It’s not just a bunch of men howling and beating their chests.
A number of popular psychologists and social scientists speak about a crisis in masculinity in our country. They point to the number of men and boys who commit violent crimes. They point to the failures of males in schools and colleges, and point out the disparate number of young men who are being diagnosed as antisocial or with attention deficit disorder. They also point to a failure of men in the bedroom, as the addiction to internet porn has become an epidemic. Their argument is very compelling and one that I find myself trying to understand as I providing counseling to men and their families.
What’s clear is that gender roles have been changing quite rapidly in the last 30-40 years. Many young men in our modern era have grown up in the shadow of men who benefited from the various types of gender discrimination in our culture. This has been quite problematic as men struggle to develop realistic expectations of their lives. As our culture continues to develop, men will continue to be challenged to develop skills in relationships. They will be challenged to be more involved in raising children and to be more emotionally available in their intimate relationships.
My orientation to the problems and issues faced by men has been shaped more than anything by my time in a men’s group. Most people express curiosity about what takes place in a men’s group and wonder what it’s like when group of men gather together in an intentional way. In one particular group that I was in, I can pinpoint ten important outcomes of the relationships we developed.
1 ) We were leaderless. We weren’t directionless without a leader. We all felt a really strong need for direction, so we developed a complex set of agreements about the structure of the group. We included provisions for adding new members, the meeting format, attendance, and outside activities. We brought vigor to this process. We published our guidelines and would review and develop them from time to time.
2 ) We held each other accountable-if guys didn’t show up or were late to the group, it was addressed. Holding each other accountable almost never led to resentment. More often it led to safety and the freedom to be more playful and more vulnerable with each other.
3 ) We were playful-We talked about the most raunchy topics available and playfully wrestled and fought. Only occasionally did someone get punched in the nuts.
4 ) There were marriages and a divorce. Guys had children and started families. We shared our fears and got the support we needed to take the next step.
5 ) Members challenged each other to be more authentic. We encouraged each other to integrate our work with their rest of our lives and to take risks to seek happiness and fulfillment.
6 ) We planned retreats together. We rented cabins in the mountains and made time and space for each other to enjoy nature, cook great meals, and horse around.
7 ) We told each other how much we cared about each other. With time we felt a strong enough bond to tell each other ‘I love you’.
8 ) Children were welcome at our get-togethers and we discussed strategies in parenting, childbirth, the education system, and child nutrition.
9 ) We found ways to express our aggression. We helped each other to express it physically, verbally, and emotionally. At times it seemed unpredictable and intense and we found incredible relief when we could witness it for each other.
10 ) We patted each other on the back, made each other feel strong and capable, the masters of our domains. Amidst the closeness that we had, there was a quiet respect for each other as powerful people.
There were many transitions that that this group helped to facilitate for the men involved and some of those transitions could have only happened in the company of other men. When men gather together there are some very special things that happen. There is in fact a natural developmental process that takes place. In many contemporary environments, men are competitive performers and it would appear to be of little value to come together to acknowledge the common problems and failures of men in society. But historically men have spent a lot of time with each other where they could mentor, teach, and train each other in the unique tasks that were required of them.
The most important thing that men’s groups provide is an opportunity for modeling, for men to see that there can be a different way to be. In this way, creating a positive culture can be the cure for many of the problems that persist for the men of our time.
A relephant TED talk by Philip Zimbardo – The Demise of Guys
Joe Elliott has been working to help families for the past thirteen years. His specialties are in couples counseling, family therapy, death and dying, parenting, financial management, and adoption. Joe received his undergraduate degree from Naropa University in Psychology and Religious Studies and his Masters in Counseling from Regis University in Denver. Joe completed a Post-Graduate Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy from The Denver Family Institute. Joe has also taught Family Therapy to students at Metro State Community College. Find out more here.
Editor: Lorin Arnold
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