In researching neuroscience and working with men in my practice, it’s become clear that men possess two primary pathways for transcending their present circumstances. The reasons appear to be both cultural and neurological, distinct yet intertwined. (Ian McGilchrist, The Master & His Emissary, and, although I arrived at this insight separately, I’ve noticed these paths correspond somewhat to Nassim Taleb‘s concept of “robust” and “antifragile” pathways which describe action rather than stories or states of being.)
(Note these pathways are applicable to women, however the cultural global responses pose complications. I’ll write about this and perhaps historical matriarchy at a later date. In the meantime, when a woman is expected to be more agreeable and less intelligent than she feels she is, try 1) building proof of competency, 2) challenging carefully but habitually, 2) and changing or diversifying the community.)
The Paths of Success
The first pathway we will term action-skill orientation. This is the honing of a skill through persistent, dedicated perseverance driven by a naturally high level of self-directed interest. This is the skill of knowledge and/or action and may be the product of ongoing success or relentless personality metrics. These men are power players, high in conscientiousness, who succeed but struggle to maintain personal balance or peace with the group.
The second pathway is reorganization of the brain through suffering, failure, and diverse experience; it is the skill of wisdom, which we will define as information-seeking orientation. These men are advisors, sages, monks, writers, and philosophers. They are often early failures or casualties of hierarchical violence and struggle with confidence. They are not wholly different from the first pathway, which often ascends to wisdom later in life, but these men inversely acquire honed skill and action later in life, after first exploring, diversifying, and growing their understanding of the world.
Why is reorganization of the brain necessary for the second path and not the first?
Consider the original, beginning state. The right hemisphere manages the unknown, exploration, and has a tendency to look for threats. The left hemisphere manages the known, order, and has a tendency to look for prey. Current neuroscience hypothesizes the left hemisphere developed to regulate the right hemisphere. The left hemisphere is paired with speech, writing, logic, and functions which are performed by focused regulation. Therefore, the more the hemispheres communicate, the more creative endeavors are regulated and the more actions become nuanced. This limits failure, but also success.
Speaking in broad generalizations of data averages, female brains tend to be more communicative across hemispheres through the corpus callosum. Female Art is therefore often more contextualized according to life context or lost to the greater good, such as child-rearing or self-love. Aggression is likewise reduced according to probable outcomes or expectations of repercussive damage given small stature and the common longterm repercussions of aggression. For this reason, women typically populate the middle of research study averages, whereas men populate the extremes.
Conversely, the male brain is less communicative across hemispheres, causing the gender to be more extreme across many research data. Art and music tends to be more distinct from other aspects of life or fantastical, while aggression for short-term gratification is more common.
How the Brain Manages Good Outcomes
In the first pathway, success by action or by interest leads to social dominance by action or specialization. The hemispheres remain less integrated because success often depends on unrestrained hard labor. Therefore it is beneficial for hemispheres to be more isolated to support their functional drivers. They might remain this way for life, unless significant personal failure provides impetus for successful reorganization and the individual is willing to learn (has maintained neuroplasticity). Alternatively, they might receive a convergence of information leading to an epiphany, a singularity.
In the second pathway, interest is thwarted early on and action often leads to failure, rejection, or limitations. As a result, hemispheres communicate more frequently in effort to find successful pathways for forward motion, resulting in an information-seeking orientation. Knowledge (not to be confused with intellect but increasing the IQ) grows, along with self-regulation. Agreeableness (compassion/politeness) and neuroticism (volatility/withdrawal) may increase with stress. The influx of knowledge and understanding, of character and presence, elevates the individual until they begin to succeed and action-skill orientation can be integrated.
Failure: the Fool becomes Hero
In both cases, failure may also result. Ancient heroic archetypes recognized that a “dark night of the soul” was the litmus test of the hero. In modern times, this can be the hard grinding of action-skill orientation or the failure leading to information-seeking. It can be the depression from uncapitalized potential and abdicated responsibility achieved through fear, stagnation, or limiting social obligations. It is the willingness to suffer collapse or be perceived as foolish for a greater goal.
The action-skill orientation may be relentless (paired with disagreeability and industriousness) until others incarcerate or defeat the individual. Many older men who have had a life of ongoing success or secure status cannot pivot and never recover from latent collapse or informational change.
Likewise, the early failure which can produce explosive growth in information-seeking can also firmly entrench powerful or intelligent men at the bottom of the social hierarchy with potential firmly untapped. Interests of may be illegal or lead to neurotic, self-imposed isolation. Suffering may destroy an individual. Gained knowledge may never be put to use.
(For more on male challenges, see Why Highly Liberal Open Disagreeable Men Have the Worst Life Outcomes)
Summation: Temperament & Growth
In both cases, temperament and the willingness to grow are the linchpins to forward motion. One path towards growth is action-skill orientation while the other is information-seeking orientation. One is a builder, king, director. One is a curator, sage, advisor. Both require a willingness to grow and result in massive success. Both require action and knowledge, a temperament of industriousness and openness.
What about those who have been crushed and lack a will to grow or the appropriate temperament? Remember that action is a skill. Temperament can be managed. Isolation is damning. And growth only seems impossible because of our thought game. Our thoughts can be changed, and so can our future.