For The Love Of Men

“Every known human society rests firmly on the learned nurturing behavior of men.”

—Margaret Mead

 

This is the quote my father used to begin his 2010 essay, “Fathering For Freedom,” included in the book, Fatherhood: Philosophy for Everyone.

It has stuck with me ever since.

With the rightful explosion of millions of #metoo voices aching for the tides of humanity to crash into our brighter shared future, the need for men to do the hard work of being better men is clearer to me than ever.

Thankfully I have a hell of a father to model just what it means to be a “real” man, who is true, steady and always eager to help the people he loves. Yet when it comes to learning the art of nurturing, that came more from my mother. I believe that love is equal parts challenge and support, and I got plenty of both. Yet I find myself being far more comfortable with the support side of love than the challenge side, which is an important bias to understand and expand.

Through my intense four-year investment in personal development, each single field I study and embody leads me back to love, which Norman Wolfe describes as “the natural frequency of the universe.”

This made perfect sense to me when I heard him say it in our September call, The Gathering for Change Agents, which I co-host, because when I’m feeling out of balance with love it’s harder to understand and regulate the emotions I’m feeling.

Especially as a cisgender white male, I have not always felt that these emotions are welcome or understood. Many men are conditioned to deny themselves entire ranges of the emotional spectrum, which I believe leads to much of the behavior that hurts other people in our world.

I’ll use gender binaries in this piece partially because that’s my authentic experience as a cisgender male from which I can speak and also to introduce a commentary about inclusion within ManKind Project (MKP), which I’ll discuss later.

Andy Swindler on the Pacific Ocean

Andy Swindler on the Pacific Ocean

ManKind Project New Warrior Training Adventure

Men are hurting and hurting others. Communities of emotionally intelligent, strong, accountable, and compassionate men can help heal some of our society’s deepest wounds.”

—Sultani Trip, ManKind Project

 

I’ve recently completed two intensive all-weekend emotional intelligence trainings recently. One was with the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential in Chicago, which I’ll talk about another time. Most recently I embarked on a daring journey into the ManKind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure.

 

What is a new warrior?

“The New Warrior is a man for today’s world, ready for full, vibrant, equal partnership with other men and women. For most of us, the struggle for physical survival is over. The New Warrior has put down the sword, picked up his own heart and placed it in service to himself and others.” (From ManKind Project New Zealand)

Men are out there making better men. Actually this group has been doing it since 1985, when a marine, feminist therapist and professor put their heads and hearts together to create a program to expose men to the personal growth that women were experiencing in the early stages of the feminist movement.

Most boys in America do not go through a right of initiation into manhood. This may also be true for girls, but I’m focusing on boys and men in this exploration.

When I first heard about this lack of initiation into manhood, it made perfect sense to me. Outside some religious practices, not only had I personally not experienced this kind of initiation, but I hadn’t really heard of anyone who had. Who were my early male role models beyond my father, brother and a few male friends?

More than 60,000 men across the world have completed the New Warrior Training Adventure, which gives me great hope for the relationships and communities these men are impacting.

My Adventure

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

—Margaret Mead

 

This quote was read at least three separate times throughout the weekend, which leads me to believe that Margaret Mead had just about everything figured out many decades ago. I just realized that she died just a few months after I was born in 1978.

I will share some aspects of my experience and nothing about my new brothers’ experiences because I have made an explicit agreement to hold their confidentiality. Agreements turned out to be a significant aspect of this training, which was welcome since The Four Agreements launched my journey into deeper consciousness and accountability many years ago. Even more than what I did, I’ll share what I felt and how the experience continues to impact my life.

 

Going deep

The fundamental training I experienced lies in the realm of emotional intelligence (EQ), which is the practice of being consciously aware of our emotions as they are happening so that we can understand them and make courageous choices about how to manage them to serve others and ourselves.

By developing this practice, we can each take responsibility for our own emotions in the moment rather than being led by them. This started with a classroom exercise, and then extended into a full-blown psychodrama somatic emotional trauma recreation held by the loving arms of strong men.

One of the most consistent teachings around emotional intelligence is “Name it to tame it,” a phrase coined by author and psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel. The idea is simply to use a common emotional vocabulary to describe what we’re feeling in the moment. It has the effect of building self-awareness and reducing the emotional charge. And it creates more vulnerability and understanding with the people around us.

