How I unlearned dangerous lessons about masculinity | Eldra Jackson

How I unlearned dangerous lessons about masculinity | Eldra Jackson

Big boys don’t cry. Suck it up. Shut up and rub some dirt on it. Stop crying before I give you
something to cry about. These are just a few of the phrases that contribute
to a disease in our society, and more specifically, in our men. It’s a disease that has come
to be known as “toxic masculinity.” It’s one I suffered a chronic case of, so much so that I spent 24 years
of a life sentence in prison for kidnapping, robbery,
and attempted murder. Yet I’m here to tell you today
that there’s a solution for this epidemic. I know for a fact the solution works,
because I was a part of human trials. The solution is a mixture of elements. It begins with the willingness
to look at your belief system and how out of alignment it is and how your actions
negatively impact not just yourself, but the people around you. The next ingredient is the willingness
to be vulnerable with people who would not just support you,
but hold you accountable. But before I tell you about this, I need to let you know
that in order to share this, I have to bare my soul in full. And as I stand here, with so many eyes fixed on me, I feel raw and naked. When this feeling is present, I’m confident that the next phase
of healing is on the horizon, and that allows me
to share my story in full. For all appearances’ sake,
I was born into the ideal family dynamic: mother, father, sister, brother. Bertha, Eldra Jr., Taydama and Eldra III. That’s me. My father was a Vietnam veteran
who earned a Purple Heart and made it home to find love,
marry, and begin his own brood. So how did I wind up serving life
in the California prison system? Keeping secrets, believing the mantra
that big boys don’t cry, not knowing how to display any emotion
confidently other than anger, participating in athletics and learning that the greater
the performance on the field, the less the need to worry
about the rules off it. It’s hard to pin down
any one specific ingredient of the many symptoms that ailed me. Growing up as a young black male
in Sacramento, California in the 1980s, there were two groups
I identified as having respect: athletes and gangsters. I excelled in sports, that is until a friend and I chose to take
his mom’s car for a joyride and wreck it. With my parents having to split
the cost of a totaled vehicle, I was relegated to a summer
of household chores and no sports. No sports meant no respect. No respect equaled no power. Power was vital to feed my illness. It was at that point the decision
to transition from athlete to gangster was made and done so easily. Early life experiences had set the stage
for me to be well-suited to objectify others, act in a socially detached manner, and above all else, seek to be viewed
as in a position of power. A sense of power (Sighs) equaled strength in my environment, but more importantly,
it did so in my mind. My mind dictated my choices. My subsequent choices put me
on the fast track to prison life. And even once in prison,
I continued my history of running over the rights of others, even knowing that that
was the place that I would die. Once again, I wound up
in solitary confinement for stabbing another prisoner
nearly 30 times. I’d gotten to a place where I didn’t care
how I lived or if I died. But then, things changed. One of the best things
that happened in my life to that point was being sent to New Folsom Prison. Once there, I was approached
to join a group called Inside Circle. Initially, I was hesitant to join a group
referred to around the yard as “hug-a-thug.” (Laughter) Initially, yeah, that was a little much, but eventually, I overcame my hesitancy. As it turned out, the circle was
the vision of a man named Patrick Nolan, who was also serving life and who had grown sick and tired
of being sick and tired of watching us kill one another over skin color, rag color, being from Northern
or Southern California, or just plain breathing
in the wrong direction on a windy day. Circle time is men sitting with men and cutting through the bullshit, challenging structural ways of thinking. I think the way that I think and I act the way that I act because I hadn’t questioned that. Like, who said I should see a woman
walking down the street, turn around and check out her backside? Where did that come from? If I don’t question that,
I’ll just go along with the crowd. The locker-room talk. In circle, we sit
and we question these things. Why do I think the way that I think? Why do I act the way that I act? Because when I get down to it,
I’m not thinking, I’m not being an individual, I’m not taking responsibility for who I am and what it is I put into this world. It was in a circle session
that my life took a turn. I remember being asked who I was, and I didn’t have an answer, at least not one that felt honest in a room full of men
who were seeking truth. It would have been easy to say, “I’m a Blood,” or, “My name is Vegas,” or any number of facades
I had manufactured to hide behind. It was in that moment and in that venue
that the jig was up. I realized that as sharp
as I believed I was, I didn’t even know who I was or why I acted the way that I acted. I couldn’t stand in a room full of men
who were seeking to serve and support and present an authentic me. It was in that moment
that I graduated to a place within that was ready for transformation. For decades, I kept being the victim of molestation
at the hands of a babysitter a secret. I submitted to this under the threat
of my younger sister being harmed. I was seven, she was three. I believed it was my responsibility
to keep her safe. It was in that instant that the seeds were sown
for a long career of hurting others, be it physical, mental or emotional. I developed, in that instant, at seven years old, the belief that going forward in life, if a situation presented itself
where someone was going to get hurt, I would be the one doing the hurting. I also formulated the belief
that loving put me in harm’s way. I also learned that caring
about another person made me weak. So not caring, that must equal strength. The greatest way to mask
a shaky sense of self is to hide behind a false air of respect. Sitting in circle
resembles sitting in a fire. It is a crucible that can and does break. It broke my old sense of self, diseased value system and way of looking at others. My old stale modes of thinking
were invited into the open to see if this
is who I wanted to be in life. I was accompanied by skilled facilitators on a journey into the depths of myself to find those wounded parts
that not only festered but seeped out to create
unsafe space for others. At times, it resembled an exorcism, and in essence, it was. There was an extraction
of old, diseased ways of thinking, being and reacting and an infusion of purpose. Sitting in those circles saved my life. I stand here today as a testament
to the fact of the power of the work. I was paroled in June 2014, following my third hearing before a panel
of former law-enforcement officials who were tasked with determining
my current threat level to society. I stand here today for the first time
since I was 14 years old not under any form of state supervision. I’m married to a tremendous
woman named Holly, and together, we are raising two sons who I encourage to experience
emotions in a safe way. I let them hold me when I cry. They get to witness me
not have all the answers. My desire is for them to understand that being a man is not
some machismo caricature, and that characteristics
usually defined as weaknesses are parts of the whole healthy man. So today, I continue to work
not just on myself, but in support of young males
in my community. The challenge is to eradicate this cycle of emotional illiteracy and groupthink that allows our males to continue
to victimize others as well as themselves. As a result of this, they develop new ways
of how they want to show up in the world and how they expect this world
to show up on their behalf. Thank you. (Applause)

