There is a distinct cultural shift in favor of cultivating emotional intelligence in young men. Perhaps it was inevitable. The rise of ideological violence across the board — from Islamic extremism to white supremacism — revealed a hardened world view, particularly among males.
Perhaps it’s something we’re more attuned to as a society after new waves of feminist movements have drawn critical inquiry over long-silenced grievances. Perhaps it is a combination of a number of factors.
I recently wrote about mothers who worry about toxic masculinity in their sons. One mother drew alarm to exactly what impact a public personality like Ben Shapiro was having on her teenage son, who, like many other highly intelligent teenage and college-aged boys, flock to Shapiro’s debates.
Shapiro is sharp, yes, but like many of the other celebrity intellectuals available to young men right now, his style is clinical with little space for nuance or pace. Shapiro offers opinions — not conversation — and there’s little room for nuance (read: emotional intelligence) in his opinions (let alone time to take a breath).
And in too many cases, these type of role models that our boys are looking to and studying with great intensity can become stand-in father figures where their own lives might lack one.
Shapiro recently suffered public humiliation when he withdrew from a BBC spot mid-interview, throwing a tantrum and belittling a senior host for not getting his way in an interview. Before storming off the set, Shapiro snapped at BBC host Andrew Neil, “I’m popular and no one has ever heard of you.”
Shapiro quickly apologized, but what remains is confirmation of the instinct that we need to cultivate space for young boys where they’re nourished with male figures or mentors who are more nuanced, more paced in their speech and more willing to listen to others.
None of this takes away from what it means to be in a man; it is a supplement to the traditional definitions of masculinity. Emotional intelligence is an asset, not a liability.
It’s also worth noting how the BBC exchange was received, with many blaming host Andrew Neil. However, anyone familiar with British media (as Shapiro should have been) knows that Brits give some of the toughest interviews. This is their style, to play the part of the opposition and to be unimpressed with what’s being said. That being said, this wasn’t one of the toughest.
These sort of deflecting accusations against Neil point to the other crisis that we have in the space modern debates are creating — a space that is highly antagonistic and combative, with little room for evaluation or reflection of an alternative point of view.