MKP celebrates what I’ve come to think of as the four core emotions everyone seems to agree upon: joy, fear, anger and sadness. Additionally they use shame and guilt. We were encouraged to normalize our check-ins around this emotional vocabulary so that we could come together and understand each other more fully in a short amount of time. It’s a simple and powerful technique for dialogue, one that I think the whole world would benefit from using in any situation where people aren’t in immediate danger.

I went to the weekend with an intention to explore anger, though I didn’t want to box myself in around this. It turned out that I did get my wish, and in the form of boxing! I don’t want to share too many details about the process, but I was able to confront a time when I was in the eighth grade.

My family had moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, for the year while my father was on sabbatical as a philosophy professor. That year was incredible in so many ways. I got to experience a big city after growing up in a small town in Missouri. I learned to play the drum set. I took piano lessons from a jazz pianist. I soaked up an incredible array of art, theater and musical performances. And few things in our world compare to the splendor of Utah’s natural wonders.

On the other hand, that year was incredibly lonely for me. And at one point I was bullied. I never told anybody about it until a few weeks ago in another workshop. And it came out in full force at MKP. I was able to confront my bully and reconcile the anger. In doing so, I actually dialed up my anger to a blind rage in a controlled environment.

I’d never felt anything like that. I don’t really know how long it lasted, but it felt like I had been kickboxing for three hours straight. My voice was hoarse. A massive amount of energy had moved in me. I left with new access to the full spectrum of anger, which I had been suppressing. Since I had denied it, anger showed up in unexpected and undesired ways in my life. Now I started to understand the power of proactively using anger to access my greatest power rather than reactively out of fear or spite.

The main thing I’ve learned about emotions is that they are neither good nor bad. Actually, to enjoy a full life, all emotions need to have room for expression. When we suppress or deny our emotions because we want to avoid the pain associated with the experiences they represent, they tend to lead to less controlled behavior and choices, which is when other people get hurt.

 

Trusting men

Trust was an essential aspect of the training across many levels. From the moment we arrived, we were given an opportunity to trust ourselves through a lens of accountability. And we quickly learned to trust the men around us as we were split into teams. I did not immediately volunteer to be our team leader. I prefer to practice following in situations like this since I spend so much of my life in leadership positions. Fate would catch up with me, however, as our leader decided to step down since he did not want to participate in all the activities. I deeply respect his decision and took his place.

 

Have you seen your shadow?

Another concentration from day one was an investigation of shadow, which MKP defines as those aspects of self that we hide, repress or deny. This is generally a reflection of our conditioning and a response to the wounds we perceived from events in our lives. Shadow is arguably the most important concept to grasp in men’s work (and any personal development) because putting something in our shadow, or subconscious, does not make it go away. These elements merely start calling the shots without our awareness, which creates inconsistency at best and unaccountable damage to ourselves and others at worst.

Shadow is what those of us who envision a world of dignity and agency for each person see playing out at the national level and interpersonally every day. Shadow is what leads some people to cling desperately to an inequitable status quo rather than take a chance on building a better world together. Shadow is all the parts of ourselves that we’ve decided not to love for whatever reason, denying ourselves our whole beautiful expression of being human.

I had just completed a five-month-long Shadow Quest program, so this exploration was most welcome. While people have tried variously to calculate how much of our psyche is conscious versus subconscious, I don’t believe it’s possible. The subconscious is infinitely expansive and larger than our conscious awareness. Therefore I accept this as a lifelong exploration to uncover truths about myself and my behaviors. I give ManKind Project credit for helping me to take my shadow journey even further, and all my other work and mentors for creating a starting point that was quite far along.

One consistent idea I’ve learned that was confirmed by MKP is the notion that we have incredible gifts and power in our shadow. However those gifts are not in service of the world if we do not learn to embrace them by understanding how they help us connect with other people who share those shadows or wounds. I felt this while watching other men do their work, which invariably felt tethered to many of my own life experiences and therefore felt like they helping me do my work, too.

 

Speak for myself

A critical practice that I’ve brought into my daily life is the use of “I” statements. It’s amazing when I tune into a new language practice how I start noticing language other people use. The basic idea is to speak from my own experience by saying “I” instead of “You” or some other generalized pronoun.