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

100 thoughts on “How I unlearned dangerous lessons about masculinity | Eldra Jackson

  1. The only problem with this video is that it is given from the perspective of an inmate – who, God bless his Soul, has the strength to speak about this. Most men, and I’m only speculating here, might watch this and think “well, I’m not a convict so therefore ‘toxic masculinity’ doesn’t apply to me…” but absolute Kudos to Eldra who performed this speech and didn’t blame his actions on systemic violence and racism. Warrior of a Spirit! 💗

  2. The only problem with this video is that it is given from the perspective of an ex-inmate – who, God bless his Soul, has the strength to speak about this. Most men, and I’m only speculating here, might watch this and think “well, I’m not a convict so therefore ‘toxic masculinity’ doesn’t apply to me,” when in reality, TM directly speaks to those men who largely go unnoticed, unseen, and are considered invisible by their privilege. Despite this, absolute Kudos to Eldra who performed this speech and didn’t blame his actions on systemic violence and racism. Warrior of a Spirit! 💗

  3. It takes courage to say the things you have said. Regardless of how it is received, Im amazed by your honesty. Thank you for showing courage. I needed it. Tc, Jackson.

  4. So in the first minute he insinuates that he went to prison because of his toxic masculinity. Using this logic that means that there are prisons full of females that need to work through their toxic femininity.

  5. Your issue isn’t being told to “suck it up” or “stop crying before I give you a reason to”. It was being taught that athletics and being a gangster were the only two ways of getting respect. You were a product of bad parenting because there is a very bold line between being masculine and being a thug. You learned how to be a thug and be violent. Masculinity does not (and has never) meant intruding on other people’s livelihood. Being able to raise a family and protect them is what masculinity is about.
    Blindly pushing rhetoric without stopping for a few minutes and considering what truly led to your background of criminal activity is dangerous because you’ll be stuck fixing the wrong problem and you won’t come out of it a better man.

  6. the phrase boys don't cry is wrong
    but I would say I've never heard that being said commonly if at all
    is this just me?
    please comment if you hear this often from a lot of people you know

  7. it feels like what his babysitter did to him was a bigger factor than toxic masculinity
    and blaming toxic masculinity for why he thought a certain way kinda takes away from the devastating effect molestation can have

  8. oh look, 1k men don't want acknowledge their toxic/abusive/manipulative ways.
    *insert disappointed but not surprised meme*

  9. A man is defined by the choices he makes and every man will come to be known by what he stands for…You're not the product of your circumstances, but instead the product of your choices!

  10. I admire this man, for the struggles that he's been through in his life and the willingness to seek the truth, to face those struggles, look them in the eyes, acknowledge them and come out of those dark holes being so awaked.

