I was bored.
CavMom keeps renewing a subscription to Family Circle for CavWife. Sometimes I flip thru it to look for good recipes.
I stopped when it talked about the Secret Life of Boys. It was an interesting article on the dynamics of relationships among boys summarized from her book . Each boy in a circle of 3-5 friends seems to fit into an established role. Those roles are identified as:
Mastermind: He’s the ringleader, charismatic and good at identifying people’s weaknesses. He gains power and control over the group (think Alex in A Clockwork Orange). He fears losing his status and can’t admit when he’s in over his head.
Associate: He’s the right-hand man. He’s essentially the “best friend” who can be honest with the mastermind. He gains power by association. He has power and status he would never have apart from the mastermind. But often they lose their sense of identity apart from the mastermind.
Bouncer: or enforcer. It would be Dim in A Clockwork Orange. People skills are not his forte. He’s the one who can enforce the will of the mastermind. He often forfeits the ability to have healthy relationships.
Entertainer: he’s the village idiot who make people laugh. That is his identity: comic relief. He has to keep cutting up to feel valuable.
Conscience: here is the guy who tells the truth, and is often trusted by adults. He will be left out when the others want to cross some lines. He is often used as the smokescreen with parents.
Punching Bag: he’s like the little brother everyone loves by picks on mercilessly. He pays a high price for friendship, but feels it is necessary.
Fly: he hovers around the group, desperately wanting to get in. They often try to earn the acceptance of the rest with gifts and favors.
Champion: he doesn’t play by these rules. He makes his own friends and is genuinely liked by people in many groups. But people will turn on him when he tries to do the right thing instead of playing alone. Most parents think their kid is a champion, but they aren’t. They are rare.
The main point is that these are boys trying to act like men. They are trying to figure it out, but they have not figured it out. It is a sad parody of adult male relationships.
What the summary (and possibly the book) doesn’t mention is that any one boy may function in a number of groups and fill different roles in those groups. For instance, in high school I functioned in 3 different groups: neighborhood, classmates and work.
What is also left unsaid is that this dynamic often continues into adulthood. Hopefully marriage produces the maturity to actually be a man instead of continuing to pretend to be a man (one of the main issues with the thug life resulting from the plague of fatherlessness in our culture).
I can think of 2 different times in my life I’d been an associate. Both times that relationship became idolatrous because I derived too much of my identity from that relationship. Both times the ringleader, or mastermind, went looking for another group and withdrew from that circle. I felt abandoned, used and desperate. That is what idolatry does.
At work, during high school, I started as a fly. I wanted to get into a group of people who were a little older than I was. They would hang out together after work on the weekends. Eventually I became part of the group, I think.
At one point I asked the girl I liked, who had initially invited me to a party at her house why she had asked. “Because we thought you wouldn’t come” was the devastating reply.
Earlier in life, in middle school, my cousin and I were quite close. We lived in close proximity and went to school together. As we got into higher grades we began to move into very different circles academically. But our relationship dissolved in large part because he was a fly to another group closer to his house. They often picked on him, but he found the way in: drugs. I played the Conscience and essentially lost that friendship.
As a parent, it can be painful to watch your sons fall into these same traps. You know they might “sell their souls” for acceptance by particular people. They may abandon principle to be a part of something. You know it is coming, but you can’t stop it. You only hope they bounce back, and mature, more quickly than you did to minimize the pain and reduce the relational walls that can be built (yeah, I grew to really identify with The Wall)
Immature relationships in ministry can be deadly. There will always be a ministry leader, but if he is immature he will manage the leadership relationships in an unhealthy way. He will not be able to tell others when he’s in over his head. As a result, he won’t receive help in an effort to save face.
Years ago I had elders who functioned this way. One was like a mastermind and the other his associate. When I could get the associate alone, we had a better relationship. But when the mastermind’s presence was felt, I was often treated as the punching bag. Not a healthy environment for a church. Not much of a surprise that it didn’t survive.
Sometimes you can’t break that Svengali-like (or Sven-jolly) hold that one man has on others. It may take a complete crash and burn by the mastermind to eliminate his power over the others. Sadly, I’ve seen that happen.
These roles and behavioral patterns are understandable in teens and young men who still haven’t figured out what real manhood is all about. As a man grows older, he needs to forsake these false identities. He may have to enter into loneliness for a time. But leaving the secret world and coming into the light is part of the process of maturity.