The mind of man

Thursday, November 2, 2006

You've probably heard this one: How many men does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Three. One to screw in the bulb and two to listen to him brag about the screwing part.

There are a lot more where that came from, all mining the rich humor lode of the male mind. Men aren't from Mars, they are eternally from the locker room it seems.

A keen female observer of the male mind once told me: Men's minds are simple -- one-third devoted to games, another third to business (or other transactions where there are winners and losers) and two-thirds to sex.

"OK, that doesn't add up," she allowed, "but neither do the minds of most men."

Even a nationally renowned developmental psychologist -- a middle-aged male -- recently made all of us at his seminar laugh when he admitted that he thinks the same basic three thoughts he did at the age of 13.

Perhaps it is too easy to riff on the male mind as stuck in a perpetual South Park episode. But in truth, this idea of adolescent brains encased in aging bodies really doesn't tell the whole story.

Many men actually manage to take on the responsibility of families and/or make meaningful contributions to society. Every now and then, one even becomes president.

Former President Bill Clinton, who I saw speak recently, presents an interesting case study in this regard. Here is a man who led the free world for eight years, who can articulate and command the most complex issues facing our world today. And yet he jeopardized his place in history by impulsively accepting a pizza delivery with benefits. (Sex and high-carb foodÉ what adolescent boy can resist that?)

In a recent speech in Seattle, a perhaps older and wiser Clinton drew an interesting distinction between organizing our thoughts based on ideology versus philosophy:

"If you have a philosophy you are inclined by your values in a certain direction. But you are also interested in hearing arguments and looking at facts. You actually think you might be wrong every now and then. But if you have an ideology then the facts are irrelevant. The results are determined and then you just fix the facts to fit them."

I found this interesting because I have noticed that when men start rounding the bend of life, they have several options as to the route their minds can take. There is always the well-traveled Peter Pan road (more toys, newer and shinier playmates).

However, for those who are looking to embrace their maturity there is the choice between two other pathways. They can choose the road of ideologue, becoming more entrenched in their certainty (and presumably safer behind their ideological gates). Or they can take the philosophical path: remaining curious and open to the ongoing mysteries of life.

As a young man, I noticed a certain kind of older man, one who was so sure he had figured everything out and who felt he had the right to pontificate endlessly about these certitudes. I even had a name for them: The Gray Bearded Loons.

Later, I came to understand this kind of man-mind (both in myself and others) as a product of fear and also as a compensation for the perceived loss of power that often comes with the waning of testosterone.

Even back in the day, these puffed up guys always seemed brittle and a bit foolish to me. I suppose they were trying to re-establish their authority through wisdom.

They never seemed wise to me, they just seemed old.

Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a Cape Girardeau native who is a licensed clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@semissourian.com.

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