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"Working with Men in Groups"

Brief Thoughts on Various Aspects of Men's Workshops

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On Being New to Men's Work

If you are new to men's work and have never personally witnessed men heal in groups, please know you are in the majority. Most people, including most men and most therapists, have never seen men heal in groups.

If this is you, please know that the best way to learn what we do in these groups is to be personally involved. How? By witnessing and consciously connecting to other men as they heal. This, in fact, is the way men used to pass their wisdom to each other long ago, in their hunting stories and tribal councils, and in the vivid cave paintings of the local shaman.

Through men's work, we each get a chance to reclaim these connections to what is the natural birthright of all men, and of all people in fact; to know with pride and respect each other's worth and wisdom as human beings.

Men do this best through connecting to each other in courage stories. When men heal in groups, this is what we do. We exchange, witness, and experience courage stories.

On Being New to a Particular Group

If you have previously done men's work but are new to the group you are presently in, there is one thing in particular which you may want to do to make your transition into the group easier: allow yourself to be guided by a wisdom taken from the Native American culture, the wisdom that teaches the value and power of silence.

What I am saying is this. Most men today have lost sight of or have never realized the power of silence. They see actions, such as voicing answers and solving problems, as power.

Action is power. But so is silence. And silence is the best and most respectful way to enter a new group of men.

For some, my call to silence may seem simply to be a suggestion to "keep your mouth shut. You're the new guy." This is not at all the picture of silence I am wanting to suggest. The silence I am picturing is the quiet connecting men can do with each other only when they have begun to face their fear of connecting to other men, and especially in the presence of men whom they have never met.

Sadly, since healing can occur only on the stage on which a person gets wounded, most men rarely get to face, let alone heal, this fear. In men's work, they can, by witnessing and honestly sharing with other men their pain and losses, including their fears of each other.

What I'm saying is, one of the most important things men gain from doing men's work is they get to face their fear of other men and more important, to heal it. In fact, my most valued personal gain in men's work has been overcoming this fear myself, a gain which has allowed me to see other men as "like me" rather than as "better or worse than me." As this "other men" includes my father, I am especially grateful. Facing my fear of him has allowed me to know us both as good men.

For me, this "knowing" began with the power of silence; with silently looking for what we had in common rather than by mentally assessing how we were different. Said in other words: you do not know a man until you have connected to him; you do not join a group of men until you have connected to the men in this group; and, silence is the best place in which to find these connections.

On Men and Laughter

My favorite healing sound in men's work is men laughing together, especially the enormously powerful loving laughter which often fills a room and signals the end of a particularly painful release of emotion. I have come to see this connected laughter men sometime share as the best ending one can have to a courage story. I also see it as the proof we each need in order to know other men love and respect us, even in our woundedness.

Sadly, many men have been wounded by the sharply painful sound of critical laughter, a sound which humiliates and can actually injure.

Please know, the best men's work always involves loving laughter. Thus, if laughter in painful moments pushes a button in you, please do your best to reserve judgment. You can do this by summoning up all the love you can find in yourself while at the same time, sitting with and trying to see past your painful feelings. If, then, you still can not see the love present in the laughter, please ask for the group's help with seeing the difference. And please don't hold this in. Please don't. Any man outside the group divides the group and diminishes the love present.

My point is this. No man should ever be ridiculed for his pain or his work. But loving laughter is not ridicule. In fact, it is one of the most powerful healing agents there is. As such, learning to hear the difference between the two laughters is one of the most valuable gains we men can achieve from men's work; to laugh together as brothers rather than to judge each other as men.

On Men and Verbal Exchanges, including "Feedback"

Speaking of criticisms and judgments, we all know criticisms and judgments hurt people, especially in those moments wherein a person finally finds the courage to open up. To prevent this, some leaders in men's groups try to enforce "mechanical silences" before and after men's sharing.

Let me start by saying this. "Mechanical silences" are better than hurtful criticisms and judgments. Thus, they do serve a purpose, especially in groups wherein everyone is new.

