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Image: Filomena Scalise /

The messages and beliefs that we take-in during the course of our lives can place us into unhealthy boxes that enforce ways of being that are destructive to ourselves and to others. Tony Porter, in his recent presentation at TEDWomen, “A Call to Men,” talked about his “man box” and called on parents to teach their sons:

that it’s okay to not be dominating, that it’s okay to have feelings and emotions, that it’s okay to promote equality, that it’s okay to have women who are just friends and that’s it, that it’s okay to be whole, that my liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman.

I heard this last line as call to action, that men can only be as free as they allow women to be; that men can only be as free as the collective society allows both men and women to be free, free of less-healthy stereotypical, internalized and cultural norms.
I have been, and continue to be, to some extent, a victim of my own Act Like a Man Box, as Paul Kivel refers to it. Much of the last decade of my life has been about dismantling the walls of this confining chamber and embracing more of my authentic self and opening to the authentic humanity of others. It’s not easy work and it is not isolated work.
The process of dismantling my man box is directly linked to the dismantling of the other boxes I inhabit: the white-Anglo-Saxon-protestant box, the middle-class box, the heterosexual box, the married box and the car-owning box … just to name a few. I’ve got a whole storage unit filled with beliefs and prejudices–about myself and others–that don’t serve me, that keep me small and keep you small in my mind.
Some boxes are easier than others to break down. The more confident I am in my intrinsic self worth, the easier it is to recognize these stories in my head for the junk that they have become. Some boxes are easier to step out of when I’m around peers, supportive friends and strangers. Sometimes it’s a struggle to step out of them around close family members due to the layers of patterns and expectations between us.
Recognizing the boxes that we’re in and working to break out of them can be a lifetime’s pursuit, yet each time we step out of one, we’re given more room to grow into the person we want to be. Each one we step out of, we give others the permission to be more of who they are.

What boxes do you inhabit? Take a moment today and write for five minutes about the boxes you inhabit, your feelings about being in them, and the impact of being in them on you and others in your life. Just write. Let it flow like water and do not judge the words that stream from your pen.

Scott Youmans is an experienced facilitator with an MA in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College. He’s a computer programmer, a dedicated partner, and a New Warrior. He lives in Philadelphia. Follow Scott Youmans at his ‘This Energetic Man’ blog.

EDITOR’S NOTE: View the Tony Porter presentation below.

– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.