Speaking From the Heart

Another part of growing up is discovering and learning how to express oneself as a distinct individual. Parents often have an idea of who their children should grow up to be, while their peers have a totally different concept of how they should look, talk and act.
Meanwhile the boy code teaches that it's dangerous to be seen as anything other than tough, stoic, and ready to fight at a moment's notice. No wonder we often perceive adolescent boys as aloof, isolated and inarticulate -- impenetrable mysteries. The second story in Boys Will Be Men focuses on the work of a man who makes it his business to get to the heart of these mysteries.
MICHAEL MEADE is a mythologist, storyteller and author of Men and the Water of Life: Initiation and Tempering of Men. He comments: I think there is something mysterious and yet exact inside a boy. If it doesn't find expression, then what is potentially constructive and creative, becomes destructive. I think it's one of those situations where there's no middle ground. Either the spirit inside a person is going to make its way into the world and be received as a gift, or else it's going to make its way into the world and be received as a pain or a blow by the community. If you don't initiate your boys into the heart of the culture, they will burn it down.

The crucial point of change inside a young person is when he realizes that he has some kind of intrinsic inherent value -- that he is a meaningful part of something, not because of the group he belongs to, not because of any achievement, but because of something inherent in him which you might call the soul or the spirit. So that's how I begin working with them, by telling a story and trying to engage that part of them which is imaginative, ancient and capable of inspiration.

Meade works with young people to create special occasions -- ceremonies -- in which they find the words to express themselves. In the film, 20 boys from two Chicago high schools participate in a three-day workshop that begins with Meade telling them the Legend of the Half Boy, an African folk tale about a boy who is born into the world only "half there." Ostracized by his village for his deformity, the half boy journeys into the world searching for his other half. Meade encourages the boys to interpret the story in the context of their own lives. They write poems based on their interpretations, which they perform ceremonially for teachers and parents. Over three days the boys grow; from shy and inarticulate to outspoken and eloquent. The climax of the event is a conversation between the boys and their teachers and parents. They say things to the adults that they have never said before, defining and staking out their development as boys into men.
As Meade puts it: “The point of change is when there's a realization inside the young person that I have some kind of intrinsic inherent value, that that is the ground and also the place of connection to them.” Pollack concurs: “The best thing that a parent can do is to let a boy show us the way he wants to become a man. That's what makes a boy healthy, happy, successful and nonviolent.”