Hey Man, Got Irony?

A friend and former student sent me a recent New York Times article, How to Get More Men to Try Therapy.  She said it reminded her of my work, which was fun – and it was a good, substantive read.

As I dug in, I found myself in a moment of forehead-slapping irony.

Let me see if I can find words for what I was seeing and feeling in that moment…

Men have been taught that, above all else, to thine own independence and self-reliance be true.  We’ve had years, sometimes decades, of training telling us that asking for help is a no-no, that needing help is a sign of weakness, that if you can’t find it in yourself to make your own way out of whatever pickle you’re in, you’re probably not a real man.

Sound familiar?

The irony, of course, is the fact that in its entirety, it’s one of the most dogmatic, over-played, least friggen’ original thoughts out there.

It’s ancient groupthink.  Babble that, on its face, seems like a call to independence that should lead somewhere useful.  Yet, in the culture’s repetitious blaring of the message, it’s hardly sourced in either self-reliance or independent thinking.

Those aren’t bad things per se, but a dogmatic insistence that they’re hallmarks of true manhood is just plain ridiculous.

I know.  You’re waiting for me to say what I really think.

Once a person of any age has had any communication with another, the dice have been rolled and all bets on the imagined purity of independent thought are off.

Human beings, men included, don’t function in a vacuum.

I’ve written many times about the myth of the lone cowboy, pointing out that, as compelling and persistent a cultural icon as he may be, the “lone” part is fluffy, romantic nonsense.

Yup, he’s out on the range under the stars… with his horse to help him get around, his Winchester rifle (that someone else built) to help him hunt and defend himself.  Unless he’s buck-naked and riding bareback, he’s using a saddle and tack made by others, to say nothing of his boots, clothes, blanket, and hat.

He’s on his own – if you discount the large team it took to get him there.  (Fun fact: the illustration accompanying the NYT piece features a cowboy and his therapist, both on horseback.)

Here’s the thing: there’s no shame in releasing the illusory ideals of independence and asking for help.  Rather, it’s one of the secrets to great leadership, powerful collaboration, and dare I say, deep intimacy.

I could go on for days about the benefits waiting on the other side of this kind of constrictive self-reliance.  For the moment, I’ll simply point out that over here, life is easier and considerably less lonely.

I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that, as much as I’ve made changes and disciplined myself to ask for help, I still have moments of falling into lonely, separating patterns of the old dogmatic religion.

I’ve learned to catch the patterns, thank goodness, by surrounding myself with people who speak up when I start to spiral off into unconsciousness.

For that, I’m grateful.

Plus, my experience is that there’s a sweet satisfaction that comes with watching that old loner ideal fall.  There’s a sun of open-hearted connection shining where a painful house of cards once stood.

The company over here is excellent, and you’re welcome to join us…

All you have to do is ask.