I’m part of a men’s group. Some people see the value of this, and some don’t.
One guy I know, when I told him about the group, responded “I don’t need anyone to teach me how to be a man.” Others have more detailed preconceived notions about “men’s work” — one woman reacted by saying “so what do you do, cry and get naked in the woods together?”
I found these two reactions particularly interesting, because I think they reflect deep-seated, and misguided, assumptions about men that are worth talking about. The first is that a real man doesn’t ask for support, and faces his problems alone. The second is that it’s weak for a man to tell others how he feels.
Vulnerability Takes Courage
One thing I find ironic about these ideas is that, in my experience, it actually takes a lot more courage to ask for support, and say how I feel, than to keep my concerns to myself.
After all, if I admit I’m facing a challenge in my life, I open myself up to being criticized or ridiculed. Maybe the person I confide in will say “dude, you’re messed up,” or pelt me with advice when I just want to be heard, or something like that, and I’ll feel hurt. If I keep a stiff upper lip, I don’t have to take that risk.
True, “sharing our feelings” may sound airy-fairy and New-Agey on the surface. But in my experience, it’s much harder to reveal my emotions than to pretend they don’t exist. It’s far easier to act like nothing bothers me, I’m super-professional, and I’ve got it all together.
What’s more, expressing emotions is about much more than “crying naked in the woods,” although I don’t want to dismiss that practice if it’s what you think you need. :) It can also mean unleashing our more fiery parts — our anger and competitive drive, for instance.
The Practical Benefits
When I say something along the lines of what I just said, some people respond: Taking risks by being emotionally vulnerable is all well and good, but what does that get you in the real world?
First off, the assumption behind this question is, basically, that nothing is worth doing unless it gets us more money, power or sex. But I happen to think connection, by itself, is valuable — the relief and aliveness I feel when I drop the pretenses with someone and tell them what’s really going on for me.
If you feel cynical or skeptical when I say this, at least consider the possibility that there’s a dimension of being with another person that you aren’t experiencing, and that it may be interesting for you to explore.
What’s more, I think the risks men take in the kind of group I’m part of do translate into “practical benefits” in the traditional sense.
For example, some men learned, at an early age, that releasing the fiery kind of energy I talked about wasn’t okay. They were sternly taught that a good boy obeys his parents without complaint. As adults, these men find it hard to set firm boundaries with others and ask for what they want.
A men’s group can offer a man in this situation a safe container to cut loose and rage, reconnect with the warrior part he was taught to push down, and take that part with him into the “real world.” This can have a powerful impact in his work, relationships and elsewhere.
Have you been part of a men’s or women’s group? What has your experience of it been like?