  11. masculinity and femininty are energies. they are not "harmful" or "toxic" in their nature (indeed they are very useful and powerful when using them wisely in the right time and the right context), it all depends on the one who is using those energies (because somehow we all have both of them, but of course not the same proportion), some people use masculinty in violence and crimes, and others use it to build and to protect and make the life of others better… some people use femininity in manipulating and using others for their advantages, and some use it to care for others and nurture them and make their life better

  12. "A simple argument against the death penalty
    and all penalty :
    The fundamental reason against punishment, whatever it may be, and the death penalty in particular, is so obvious that one must ask why no one seems to see it.

    This reason is that no one has asked to exist…"

  13. Even though I generally agree with his speech, I'm just sick and tired of the continuous man-bashing trend the media has adopted.
    Women have lots of issues too and no mainstream media has the balls to critisize them or even the notion that femininity often ensues a series of attitudes as bad as men's.
    Big media have an agenda and it is a dark one.

  14. I like his speech and story, he talks from his heart. But why does he associate masculinity with doing crimes? Masculine men suppose to be less emotional than feminine women, it's just nature, hormones, and how we evolved for million years. You can't go hunting a wild animal or defend your family from an attacker if you are about to sit and cry. It's normal though for kids to cry. In his situation, I would look into the family history, like, what happened to make him believe in the things he described that led to the crime.

  15. A guy comes up and says that what he's been taught about what "being a man" was was wrong, and that it contributed to his crimes. Then, he says what he thinks should be included in young men's education to make it easier for them to be better people. Seems legit. Then I look at the comments… and it seems like people watched a whole different video. 🙁

  16. He talks about an extreme, primitive, and selfperpetuating system of greed for power and brutality. That's not what masculinity is, that is a form of culture. Sure, it is predominantly cultivated among unguided men, but that doesn't justify using the term masculinity as a blanket to condemn it. That's what is so offputting about all the leftist sociopolitical movements, that they just use gross generalisations. It's like condemning someone for his nationality or skincolor, when it is their culture that is causing problems.

  17. Most women like men!
    Men prefer "follow" men.
    not pseudo-men
    Male physical traits and male actions.
    _ Being dominant does not mean you are overbearing or belittle others
    – Being Strong physically and mentally does not mean you beat up the weak

  18. A lot of people do (The Blame Game)! some Father's are Not in the home because of the (Lack of Maturity On Both Parties)! They Are Not Ready For The Responsible! And Some People Keep The Same Mentality Towards The Father's Even After 20 years of Separation (Ownership)! The young ladies are hormonal when they are pregnant 😠 and they become (Possessive)👺! They go from (Puppy Love or Love😍) to (Ownership😈) of their partners. Then being Males, they will become (Defensive😵👿)! Because they by Nature Are Made To Be The Head of the Household! But The Young Ladies Try To (Rule With An Iron Fist👿)! When they have a Man's Children or Children👶👶. He Feel Suffocated! So It Kicks In That Fight Or Flight Feeling🏃. She Feels Neglected😭! 😥 In theory having children at a young age sounds great, but the Reality Of It they may *Not be Mature Enough To Handle It, Appropriately! 😵😵 I'm just saying. All Of It Is Not His Fault! 😤He went from Scared😧 to being Excited 😁 when he saw his child, too What happened to YOU👿😠😭😵? You, Don't Own Me😤! Conflict! And Separation🏃🏃. It's Simple.

  19. I don't like this term "toxic masculinity". I appreciated listening to his story. And of course there is a ton to unpack here and a 10 min talk isn't going to do that. There were breakdowns in the notion that if only there was a father in the house things would be different. But we have to question the society that forces us to leave our children with strangers instead of providing a way for it's citizens to nurture our children by being present without losing everything. So there's a lot to unpack here.

  20. The "what-about-sim" and lack of understanding the "toxic" part of masculinity in these comments is ridiculous. People's over defensiveness shows that what this dude is talking about is real!

  21. Very powerful indeed! I have tears in my eyes. I have hope, hope that his message and others like him will spread and put an end to toxic masculinity! It will take a long time, but I have hope.

  22. Stop judging the video based on its title. If you actually listen to what he has to say, it's a story of a person who made some serious mistakes in his life, and now shares his thoughts on how other men in similar circumstances can avoid those mistakes. It's not attack on you, nor on men in general.

  23. is this a joke ? really TED ? that's where you want to go ? you slander some of the great minds of our time but you play this ? Jesus grab a hold of yourselves or just stop posting anything at all. Ridiculous.

  24. Watch "The Work" on Amazon Prime. It goes further into what Eldra is talking about. He brings up a subject that people are afraid to touch on. Masculinity.