It’s taking some time to recondition this language for myself, but I’m committed to it because it’s incredibly empowering. First, it helps me stay rooted in my own story versus diluting it by leaning on the crutch of a speculative shared reality. Second, it makes it easier to me to resist the temptation of engaging with people who want to refute my reality to satisfy their own agenda or subconscious emotional triggers, because I’ve firmly stated my own truth, which nobody can take from me.

 

Celebrate your wondrous inner child

There is a healthy focus on inner child liberation and celebration, typically accessed through guided visualizations. I won’t reveal all the details, but I enjoyed the use of my non-dominant hand to represent my child’s voice. Wright Foundation does an exercise based on the same idea. It’s a very powerful way to express from the subconscious voice and break free of my typical thinking patterns.

Inner child work is a core part of my purpose coaching practice. Many people have built mental strategies to avoid re-experiencing the pain from a childhood moment of wounding, whether they are conscious of it or not. With MKP, the inner child partnership was used to reveal a vision of purpose, which I found to be very powerful. It brought me to tears when I stood with my inner child to survey the world, looking again at all the wondrous possibilities that only a child can see.

I appreciated ManKind Project’s approach to purpose. The methodology I use is a deep journey of the soul and takes many weeks to complete. While not going to the same level of depth, MKP expresses purpose as a mission statement and accomplished a lot in a short amount of time, particularly addressing a group of men from all backgrounds and walks of life. In addition to a mission statement, the idea of an affirmation is a critical piece of the journey.

An MKP elder later revealed to me that this version of purpose isn’t so much about my mission in the world, but rather my mission to heal and love my inner child.

My Purpose: My mission is to create a world of unapologetic radiant love by planting seeds of appreciation within my heart.

My Affirmation: As a man among men, I am forgiving.

One tool I really loved was the idea of “shadow missions,” which I found far easier to brainstorm than the initial primary mission statement. The leaders mentioned that this is quite common. I won’t list those here, but trust that it is a powerful continued exploration of my relationship with shadow, which helps me understand it to make conscious choices rather than deny it.

Inclusivity and Cultural Appropriation

At the top of the “Who We Are” page of ManKind Project’s website are three qualities:

  • Global Network of Nonprofit Organizations
  • Non-Religious – Men of all faiths and no faith are welcome.
  • Inclusive – Men of all backgrounds, orientations, ages, and abilities are welcome.

While I do not doubt whatsoever the intention of all three of those, the third one has room for growth in terms of true inclusivity, which in my experience left a gap between intention and impact. My sense is that the organization realizes, owns and works on this deficiency. When this issue was raised in one of the many authentic circling sessions, the man who invited me and has been involved with MKP since 1996 said that this was created by a bunch of middle-aged white men in the 1980s and they have work to do. I’d also speculate that those men were probably mostly cisgendered straight men, or otherwise weren’t open about their sexual orientation or gender.

MKP acknowledges its history and implicit bias, and is committed to self-analysis, learning and improving. This, to me, is the important focus point for organizations like this. If we demonize organizations that are dedicated to doing good work, that acknowledge their deficiencies and commit to continuous improvement, then we hold back progress. Even if MKP was limited to guys who look like me, the dominant image of the patriarchy, that’s still a group that needs help. We need a place to do our own work, so I’m glad it exists. And since we still hold most of the power, work like this will have more of an impact on how that power is wielded.

Thankfully we don’t have to settle for that, since there is an increasing attention to inclusive language and processes. I met several men on the weekend who identified as gay, and who clearly voiced the areas of the process that deeply offended them or simply did not resonate. This level of truth-telling is how change begins. It must be said and it must be received, however painful on either side. Gateway New Warrior Training Adventures are being held around the world that are specifically focused on Target groups (GBTQ, people of color, people with mobility or ability challenges, etc.). The leadership for these trainings primarily comprises people from the core demographic.

“I just got done Staffing a GBTQ Gateway in California,” said Nicklin Heap, a leader of MKP Chicago, “where we had 40 GBTQ Participants and Staff of over 60 (95% of whom were GBTQ – and all the Leaders were GBTQ).”

In my weekend there were several younger (I’m guessing mid-20s) black men who were required to be there for the organization they just joined for work. While I appreciate the inclination to require this kind of personal development, it’s much less effective as a form of extrinsic motivation than those of us who chose to be there. The original leader of my team was one of these men, which is why he opted for the minimal amount of participation.

