Does Men's Work and Social Justice interface? With the streets around the world lined with protesters, following the George Floyd murder, prompting the resurgence of public demands for civil rights for people of color, the question arises, what is the purview of this issue within organizations and individuals committed to the growth of men?
Recently, I have heard from many men, graduates from personal growth workshops, who say, social justice is very much at the core of men's work, while others say, absolutely not, still others say, they don't pay attention or care about these issues. This all leaves me deeply troubled, as I wrestle with this question while so many people are suffering.
I assert that most men don't go to men's retreats, gathering or workshops or for that matter, enter therapy, to deconstruct their: white privilege, homophobic, or misogynistic beliefs and attitudes, but rather from the pain that stems from: broken relationships, isolation, father hunger, shame and guilt, and the growing awareness of just how much pain and suffering they feel. Thus, the old adage, misery drives therapy. This was certainly true for me.
The cultural paradigm for men in conflict has been either fight or flight/ avoid / give in. Through men's work, I have learned and sought a third option when in conflict - staying engaged with the commitment to speak my truth while listening with an open heart. This is not to say that often my first internal response isn't; fight- to be right or betray myself by not speaking my truth in order to belong or fit in. Neither of these responses to conflict is very effective, if the goal is to maintain authenticity and connection in a win / win outcome.
Some twenty years ago, at the Connecticut Men's Gathering ( COMEGA) the elephant in the room - homophobia-was brought up to a gathering with an authentic expression of the deep pain and the abuses suffered by this marginalized group. Through a long process, taking years, gay and straight men spoke openly and honestly to unpack the fear, resentments, and judgments that kept men disconnected and untrusting of each other. This took a deep commitment, time, and the willingness from men to speak and listen with their hearts- Men's work at it's best.
Once again, people of color, and their allies are speaking out, demanding change. If we are to make not only men's gatherings, but society, safe for all men / people, white privilege, racism, and any structure that marginalizes and disempowers an individual or group, must be unpacked. Currently, our society lacks leadership that can provide a vision of unity, thus, creating a highly polarized society. Brene Brown writes about how we have "sorted"- separated ourselves into where we live and the people we associate with based on our beliefs, to protect ourselves from conflict, while yearning for a core human need- belonging.
For me, men's work , regardless of its focus, mythopoetic, transformational, process or theme oriented is at its very core the exploration and raising consciousness of self defeating patterns and beliefs, owning our projections, while bringing awareness to and healing our wounds. With the great courage to seek these awarenesses , our unique gifts, including generativity, love and compassion can be expressed. From this place the question shifts from the philosophical: is men's work social justice- to the personal: can I hold compassion for another in pain?
Individually and as a society we are being initiated, and as in any initiatory process, the ordeals
( the inner and outer demons / conflicts) are threatening to our deepest core. Initiation is an event or ritual that bring us home to ourselves. This is when mentors, leaders and the old archetypal patterns such as the King, Warrior, Lover, Magician can bring some light and guidance during dark times. The archetype of the King, in part, is the energy and focus of a vision for a healthy society, where all people flourish. While the Warrior archetype is to serve the king's vision and protect the people. How large and tolerant is your vision? Do you express the power of your warrior energy in service of your values and vision?
I suggest this question must encompass the complexity and range of any consciousness raising endeavor. Rather than getting stuck and polarized regarding trying to answer this question, I invite you to see where you are regarding the degree you can offer compassion for marginalized and disenfranchised people. Often before we can offer compassion to others, we must bring compassion to our own wounds, pettiness, judgments, and imperfections. Where are you rigid in your beliefs and attitudes? How would you respond if George Floyd was your; brother, father, husband or son? So I ask you now, knowing full well that people of color are being systematically oppressed, discriminated against and killed, men who we call brothers, is this part of your men's work?
Wishing you all health during these new and challenging times.
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