  25. TL;DR: People, stop trying to twist the words in his mouth to fabricate some fallacy. Discussion requires to actually consider the other point.
    Very much this! And it's not just toxic masculinity, there are various group dynamics that get passed to children who then never question them and just keep doing it. Math = bad, only doing the bare minimum, even many hobbies/interest like sports. Many men for example just watch football because "real men like football". But for some, it's even worse where they get told "real men don't fear a fight" so much that they go looking for fights to prove whatever.
    People in the comments are feeling personally attacked which to me perfectly shows that he's right: "Someone questioning the belief system I never dare to question? How dare he stupid motherfucker onto the defensive I go…"
    "But what about toxic femininity!????" Well, this guy is probably the wrong person to talk about that since he's not a studied professional on the topic but rather talking about his own experience. He had problems with toxic masculinity so that's what the talk is about. There most likely is something like toxic femininity, e.g. the sick beauty standards and probably much more.
    "Uhhh but that's not what masculinity is" Well there we go into the realm of definition war. Ok, so you define it differently but still, there is this dynamic that pressures people to do stuff for fear of becoming an outcast in their community (no matter what you call it). Good for you if your definition of masculinity is healthy (which should be questioned anyway, like everything) but it is not the case everywhere or even for most people. Even if you define masculinity healthily it does not by itself mean that you are not subjected to the toxic variety. What people know and how they act are usually quite different.
    Also: Just because there were other factors does not imply that toxic masculinity is not real, things are more complex than binary almost always.
    PS: FFS people, is everybody in these comments a bot or does nobody know how to make a point any more?!? Most comments are just wild claims or insults…

  26. The way the internet thinks about things is different from normal people who don’t live on the internet. Nobody clicks on this video thinking toxic masculinity. He never mentioned toxic masculinity. Yet that’s all I see in the comments.

  27. Many commenters seem think this is about _them_. This is a story about Eldra who ended up in an environment where "masculinity" had a very different meaning than it has for most of us. And that environment made it "toxic". That environment promotes actions that are considered 'bad behavior' (agree)
    I applaud the fact that he shares his story as I think it can help some to think about their behavior. Do they do what they do because they really want to or because it's expected behavior in their 'toxic environment'?

  28. Great video. This changed the way I will try to act with the men in my life. Thank you for being vulnerable and setting an example.

  29. He's blaming his criminality on "toxic masculinity" caused by abuse when he was young. OK, well lots of people were abused when young; few of them became career sociopaths. This guy has accepted soft masculinity like many accept religion: Blaming their problems on and finding salvation in external sources.

  30. This isn't toxic masculinity, it's just plain toxic and it was delivered to me as a girl growing up by men but mostly women. I think this whole idea of battling toxic behavior is better served without the second word. It's in everyone and it comes from various places and types of people and focusing on only so-called masculine toxicity isn't even half of it and it's a disservice to those who suffered from this stuff that were not men and didn't get it from men. That being said, treating each other in toxic manners is VERY MUCH a real issue and I believe it will only change if we look into ourselves and make our own changes to ourselves. None of us are perfect or free of toxic behavior, we should be aware of this, why, and how it works so we can overcome it.

  31. The plethora butthurt (and mostly out of context) responses vs responses querying and diving the notion and topic at hand, is part of the "toxic" part aforementioned in the video…

    Damn we need work

  32. This "man" puts his illness on others, this is not what masculinity is, Masculinity is every brave man who joins the military every man who runs in to a fire to save lives every (male) police officer who puts his life on the line to protect others that is what masculinity is. the only thing toxic is the vilification of masculinity.

  33. He's referring to not being able to be vunerable and display emotions. Yes he committed serious crimes but if he'd had a mind-heart connection his life might have turned out different. The issue is in many Ethnic communities men aren't even capable of getting in touch with their emotions. They lack that skill because all their life they've been told how a man should behave.

  34. Of course there's such a thing as "toxic masculinity" ,we used to call them male chauvinist pig , or maybe the "macho jerk."
    Real men who exercised real masculinity don't like these people either, they give men a bad name.The main thing is
    toxic masculinity is not masculinity in any shape form or fashion despite its name. What it's really called is "egomania" disguised as manhood.

  35. WHO is pushing this far left post modernist (post truth) propaganda in TED talks. TED starts to look like a north korean tv.

  36. Reading the comments is quite a jolt. I'm as right leaning as anyone here. How this is construed as a leftist piece is beyond me. His "toxic masculinity" is referencing the culture prevalent in the killing fields known as ghettos in this country. It's not where most of us reside, and I for one get that he's addressing the disease in his specific community that creates killers and thugs. They can be viewed on Lockup shows. Not everything has a political angle. I hope this American can affect some change to those who are on the wrong path.