Given that understandable resistance, I celebrate the MKP leaders for reaching many, if not all, of these men in a way that was loving, respectful and genuine. I saw each of them have their own breakthrough in their own way, which is exactly the point of this kind of attention and support.

 

Whose right of passage?

With regard to cultural appropriation, this is something I noticed at various times within the context of what appeared to be white men adopting American Indian rituals. At one point it was revealed to us that a specific ceremony had been blessed and co-created by a Lakota elder, which I appreciated deeply. I wish this had been explained earlier in the process, however, since some of the men elected not to participate in this ceremony due to the perception of cultural appropriation.

Many of these tensions did surface in the intimate circling check-ins throughout the weekend, which is the true beauty and power of the brave space that was created. These are all reflections of what’s going on in our dominant culture, and the weekend created a safe and brace space for us each to explore our perceptions and emotions by sharing them with others through vulnerable authentic expression and connection. Only through honest self-reflection and conscious dialogue will we move our society forward.

So Far, So Good

Immediately after my weekend, I suspended two habits. They were both things in my life that didn’t seem to serve me, and of which I was consciously aware. Yet I kept doing them. This is the nature of habits. They weren’t addictions in the context of a physical need, but more compulsions to distract me from the present moment or emotions I didn’t want to deal with. Or even just patterned behaviors of the way to end my day.

Three days after the weekend was our “Homecoming.” This was a beautiful experience that again brought tears to my eyes as many men in attendance had invited their loved ones to come and witness this aspect of their transformation. It felt like a graduation ceremony, and indeed like all graduations, it celebrated the closing of one chapter to make room for the opening of another. Hearing the words of loved ones who appreciated my new brothers was incredible.

One important aspect of ManKind Project that’s evolved since its initial weekend is the idea of weekly Integration Groups (or I-Groups) to continue integrating what we learned by supporting each other to do our own work. The “processes” are taught so that eventually the group carries on with peers rather than a more advanced leader. I love this model of self-sufficiency rather than ongoing hierarchical dependency on a teacher.

This idea of ongoing support is critical for any major life change. It’s one of the reasons I’ve gone into purpose and leadership coaching, so that I can help people navigate true transformation rather than a nice idea that fades over time as old habits creep back in.

I resisted the idea of joining an I-Group at first, but remained curious and open to see what’s possible and true for me. I do a LOT of personal development. I have my own coach. I have an incredible support network that includes mentors and my immediate family. And yet I see value in being with the incredible energy of these men for weekly meetings, support, learning, coaching, accountability and yes… hugs.

There is a level of truth present in these sessions that I feel is far too uncommon in the world, and perhaps especially among men. This is made possible by a shared sense of trust and safety, and yet I’ve moved from calling these “safe spaces” to “brave spaces.”

Some people grate at the idea of men needing safe spaces, particularly white men. I understand this reaction from the standpoint of physical safety. However, when it comes to emotional safety, my own experience is that there are starkly few places where men are truly invited to reveal their full selves and emotions. Our ego minds can’t distinguish between emotional and physical threats, and men are no different. I believe the men who are doing this deep work are expressing a level of courageous vulnerability that leads to incredible growth and compassion for others.

If you’d like to know more about the benefits of ManKind Project on men and society, I invite you to read this study from the American Journal of Community Psychology.

State of Men

It’s easy to focus our attention on the men in power across the world who still rely on fear-mongering and bullying to gain power over others and maintain “order.” Destructive forces are louder than then constructive ones. ManKind Project renewed my hope that there are good men in the world quietly doing their work to build a better world for this generation and the next.

Perhaps I’ve been able to share some of that hope with you. I believe we’re better off focusing our attention on these men rather than continuing to feed power to those who abuse it. In this way, we can all help break the cycle of pain rather than recreate it under different cover.

I pay close attention to what people say and do, online and in person. I notice that many people talk a lot about symptoms through a lens of blame far more than addressing the root causes of the numerous troubles our society faces. They often adopt patterns of discourse that replicate those of their opposition, which leaves me little confidence that anything would be different if the roles were reversed. Part of my privilege is not being easily triggered and sucked into highly polarized debates that ultimately spin in circles.

