From Either/Or Thinking to Both/And: Expanding Definitions of What It Means to Be Male

“The Tyranny of the Or” is how Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, authors of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, describe the experience of facing two seemingly contradictory concepts and believing that you must choose only one or the other but never both. Thus, businesses can be either effective or efficient, and health care providers can either run a lucrative practice or stay true to altruistic ideals. He’s one cool macho dude—but I can’t imagine he’d be the first one you’d call when your dog dies would be an example of how it plays out in the realm of gender expectations or roles, as would He sounds like a nice, sensitive guy—but I kinda like them on the buff side . . .

Among the younger set, it shows up like this: Dude, one wide receiver says to another, what’s up with all the books? I never took you for a “reader-type,” or, Why would you tell her you were sorry? a too-cool-for-school eighth grader asks his compadre, on the assumption that being kind or civil cancels out any coolness factor one would have had.

As an alternative to this compromising kind of either/or thinking, Collins and Porras trumpet the “The Genius of the And”—a way of accommodating what would appear to have been irreconcilable objectives or views. Thus, with some creative thinking and a flexible perspective, businesses have opportunities to become both effective and efficient, and health care providers can run successful practices that reflect their humanitarian ideals. Our cool macho dude is able to be recognized as the go-to person when you need a warm shoulder to cry on, the girl who likes her guys buff doesn’t balk at the mention of a kind man, no one riding the travel team bus thinks twice when a young wide receiver pulls out novel after novel, and our punky middle schooler discovers that his sidekick is kind of a classy guy. Viva la package deal.

— Janet Sasson Edgette

Excepted from The Last Boys Picked: Helping Boys Who Don’t Like Sports to Survive Bullies and Boyhood (Berkley)

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