachable moment. All the bad news about men behaving badly offers us an opportunity to speak out, to ask the deeper questions, to redirect the messages our boys and young men are getting from a patriarchal and reptilian-brain-driven culture that is dangerous to women and men, children and the Earth.

Feminist poet Adrienne Rich put it this way, writing about her two sons:

What do we want for our sons? To discover new ways of being men even as we are discovering new ways of being women…a manhood in which they would not perceive women as the sole source of nourishment and solace….If I could have one wish for my own sons, it is that they should have the courage of women. I mean by this something very concrete and precise: the courage I have seen in women who, in their private and public lives, both in the interior world of their dreaming, thinking and caring, and the outer world of patriarchy, are taking greater and greater risks, both psychic and physical, in the evolution of a new vision….I would like my sons not to shrink from this kind of pain, not to settle for the old male defenses including that of a fatalistic self-hatred. And I would wish them to do this not for me, or for other women, but for themselves, and for the sake of life on the planet Earth.(4)

Rich has perceived deeply how men are stuck in “a fatalistic self-hatred.” Men have internalized the lies about original sin preached not only by bad religion but also by bad consumer-capitalism more deeply than have women. Men need to find the original blessing, the “nobility inside.” There lies the medicine for an obviously sick manhood that drives men to addictions, militaristic brutality and domestic as well as international violence.


1 William Pollack and Jennifer Siebel Newsom, “Depression in men is a public health problem,” San Francisco Chronicle, Sept 4, 2014, p. A-14. Italics mine.
2 Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for Awakening the Sacred Masculine (Novato, Ca: New World Library, 2008)
3 Michael Muhammad Knight, “I understand why Westerners are joining jihadi movements like ISIS. I was almost one of them,” Sept 3, 2014
4 Cited in Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: Mystic-Warror for Our Times (Novato, Ca: New World Library, 2014), 74, 75. Italics mine.

Beyond Gun Control: Other Issues Raised by the Unspeakable Events at Newtown

Like everyone else, the president included, the Unspeakable, that is to say, evil acts of murdering twenty children and six of their defenders has left me speechless. Evil does that. Awe does that. As poet Adrianne Rich put it, “Language cannot do everything–chalk it on the walls where the dead poets lie in their mausoleums.”

But we do communicate in words, and after the shock wears down a bit, one struggles for understanding and for learning from this horrible event. Politicians are beginning to talk again about gun regulation vs NRA and especially regarding automatic weapons, which are the weapons the killer used on his mother and all the kids. And that conversation is long overdue.

But I want to talk about something else. If you look at all the perpetrators of this kind of violence, whether in Aurora or Happy Valley or Virginia Tech or Tucson or Newtown, what they all have in common is this: They were all young men. What is it about young men that makes them so prone to such violence?

I recall once being at a gathering and sitting with Malidoma Some, the spiritual teacher from West Africa, when a young man got up and started raving and ranting at everyone in the room. Malidoma leaned over and said to me: “See what happens when young men do not have rites of passage.”

Malidoma should know, for if you are familiar with his story, in a nutshell it is this: He was kidnapped as a boy from his tribal village and taken many miles away to a Jesuit seminary where other boys who had also been kidnapped were being taught. He received a fine education but at the age of sixteen he threw one of the Jesuits out a second story window. Conclusion? He didn’t have a “vocation” to be a Jesuit. He left and walked home, a very long hike through jungles.

When he arrived he was very angry–not just at the Jesuits but at his tribe, who never came to rescue him. Two years of anger and hostility in the tribe passed and finally the elders came to him and said: “You are impossible to live with. You are full of rage. This year you will take the rite of passage you missed with the thirteen year olds.” So, at the belated age of 18, he took that rite of passage which was quite severe; of the sixty-five youths who went into the jungle with five elders, four or five did not survive it.

But Malidoma did survive it, and it not only made him a man who could deal with his rage, but also gave him his vocation, how he was to be an active and contributing member of his community or tribe. Much of Malidoma’s teaching is about the value of a rite of passage, especially for boys. And what happens when rites of passage are absent.

Part of a rite of passage is leaving one’s home, one’s mother and one’s father, as it presages becoming a mother or father one day. It also includes incorporating one’s own capacity for motherhood internally, instead of projecting it on to women in one’s life.