The patriarchy depends on over-valuing the illusion of control. One way to control people is to extend our natural human need to filter information through biases into an exaggerated truth that’s imposed on other people.  Bias mixed with power and ego hierarchy lead to all the “isms” as we put people in just a few limited boxes rather than embracing the ultimate diversity of 7.5+ billion sovereign souls. If those souls are unleashed and encouraged to reach their potential, then they implicitly can no longer be controlled. This is terrifying to a patriarchal structure that depends on control and compliance more than compassion and collaboration.

Fear is a fundamental emotion that is denied within the common expectation of men, particularly those in leadership positions. It’s conditioned or even beaten out of many boys from a very young age. Sadness is also frowned upon as a trait of masculinity. And as women have had to compete to survive and thrive in a patriarchy, these qualities are not always revered in them either.

Fear and sadness are two fundamental emotions. When we deny ourselves access to any emotion, we reduce our full human expression. Dehumanization is at the very root of all our troubles, and I’m remiss to find anyone in our world that is completely immune to its ravishing impact.

Yes, we need to hold men (and all people) accountable for their actions.

Yes, I applaud women for using the power of their voice to get the attention of men who aren’t even trying to listen. Women are wise to protect themselves from the very real physical danger they face at a personal and political level as society wages constant battle with what to do with “them” rather than simply welcoming their full human expression. As a big white dude in America, these are perspectives I will never fully understand, so I constantly engage by asking questions and listening.

Ultimately something deeper is needed than addressing these symptoms. It starts with men doing their own work, and yet that’s still not enough.

 

Hurt people hurt other people

So where does this hurt come from? How do we get to the root of the problem?

My weekend with ManKind Project strengthened my understanding that much of this problem comes from men being hurt early in life and not having an outlet to explore that. I saw so much pain this weekend as men did the brutal work of walking back through their traumas and wounding experiences. It brought me to tears more than once.

How do we build a world where everyone has an opportunity to express their emotions fully, so they don’t get bottled up and explode onto the world through projected hurt and violence? It’s estimated that 98% of all violence is perpetrated by men.

We are fundamentally working against our proven nature of war and greed. I believe that women should have full rights as humans. Yet this is a relatively new idea for humanity, and still isn’t even held as the majority viewpoint worldwide.

It’s important to consider the verifiable perspective that a minority of us haven’t discovered a natural law, but we are actually asking humanity to adopt a new one. Those of us who envision a world that nurtures dignity and agency for each person cannot rely on righteous natural truth, for we live in a world that has yet to realize and prove that truth.

I believe the path forward is to embrace the vision of a better humanity by celebrating these ideas as revolutionary change rather than an entitlement we’ve lost and need to regain. We must enroll everyone in a collective vision that reflects the true amount of personal work each person will need to embrace.

Only by each of us using the power of our words and behavior to model that vision will we earn the trust of those who have every reason to be skeptical. For it is in the patterns of our voice and actions that we can prove we are truly meant to evolve into something better rather than merely recreate history with different-looking people in charge.

While it was a good start, it clearly wasn’t enough for our white slave-owning forefathers to scribble words about inalienable rights, freedom and liberty. At that time, women were tolerated and people of color weren’t even considered human by most people. It’s time to write a new chapter for humanity. And we have to bring everyone along together.

It starts with looking deep into your own heart and finding a way to trust the beauty within the hearts of men. That trust will be built through billions of tiny gestures back and forth, not one grand gesture or conclusion. It must be founded on the central belief that men carry deep pain that can only be healed if it’s revealed in a loving environment by those who seek truth over admonishment and who can see past their own wounding. The privilege and space that’s afforded men still doesn’t allow men room to be fully human.

ManKind Project isn’t flawless and doesn’t pretend to be. It comprises men who are committed to doing their work. Watching them lead from love gives me renewed strength and conviction to do my own work and to do what I can to help others do the same. This is how the world gets better, not by sitting around complaining about how everyone else is lazy and wrong.

I believe that men can learn the nurturing behavior of which Margaret Mead spoke. I’ve seen it firsthand. Actually, I’m not so sure it’s learning that behavior so much as unlearning the ways in which men are conditioned to suppress their natural nurturing instincts. It starts with a practice of men learning to nurture themselves through self love, which releases the deepest pain over time.

Unexpressed pain provides endless fuel to shadow, so that it overcomes the light.

MKP brothers often say, “Men are waiting,” when they need to get bodies to move from one place to another.

I’d expand that to say the world is waiting. The only question that remains is: What are we waiting for?

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