What is important to also see, though, is that these "silences" prevent connections. And since the worst pain we men face is the pain of aloneness; the pain of not being connected; then choosing to try to heal alone rather than to risk judgment is a poor choice in the long run.

The truth is, we all need help with criticism and judgment. This is simply a part of all healing work. Even more so, though, we each need help connecting with each other more than we need mechanical isolation. This means we all need to work on our difficulties in and around giving nonjudgmental feedback because no man should ever have to heal alone.

What, then, makes feedback judgmental? Simply this.

Feedback which focuses on the source of a person's problem is always blaming and judgmental. Feedback which focuses on the nature of a person's problem is never blaming nor judgmental.

What is the difference? Let me offer an example.

Many men have been physically intimidated, myself included. In fact, I have a particularly painful third grade scene in which a girl (horror of horrors!) beat me up in front of the whole class. Guess I had yet to learn that girls can be strong too. Sometimes stronger than boys.

My point, though, is that if I were to now try to tell you "why" I thought this painful scene happened (the source of the scene), no matter how carefully I was to voice these ideas, I would be still be blaming. Thus, if I were to say this scene happened to me because my mom, or dad, or the society I was raised in, taught me that good boys do not get in fights, or do not hit girls, or are better men if they take the punishment without flinching, then I am judging and blaming. Why? Because none of these answers will help me to heal. In fact, all these answers do is allow me to temporarily displace the shame I feel for getting this injury in the first place.

What could I do instead? I could simply focus on describing the scene to you (the nature of the scene) without worrying about "why" it happened. Further, I could dramatically improve my chances to heal during this experience simply by focusing on the things I internally can and can not picture. Why this? Because you can always trace the wound itself back to what a person can and can not picture. Translation: the wound is always what you can't see, not what you can see.

Thus, if I were to now picture this scene and focus on its nature, I would immediately see the sunny day, the blue sky with puffy white clouds, and the small, black-topped area just outside the little brick grammar school. And if I were to continue, I might describe to you the ring of kids excitedly playing dodge ball, a circle of six and seven year old girls and boys kicking a red rubber kick ball, laughing and yelling, and connected to each other.

All except me. I was afraid. Now I lose the picture.

Now I regain it and see Susan George, a little girl in a pretty dress, swinging her clenched little fists into my face while I stood there frozen, humiliated, and unable to respond. Now I feel the tears coming. Now I hear laughter. Now I go blank.

Did you notice how my description of the scene's nature touches my injury so much more than my previously posited ideas as to "why this scene happened?"

Feedback which asks for or offers the details of a scene is loving feedback. Feedback which suggests or requests reasons "why it happened" is blaming and hurtful. Worse yet, this second feedback never, ever leads to healing.

Please realize it has taken me a lifetime to even begin to see the difference between these two styles of "feedback." Thus, if you now find yourself struggling to see the difference or even to believe this difference is as important as I'm suggesting it is, please be easy on yourself and give my idea time. More important, during your work, try to notice the nature of what connects you to others as well as the nature of what doesn't. By this, I simply mean, notice the details, not the causes. If you do this, then in all likelihood, you, too, will begin to see the difference between the two kinds of feedback for yourself. More important, you will then begin to be a teacher of this wisdom to other men.

For this reason alone, please do your best to notice. We men desperately need other men, and women, who can help us to heal without blaming and judging.

On Men and Their Ideas

Men are smart. How many men? All men. What keeps this from being more apparent? Most men, and women, have injuries in and around expressing their ideas.

Here again, should you feel "bumped" by another man's ideas, please sit with the feelings, and when you can, share this experience with the group. Also, try to limit your descriptions of these experiences to the nature of your reactions, excluding, as best you can, any negative assessments you may have made about the man whose ideas bumped you.

Know that the main goal of any and all men's work is to put "connecting to each other" ahead of "being right." Admittedly, this can be an elusive and difficult thing to do at times, especially for men. Even so, please have the courage to confine your differences to the "ideas" present, rather than to the "men" present. Translation: don't kill the messenger just because you don't like his message. We all have things to teach each other but only if we can connect.

