by Jeff Klein
As we approach the release of Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives: Defining Moments, the question of “what is a well-balanced man?” may be a relevant one to consider.
As context for this exploration, let’s recognize that “balance” does not necessarily mean “of equal size or proportions.” It takes considerably more oil blended with a small amount of vinegar to create a delicious vinaigrette. Perhaps “harmonious” is a more appropriate term than “balanced,” as what we envision and aspire to is “right relationship” between different aspects.
We increasingly know from cognitive neuroscience that the structure and function of male and female brains are distinctly different in many notable ways. For instance, men tend to process better in the left hemisphere of the brain, while women tend to process equally well between the two hemispheres. The sexes differ in their basic response to stress: perhaps based on the dampening effect of testosterone on oxytocin, men tend to strongly exhibit the flight or fight response, whereas women, whose estrogen enhances the effects of oxytocin, incline to “tend and befriend.” And women typically have larger deep limbic systems, accounting for a more emotional orientation.
So what does it mean to be a man with a healthy balance between male and female attributes? And why might this be a good thing?
Whether viewed through astrology, temperaments, Enneagrams, or any of a number of systems for mapping and predicting an individual’s tendencies and characteristics, and whether these are informed by nature or nurture, we each seem to have our strengths and weaknesses (or underdeveloped potentials).
Does balance mean that we deemphasize our strengths and focus on shoring up our weaknesses? In my case, my primary orientation to experience is kinesthetic – through movement. I learn through my body. It seems that the more I am learning through my body (as I am doing through Brazilian Ju Jitsu), the more I seem to be learning through other channels and in other contexts. So in some ways, going more deeply into my strength is strengthening me overall.
Meaningful and challenging work is essential to physical and mental health, self-esteem and overall well-being. Yet we know that play, physical activity, strong social bonds – with family and friends and connection to nature are equally important factors in well-being.
What is right relationship? How do we recognize balance and harmony? How might we cultivate them?
Underlying the idea and perhaps the reality or embodiment of balance and harmony are our underlying (and overriding) ways of relating to experience. Perhaps our exploration of the ideas of balance and harmony could be fruitful if we explore the way we function and why we function the way we do. For example, we may take into account how our brains evolved to adapt to ever-increasing complexity and how they continue to develop as the conditions we face evolve.
Maybe we are all in balance in some odd way. Or maybe there is no such thing as balance or harmony. Or if there is, it is only one side of a dynamic coin, and the other side – imbalance and disharmony, is just as important.
If we can be with whatever is, and recognize that it is just that, perhaps we can experience a sense of being that is beyond balance or the need for balance.
Jeff Klein, CEO of Working for Good, is the award-winning author of Working for Good, Making a Difference While Making a Living and contributed “Growing Together–A Father’s Story” to our men’s anthology.