It’s the study of the world. Of history. Of relationships. Of violence. Of philosophy. Of morals.
It is the study of whether we ought to hold each other accountable to an ideal or a common denominator. What does it mean to be a good man?
In this study, I consider all of philosophy from ancient Greece to the Enlightenment as part of the study of the theory of “what it means to be a good man.” After the Enlightenment, when the world became more justly considerate of women’s rights and needs, I consider the studies of Psychology (particularly Jungian archetypes), Gender Studies, and media/communication theory (even including organizational communication) to be valuable resources in understanding “what it means to be a man.”
How can studying masculinity with other men help me?
Well, it may or may not… I’d have to get to know you a bit more to tell you for sure. Generally, we men don’t spend much time talking about what it means to “be a man.” And then we expect each other to live up to unwritten standards of manhood, and we judge ourselves based on those standards even though we don’t really understand it, its origin, or its function.
Speaking to other men about manhood just broadens your perspective and gives you a chance to make wise and empowered decisions about your life methodology. You are who you surround yourself with – by being in a group of men consistently pursuing self-mastery – you begin to pursue self-mastery as a matter of course.
There’s another element I’d also say, generally, is true… you have access to some perspective on wisdom that is going to help someone else. If you never spend any time in service to your fellow men, then you may never get an opportunity to feel the awesome feeling of helping a brother dig down to some deep wisdom. Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen the look on a brother’s face that says, “holy shit, I just had a revelation that’s going to change my life.”
You want to be there for that.
How do our fathers define masculinity?
Defining masculinity is a slippery subject. I’d rather define the building blocks of masculinity, and allow each man an opportunity to build his own masculinity based on his life and perspective. Our fathers, in general I think did their best to define masculinity during a tumultuous time for the relationship between traditional masculine and feminine ideals.
I got from my father a John Wayne masculinity: be outwardly tough, protect the weak, respect all people (even opponents), lament the loss of culture and the rise of entitlement – especially while protecting the “land from the encroachment of people,” if it’s time to fight – fight to win, hate to lose, a man who enjoys killing is dangerous, love the mystery of woman – but set boundaries to keep from being controlled by the feminine, respect justice and rail against authoritative abuse… etc.
Where did you get this stuff?
I have observed that there are basically three main ways people come to understand and work with “masculinity.” Philosophical – this includes the more heady theology, academia, psychology researchers, etc.; Application – this is social workers, therapists, counselors, fraternities can exist here, mentors, our daily experience, etc.; and Spiritualism – which includes the mythopoetic movement, new age concepts of ancient masculine energy, yogic understanding of sexual development, and some religions that have “men’s groups” that go into the woods or meet for a run in the morning and exercise their manliness by yelling or crying or dancing or fighting… yes, Fight Club, this means you too.
I have background in all three.
Philosophical – Working with universities, I’ve had to stay versed in the academic side of the issues. I’ve read as many books and papers on theory as possible, starting with basic theory about life and living (Plato, Aristotle, Montaigne, etc. on down to Jung), then dealing with the analytical creation of masculinity headed by historians and anthropologists, and then turning more to the modern conversation that has been shaped by behavioral scientists like John Gray’s Mars/Venus analogy or Deborah Tannen’s communication guides.
Application - I’ve worked in a domestic violence shelter and spoken to batterers, assault survivors, and community leaders about how to influence the culture of small towns to discourage violence. I helped found a chapter of SigEp – which is a balanced man fraternity empowering young men to build themselves up while others are busy tearing themselves down. I ended up on CNN and CBS during the Duke Lacrosse alleged rape scandal, speaking about the need for the Men with integrity to be heard in tough situations… the daily application of masculinity… this is the front lines of the fight, where theory gets applied practically in tough situations. I also write and edit at the Good Men Project for this area of masculinity.
Spiritualism - And then I have been involved with the Mythopoetic movement that has beautiful contributions from David Deida, Robert Bly, Moore & Gillette, even Paolo Coelho and Khalil Gibran, and projects like the New Man Podcast, Warrior/Sage, and my own previous work with Next Gent. I’ve participated in modern fraternities and church men’s groups (back when I was into organized religion). I’ve led a men’s group for 200+ weeks in a row and counting… and I apply all that I have learned to help men make their own breakthroughs.
That’s the short answer to your question: we all have the wisdom inside of us that it takes to be powerful, self-actualized men… my experience helps provide direction to find it and hold yourself accountable to being wise.
How can I talk to my son about this?
I promise, any amount of talking to your sons is more than most of us got. So just starting is a good thing.
Secondly and most important… the evidence shows that talking is less important than listening. Chances are he has questions, and if you broach the subject, he will lead you in the right direction. Knowing you are an open door is a powerful thing in itself. If you get lost, that’s what a good men’s group (ahem, like this one) is all about.
How can I talk to my daughter about this?
Same as above.
How can I talk to my wife about this?
If you are new to this concept of consciously pursuing self-mastery… you will likely need to let your wife know that you are beginning this journey. More than likely she’ll want to be on board – and she’ll probably be turned on at the thought; but be prepared for some challenging conversations that may begin with an insecure “why?”