It is of significance, I believe, that Adam Lanza shot his mother first. This woman who did so much for him, who even home schooled him as a sophomore, who taught him how to use weapons (in what seems like a clumsy but well-meaning way to appeal to his ‘masculinity’) was the first to receive his full frontal rage. All the adults whom he shot at the school were women–the principal, the psychologist, the teachers. And they all bravely stood up to him to defend the children.

Education has become very womanly in our culture. In California today, 84% of teachers are women. Where are the men? Men are less and less drawn to teaching because the pay is so modest, but also because as youngsters they rarely see men as teachers and educators (see The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do by Peg Tyre).

The effort to define educational success by exams serves girls better than boys, who more often than not learn by doing and by bodily action rather than by sitting in desks seven hours a day and, if fidgety, being diagnosed with a “disease” and often given drugs for it.

Boys are two times more likely to be “diagnosed” with so-called “attention deficit disorder” than are girls. And four and a half times more likely to be expelled from school. Fifty-eight percent of college graduates in America last year were women and only 42% were men, and the gap keeps growing. Four times more teenage boys commit suicide than teen-age girls.

There is an underlying issue to consider here. The late and great E.F. Schumacher wrote that the number one purpose of education, the bottom line so to speak, is about values. How comfortable is our education system with talking about Values? If we are not talking about values, then we are presupposing that the consumer-driven, “get to the top” value system of our culture is reasonable and sustainable and healthy and indeed what life is all about.

Many people complain that in a pluralistic society and education you cannot talk about values because religious differences (or the difference of having no religion) arise. But I have laid out a value system in my book called The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human, that I have tested in public schools and that has been appreciated by Muslims and Christians, Jews and atheists. I call it the “10 C’s” and I think it takes us beyond religious differences and into a deep conversation about shared values.

I offer the list here: Cosmology (and ecology); Creativity; Contemplation (calming the reptilian brain); Compassion; Chaos; Critical thinking; Courage; Community; Ceremony and celebration; Character development.

Among the questions we need to talk about are these:

  • What constitutes healthy manhood?
  • When is a boy a man?
  • What is the meaning and meanings of being a man?
  • Is carrying a gun manliness?
  • Is power over others manliness?
  • Is being number one manliness?
  • Is angry revenge manliness?

Our culture and its promotional industries offer their answers to these questions, but I have tried to address the deeper and more archetypal meanings of masculinity in my book, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for Awakening the Sacred Masculine.

We need to be teaching such matters in our so-called school system. We are rarely doing so.

I am not just talking about teachers when I talk about education. I once sat at the headquarters of WASC, the body that accredits all the schools including universities of Western United States, and listened to the head honcho tell me: “If you had $5,000,000, your new school would be on a fast track for accreditation. We just did that for a fundamentalist college that had five million in cash.”

I said to myself, “So if Hitler walked in the room with five million dollars in his pocket his school would be accredited on the spot?” No values whatsoever. None but the values of the “market place,” of consumer capitalism. Shame, shame, shame.

Education needs reinventing from the inside out. Who accredits our so-called accrediting bodies? And what values are discussed and/or taken for granted there? Are any of the “10 C’s” in the mix? And if not, why not? I was struck at that meeting that the head honcho never asked a single question about the content of our education, that is, about values.

And so, while reflection on this horrible event continues, I recommend not only a discussion about gun regulations but one much deeper. Our schools are failing us in so many ways. Our families and religions (whose rites of passage have become quite wimpy) are failing us also.

We need to consider the multiple ways in which youngsters learn, especially boys, and quit cutting money for the arts and sports. We need to address:

  • Rites of passage
  • Creativity as being at least as important as exam preparation and testing
  • Values, including the values our educational system itself is committed to (is the Great Unspoken Value to make us all Consumers in a consumer-driven economic system?)
  • What manhood (and womanhood) means.

To do these things is not only to create violence prevention; it is also to create a new society. One that puts community before competition and values of justice and sustainability before those of materialism and its very narrow version of success. One that honors stillness and our capacity for contemplation and not just racing to the top in competition. One that values Creativity over memorizing answers to tests.