On Physically Big Men

My friend John is a big man. Workshop after workshop, men admit being afraid of him. Can you imagine how separate and alone he feels?

Keep this in mind when you find yourself reacting to a bigger man because of his size. He feels the same things you do. The only difference is he feels them on the opposite end of aloneness.

On Loud Men

For years now, men have received approving responses from others for containing their loudness. Somehow, I think people feel safer when men contain themselves.

This is men's work. Be real. And if someone's loud expressions unnerve or frighten you, please ask the group for help.

Please know, I am not suggesting we should ignore how our expressions affect others, only that we should help each other to reclaim the natural enthusiasm and freedom of expression we were each born with.

On Men and Crying

Most boys, and men, get ridiculed for crying. The phrase, "be a man," comes immediately to mind.

If this has happened to you, please hear my voice trumpeting loudly and with love at those people who have told you this:


Enough said.

On Men and Anger Release

All people, men and women alike, get angry inside. Most hold it in, though, rather than risk releasing it.

Is this an injury? In a sense, no, as it is simply human nature for people to get wounds in and around anger. After all, anger is one of the most basic, primary emotions. Thus, all of us have witnessed someone having difficulty with anger.

What is the most common difficulty people have with men who are angry? They fear them. Sadly, most people fail to recognize that their fear of anger is the real injury, not the men or the anger itself. In fact, feeling angry is pretty much always a part of healing processes.

Where does this leave men who heal in groups? With a very important task: learning to consciously witness other men being angry without going into shock.

What do men look like when they experience this shock? Sometimes, they look like "deer caught in a car's headlights." At other times, they look pretty similar to the man whose anger just frightened them, only in this case, they are simply "lashing out at the angry person" for frightening them rather than releasing what is often just a natural part of the healing process.

Whatever the case, most men's work involves men who release significant amounts of anger. If these releases frighten you, please do your best to simply sit with your fear during the man's work. Then, when there is time, please voice your fears about what just happened to you. And know this:

Rarely will there have been only one man who was afraid. If you are the one who speaks up, you may simply end up being the most courageous man of all.

On Being Afraid of Physically Small Men

In my grade school, the smallest boy happened to be the toughest boy. Logically, this may make no sense to many people.

With wounds, logic does not matter. Logic, in and of itself, does not make wounds. Only startlingly painful experiences wound people. Thus men may be wounded by anything and anyone; tall, short, thin, fat, young, old, dark or light.

Remember this when you have trouble understanding another man's pain.

And respect his process. No one can know what path this healing will take.

On Quiet Men

I recently led a men's workshop wherein a "Hell's Angels" type of man admitted to being most intimidated by the quietest man in the room. To put it mildly, I was surprised.

I mention this because I'm quite sure other men may feel the same way but be unable to admit this.

Again, just notice your reaction and then, without judgment, share the nature of your reaction with the group

On Hugs and Physical Exchanges in General

Many men have been beaten as boys; many as men as well. Also, some men have been sexually molested as boys. I was such a boy.

Please know then that although I now know how good it feels to be firmly held by another man, it took me many years before I could feel the love in such an act.

With this in mind, please be especially respectful of any man who finds physical touch uncomfortable. And if this is you, please let us know so we may be mindful of what you need.

On Leaving a Workshop

Learning is "state dependent." So is healing. And the only state in which these things occur is the state wherein you are connected to someone else.

Workshops, by design, connect people. Leaving workshops disconnects people. Nothing wrong here. This is just the nature of workshops.

Please try to remember this nature if you find yourself having trouble remembering or describing to someone else what you witnessed or did during the workshop.

Healing did happen. You just have to have been there and be currently connected to someone else who was also there in order to later have access to it, at least to the exact nature of what happened.

Frustrating? Perhaps. But this is what keeps me coming back for more. This and the chance to again witness men exchanging courage stories.

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