  37. Although way to figure it out finally. Congrats on the new family man. Just don't forget about the amends when the time comes.

  38. I think most of the comments section has missed the point. This isn't an attack on masculinity, it's an attack on the the masculine culture of ridiculing those who men who "care" or show sadness. He's not saying being a man turns you in to a criminal, he's not even saying that the sometimes toxic culture turns you in to a criminal.

    He's saying that due to this culture of big boys don't cry, he never felt he could express the trauma he experienced, talk to anyone about it, know how to deal with it. So it lead to him expressing his feelings in patterns which negatively inpacted on the people around him, and it was this that lead him down the path he followed. He may well have been a criminal anyway, he may not have been, we can't know this, neither can he and he didn't assert otherwise.

    What he's proposing is that maybe some criminals took the paths they chose due to this building of masks, hiding "weakness" and the inherant negative impact it would take on their ability to effectively display and deal with emotion. He's also proposing that being a man isn't bottling all these feelings inside, isn't being brave by not displaying vulnerability, it's about being willing to bare yourself, being brave BY being vulnerable.

    Afterall, this is a man who has talked about men not being able to express their feelings around other men without being ridiculed; and that is exactly what you some of you have done.

  39. The problem is not too much masculinity, but the not enough fathers involved in their young sons lives to teach them the right kind of masculinity. Statistics show that over 70% of males who commit crimes live in a single parent household with the mother has a head, father is missing. I was lucky, my father was there along with my mother to teach me how to be a man…. respect, honor and obey the law, treat others like you would want to be treated yourself. Today's psycho-bable is all about toxic masculinity, when the discussion should be on how TOXIC a household without two parents can be on a young child. So sorry this is bullshit and a disgrace to be put out by TED. Do your OWN research if you want to know more, not just follow the herd mentality that seems to be the i-gen mantra. Think for yourself, don't let others think for you..

  40. I don't like how the range of human personalities is split into 'masculine' and 'feminine'. I understand how they are based on biological tendencies, but I kindof want those terms to die and for people to have healthy personalities regardless.

    EDIT: grammar.

  41. What this has to do in with masculinity,
    this is a criminal who came back.
    his talking about his history,
    this is all about his criminal history.
    I'm not the criminal doesn't relate in any way.

  42. I disliked before I even watched. I took the dislike off when I watched. Made good points. Just dont like the term T.M.

  43. Dear @TED. I used to really enjoy your Technology and Innovation videos, but they've become really hard to find or have disappeared as of late. Could you please create a separate channel for Social Justice issues? I'm not saying there isn't a need for these videos, but they have hijacked your channel — first piggybacking on your popularity and now replacing the originally popular content entirely. It may be necessary to rename your company if this is the new direction, so as not to confuse people who remember what TED Talks were.

  44. lots of really threatened 'masculine' men in this comment section LOL. This talk was mostly about understanding and gaining true control over one's self.

  45. Did people even look at the video?

    I doesn't look like it considering the comments below.
    This video has a wrong title. It is not about masculinity. Is about self conciousness. And ability to judge and criticize behaviors adopted by the masses.
    The message is simple but not wrong. Even if i would have liked that the title actually reflected the content in the video. With a title like "How i unlearned dangerous lessons about masculinity" it is clear how the person who posted the video did not understand the message.

    The message is "Learn from your mistakes, don't cling to your beliefes without ever thinking about the fact if they are wrong or right. And be ready to change if, by your own mental process, you come to the conclusion that your life style is unhealthy".

  46. Ohhh ya'll are lost LOST. This man mentions the criminal activities he did and then you guys just stopped listening there. Just because ya'll can't relate to his mistakes doesn't change the message. He literally said "SO MUCH SO that I spent 24 years in prison for kidnapping, robbery, and attempted murder." He's literallllyyyyy just explained how far toxic masculinity can take a man. It starts in a vicious cycle and you guys have completely missed this this point in the video. Someone doesn't just wake up and decide to be a bad person. It comes from somewhere.

  47. We need more masculine men, not less. Masculinity = sacrifice for others, selflessness, honor, courage under fire, and love. (Aka: Jesus Christ)

  48. im an insecure male, so this triggers me, despite him not talking about males in general, nor masculinity in general. But bad aspects called 'toxic masculinity'

  49. I love listening to the compensators whine about this video in the comments.
    This is just a notion against blind conformity, he isn’t demanding the burning of man

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