Each man needs to ask himself this question: What is a man for? In the midst of a sea change where men everywhere are being publicly called out to own and atone their inappropriate, unwarranted, and unwelcomed sexual behaviors, can we agree at the start that there is a deep scar and a deep problem in our society? The problem of men has always been cultural and systemic; its roots have a depth deeper than we can measure and an age longer than we can count. I am a man, and I sense this is true – yet I do not accept that it is the only path for men to walk. I sense there is a way to learn to walk on a pitch-dark night and find the path back home again – it requires us to remove our thick, heavy boots and walk with sensitive feet, exposed and vulnerable, feeling the path step by step when we can’t even see our own hands in front of our face.
Seth Godin, in his work to help us ‘find our tribes’, reminds us “the culture eats all”. In order for a population to change, its culture must change. One way cultural change occurs results from a rising tide of first one wave, then another wave of individuals making change – change within themselves, and demonstrating this change out in the world at large. The Berlin wall fell – not in one heavy blow, but pieces chipped away slowly at first by those who were brave, and by those who had nothing left to lose. Then rose a tidal wave – and even the oppressors joined in as one collective voice to dismantle an icon of physical and ideological separation.
We are in the midst of a wave of cultural change. Many of these changes are about dismantling the walls that separate us in ways large and small. Those who fear this rising tide of change fear it because they believe the changes will take their power away, drowning them in its wake. So, they are lashing out like cornered, threatened animals – believing the only way “out” is to defend to the death their way of being in the world, even when that means running faster toward the edge of the cliff. Some will gladly and blindly take us all over the cliff – they have not learned to walk in the dark, they may not even know a cliff is up ahead.
This power that men in general believe they have is ultimately not real power (a topic I’ll come back to in a future post), but nonetheless it is a kind of power of authority imbibed so repeatedly, we are driving drunk on it down a dead end road. It is this driving dominion over everything else – a never-ending wave of destructive disunion drowning us in false superiority: us over them, mind over body, light over dark, strength over weakness, predictability over the unknown, rationality over intuition, machine over animal, reduction over wholeness, Ford vs. Chevy, Mac vs. PC, we’re #1, and climbing to the top of the mountain to feel a conquering superiority, rather than to become one with it, ultimately championing male over female always and at all costs.
Combined with blindly mistaking knowledge for wisdom, and ego embraced over one’s true name, men’s lives (to degrees small and large) become inherently perverted and ultimately destructive. This superiority complex and religious devotion of seeing through a perpetual lens of us vs. them are the methods men have always used to divide and conquer.
Conquest is the real terrorism that is coursing through far too many of us. Conquest in all its forms – over women, over the earth, over other men, over all living beings brings about a shallowest of superiority that severs a man from his own spirit. The root of conquest begins from fear that grows because it is avoided – conquest over others is a pathway diametrically opposite of being vulnerable and going into your own deeper ground and touching your own vulnerability and understanding that it is that place of vulnerability where love, compassion, and creativity reside.
Masculine energy becomes destructive when it is cut off from the earth. Is it not time that men find a new path toward conquering themselves, rather than others? No longer conquering their fear by a show of physical strength or sexual domination, but a courage to take their mask off and become one with their own vulnerability, where a real strength of love can grow. This is at least part of the answer. I believe we men must embrace a way of understanding ourselves in a new light. As Valerie Andrews writes in A Passion for the Earth: Exploring a New Partnership of Man, Woman, and Nature:
“A human life is not a singular occurrence, but the culmination of many earthly histories. The beauty and grace of the animals are alive within us, and the body and the brain that we inhabit recapitulate the wisdom of the land.”
What is a man for? I don’t have all the answers here – I only sense the urgency to ask the question and gain enough courage to take the journey. The path back home, where the porch light shines on the door to the best of what we can become, is a pathway first through the dark night of the soul. Taking off our masks and feeling the pulse of our own wild heart to guide us. We all need guides on this journey. I’ve been aided by sociology researcher Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame. I am still at a stage of digesting this way of seeing, and I highly recommend her TED talks on these topics, and her recent book Braving the Wilderness are providing a language to talk about these crucial dimensions of our human-ness.
Reconnecting with the earth and with our spirit is also a big part of this journey. This is the way to walk and to trust inside the darkness. And, it is always darkest before the dawn. As the 13th century poet Rumi says, “Darkness is your candle”. To find this path we men must first be courageous enough to listen – to women – and hear their voices, and own the pain we men have wrought. No more –‘what about men’s rights’, or ‘not all men’, or ‘all lives matter’, or other excuses for the toxic behaviors that have come to define our culture. We must sit with this, hear it, know it, own it, and allow it to transform the culture and us.
Our world needs to hear voices of the feminine. We have been deaf to this voice that can bring us balance. We need to hear these voices that have been silent and silenced for far too long. We need women in leadership positions at all levels of our society. We need men with the courage to connect to the feminine within themselves, and honor and respect the feminine everywhere: the earth, our mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. This is real strength, this is real power that can heal the divisions, let go of conquest, and bring us together as a species in harmony with our beautiful home.