The ant metaphor gives me hope for men...
Recent research has shown that fire ants act in a very peculiar way around each other. “They have this natural urge, they like being around each other…” so they will gather and gather and eventually they will build structures that researchers describe as “Eiffel Towers” that would be an equivalent of 30 story structures to us… using only their bodies - according to David Hu, a biology and mechanical engineering professor at Georgia Tech. These structures are useful for things like surviving floods, escaping research facilities, or protecting valuable resources (think water sources).
What’s fascinating is that when these ants get together, they don’t know they are building a megastructure. They don’t have plans or designs. They just know they like being around each other and there is some need or objective nearby. Through a process of trial and error, of build and collapse, they eventually build what appear to be exponentially strong structures.
That model in nature gives me hope for humanity. Specifically it gives me hope for men. I’ve led more than 300 workshops for men and I can tell you that men like to be around each other.
We’ve been conditioned to keep away from each other… to compete and to hide our vulnerabilities because they might be exploited. That’s not natural. It’s natural for us to cover each other’s vulnerabilities, as in a tribe or colony. We still have a phrase for that: “I have your back.” There’s no greater thing a brother can say to another man. Go deeper into the phrase and you will hear the profound power: “I see your vulnerabilities, and I accept them, and I will cover your vulnerabilities with my strengths… will you cover me?” There’s consent, acceptance, love, and collaboration built into our best nature.
The ant metaphor gives me hope for another reason… it is the metaphor that also trapped us.
We’ve been trained to be worker ants. To work tirelessly for the colony. That might work if it weren’t for the mixed metaphor of the hierarchical wolf pack. We work tirelessly for the Alpha Male to run the colony. The CEO benefits from our labor, the senators benefit from our taxes, the loudest man among us becomes the leader… and we fight with each other from a position of deficit within a hierarchy.
But when you take the gender equality movement, you see that one of the most effective tools that companies can use to affect gender equality is to create broad-based leadership instead of top-down hierarchical leadership models. This lets more women have a voice at the table; but it also lets more men have a voice at the table too. Remember, men suffer from toxic masculinity as well. This opening of the access to influence allows us to operate from a fire ant colony perspective… it allows us to collaborate because we like it and we have a connected purpose.
From that collaboration, we could build incredibly strong, tall, powerful structures.
And guess what? We've already seen this work in masculinities. This is basically what the Good Men Project is all about.
I've been honored to help the Good Men Project grow the conversation no one else is having about what it means to be a good man. We call it "participatory media" because we believe it's important to be around each other - not to preach and listen - but to participate in the discourse around such important topics.
So if you want to be like fire ants, join the conversation at the Good Men Project. We're currently running an IndieGoGo Campaign to raise funding for more social interest groups (more fire ant rafts in the flooded world of mostly inert or inarticulate media).