The problem of men is a culture of conquest; 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 right path for men to walk.
In the midst of a sea change where men everywhere are being publicly called out to own and atone for their inappropriate, unwarranted, and unwelcomed sexual advances on women, can we agree this is a problem with deep roots — not one that only began in the past few decades?
Conquest culture in all its forms — conquest over women, over the earth, over other men, over people of other nations or another skin color, over all living beings brings about a shallowest of superiority that severs a man from his own spirit.
Each man needs to ask himself this question: What is a man for? Asking this question, right now each day is more important than having an easy answer. Embrace this teaching from Rilke:
“Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”
In the deeper commitment to living into the answer that is right for each of us, I believe there is a way to learn to walk with courage on a pitch-dark night and find the path back home to being wholehearted human beings. To walk in this way requires us to remove our thick, heavy boots and walk barefooted, exposed and vulnerable, feeling our way step by step when we can’t even see our own hands in front of our face.
I don’t have all the answers here — but I do sense 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. As the 13th-century poet, Rumi advised, “Darkness is your candle”. Naming and removing my own mask and feeling the pulse of my own wild heart to guide me is a vulnerable act. The vulnerability is terrifying. It’s going to take courage to move forward.
Below are 10 powerful actions men can take to find their own path home through re-imagining masculinity for healthy relationships, families, communities, and society. These are actions that won’t be accomplished in one day and checked off. They require awareness, commitment, and courage. They must become part of your life journey. I have been working on some of these actions my entire adult life, and some of these only within the past few years. I don’t claim to have mastered them– though I do believe in their value toward becoming a wholehearted male human being. I continue to commit to them and summon the courage to weave them into the fabric of my life. I’ll be fleshing out each action in future articles. Follow me on Medium or at my blog Emerge Wild to be sure you see these future posts. For now, here are the actions and the basic power each offers to transform male culture:
- Listen to women. To begin re-imagining masculinity men must first be brave enough to listen openly to women, and hear their voices. We must own the pain men have wrought on women. No more –‘what about men’s rights’, or ‘not all men’ or ‘all lives matter’, or any other excuses for the toxic behaviors that have come to define masculinity. We must sit with this, hear it, know it, own it, and allow it to begin to transform the culture and us. This is the first step toward a new path for men.
- Honor the feminine.Men must make a priority to honor and respect the feminine everywhere: the earth, our mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, girlfriends, and strangers. Women should be respected as equal human beings — it blows my mind this even has to be said — but it obviously does need to be said loudly and often. We must champion women in leadership roles at all levels.
- Name the mask you live in.The masks we wear tend to be tough, in control, ever confident, competitive, never publicly showing “weakness” — usually defined as being kind, or uncertain, or vulnerable. Participate in the 100KMasks Challenge with the EverFowardClub.orgto take part in the activity of drawing and naming the mask you wear. Becoming consciously aware of the mask you live in is crucial to begin removing the mask hiding your authentic self.
- Become aware of your implicit biases.We each have many biases. We are conscious of some of our biases, but the most damaging can be unconscious — also called implicit bias. Although we are not aware of our implicit biases, they have a big influence on our thoughts and behavior, and how we move through life. The scientists over at Project Implicithave carefully designed Implicit Association Tests (IAT’s) across fourteen crucial areas including race, gender, weight, and religion. The results are eye-opening — uncomfortable — but will awaken you to your implicit biases allowing you to expose these veiled patterns and begin changing your behavior. Take an IAT test, or two or three — they are free to take and learn from.
- Connect with wild earth. I believe 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.”
Masculine energy becomes destructive when it is cut off from the earth.
There are many, many ways of reconnecting with wild earth from taking a regular walk in a local park or hiking in wild nature to learning the names and natures of the wild plants and animals we share our earthly home with. I’ve recently launched the blog Emerge Wild especially to give voice to this aspect of human energy and the earth, exploring topics of wild nature, wild-ness, spirituality, and becoming the wilderness. Check out my recent articles at EmergeWild.com on What is Wild(ness) and Why does it Matter?, and Naming the Wild “Other” for insights and ideas to help you begin to reconnect with Nature.
- Recognize and honor everyday natural beauty. Notice the beauty of wild nature, gardens, flowers, blue sky, majestic trees, sunshine, gentle breeze, flowing water, a gentle rain, bird song, a dandelion emerging through the crack in the sidewalk. These are small acts of internal vulnerability — name it, embrace it, make it a part of your daily life. Beauty will begin to grow within you.
- Be creative and share your beauty.Follow your curiosity and engage in something that brings beauty into the world — creating art, writing poetry, making music, photography, pottery, anything that moves you into the realm of creating and sharing it with others. The sharing part might be difficult — it’s part of moving into your vulnerable authentic self.
- Practice gratitude. Notice, reflect on and give thanks, each day for the little things in your life. This practice makes a grateful heart — a strong heart. Research is demonstrating that you will experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even build a stronger immune system.
- Take your mask off and become the wilderness.Be willing to stand-alone as your authentic self. Learn to be yourself unmasked out in the wilderness, and speak your truth even when it is hard — especially when it is hard. To stand against pack mentality that is spewing toxic masculinity is vulnerable, and it takes real courage. This is what sociology researcher Brené Brown means when she says become the wilderness. We all need guides on this journey. I’ve been aided by Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame. I am still at an early stage of digesting this way of seeing, and I highly recommend her TED talks on these topics, and reading her recent book Braving the Wilderness to provide a language to understand these crucial dimensions of our human-ness.
- Embrace your inner feminine.Gain the courage and insight from the above actions to connect to the feminine within. Doing so is real strength. Let go of the disunion of eithermale or female. Embracing both masculine and feminine within you is real power. Achieving both/and balance can heal divisions, let go of conquest, and bring us together as a species. We must shift to a both/and dialogue, a together with way of being, and away from destructive either/or disunions.
A man can be both strong and compassionate, both strategic and inclusive, both confident and open, both protector and caregiver; male together with the feminine – a gentleman.
I fully acknowledge that these are not the only actions that men will need to engage to become whole. Some choose conquest behavior as a desperate way of gaining acceptance from fathers that did not know how to show their son compassion or love. Or, they exhibit these behaviors to belong to their peer group, or to fill the hole of not having a father at all. Some may have chosen conquest as a way of basic survival within an abusive or hostile environment that they could not or cannot otherwise escape from. These hard realities must be faced and transformed as well — again not only by individual men, but by organizations, businesses, government, our communities of worship, and all of society.
Transcending the conquest culture won’t happen overnight. The Berlin wall fell not in a day, but from many years of slow, brave, chipping away until the wall was breached — physically, politically, culturally. Cultural change happens because individuals brave the hard work of change, and these individuals eventually become a population until the new culture is.