Let’s Get This Thing Going

I’ve met more fellow thought leaders in the men’s work field in the last couple of months than I have over the past decade.

One reason, I think, is that I’ve made it a point to be more visible, to get my voice and writing out into the world – stuff that naturally yields connections. Another contributing factor, perhaps larger, is that there are more men stepping up in response to a need that’s ringing alarm bells.

What has set off the alarms? Men, and the generation of boys coming up behind us, are at a tenuous, painful point of crisis. The weary, ancient man-codes and stale “grow a pair” tropes that got us here will not function as the medicine we need to ease the crisis and move us forward.

When droves of adolescent males are jumping aboard misogynistic trains powered by influencers who embody the darker, destructive shadows of immature masculine archetypes, something is very wrong.

When angry, directionless men find belonging, purpose, and mission in conspiracy-fueled, militaristic neo-fascist gangs whose vision goes no further than vanquishing illusory enemies in the name of “patriotism”, we’re screwed.

Make no mistake, the men and boys flocking to online forums and militias are not only the products of failing societal systems in need of significant repair and update – they are also in pain. They’re seriously hurting, flesh and blood human beings.

That does not excuse their choices and behavior, nor does it let the founders and leaders of radical groups and dark virtual town squares off the hook.

Accountability and responsibility still matter, as do compassion and love.

I’ve mentioned blame as a driver in previous pieces, but I didn’t expand on what makes it so compellingly potent. Let’s dig into that for a moment.

Blame serves as a masking and barrier emotion, often employed by the finger-pointer as a shield against experiencing more difficult emotions and as a means of absolving oneself from personal responsibility.

Here’s an example: Imagine I’m hurt by a rift in my relationship with my business partner. Unwilling (consciously or otherwise) to experience my pain, I place blame squarely on him, making him the offender. Having placed that blame, I no longer have to look at my own stuff, because he’s now clearly the cause and I’m the victim.

In this scenario, I place the onus of responsibility on the other party. I’ve put myself into a corner filled with story, disempowered drama, and helplessness. From here, I can lash out about the injustice… but all bets are off until he fixes himself or otherwise tends to whatever I’m blaming him for. Of course, if he doesn’t pony-up, I can fill my account with dismay points and get down to building an even bigger, badder case for his wrongdoing and my victimhood.

I’m now fully committed to keeping the focus “over there.” Although I’m outwardly angry at my partner and the circumstances, I’m so overly-focused outside myself that don’t allow myself any curiosity about, or experience of, the pain and hurt underneath the blame.

The same kind of process happens when groups of hurting men and boys rally around blaming women, feminism, liberals, conservatives, capitalism, the government, this or that religion, God, the Devil, or “those people” for their pain.

Of course, as men, most of us have been trained not to allow ourselves to admit to being hurt, lest we appear weak, soft, irrational, or heaven forbid, feminine.

And yet, as human beings, the hurts, longings, and disappointments find their way though our practiced armor. The more we resist and push away those emotional experiences, the more distorted the expression of our resistance becomes, leading to blame, rage and violent acting-out…

And that brings us back around to the fellows I mentioned at the top of this piece.

Without exception, the men I’ve met over these months have shared stories of their own pivotal moments. Rather than blaming, (or after discovering that blame wasn’t cutting it) they courageously turned their attention inward and, facing their wounds with curiosity and a powerful willingness to feel, they allowed themselves to take responsibility for their own healing.

They didn’t flip the blame onto themselves or otherwise beat themselves up. (Some were already doing that – something I’ve had plenty of practice with – and they stopped.) Nor did they write a “Get out of jail free” pass for those who had honestly mistreated or hurt them. Conversations, where still possible, were had in the name of shared responsibility and ownership.

No one reported instantaneous, “set it and forget it” success. To a man, their healing – and the healing of their relationships – took time, presence, effort, and more effort, time, and presence.

It’s worth noting that not a single man did it on his own. Kiss the lone cowboy myth good-bye.

Turning inward, away from blame and the culture’s insatiable addiction to it, is a long game. It’s likely going to take us generations of teaching, learning, and practice, practice, and more practice, to reshape our collective relationship to responsibility, to say nothing of compassion and forgiveness.

Here’s the thing: the work these men did individually – as well as the broader world of solid men’s work – tends to fly below the radar. Because these endeavors are going about the business of creating positive change, they don’t concern themselves with chasing viral “likes.”

Yeah, some of them market themselves better, but generally speaking, they aren’t driven by an egoic need to shout, to be the loudest or smartest voices in the room.

Like functional, well-adjusted families, great work doesn’t make for click-bait spectacle.

Yet my allies (I don’t consider them competitors) and I are indeed out and about in the world. We’re playing our own versions of the long game of bringing men together to heal. Slowly, it is happening, whether one man at a time, in small groups, or in the spaces of larger, better-known men’s programs.

Do I want more men in my IAM courses, on calls, and at future retreats?

Of course I do…

Thunders of them…

I also want to see the allied men I’ve met – and those I have yet to meet – be wildly successful in their efforts.

Mostly, though, I want the men in my world (including the world I leave behind) to set down their weapons, do their inner work, face their pain, heal, and finally arrive at a place of knowing they belong and are loved.

Including, and perhaps especially, those who find themselves in whirlpools of victimhood and blame.

Whether they get there through my work or someone else’s is immaterial.

For the sake of this and future generations, let’s get this thing done.