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Where are Men’s Capacities for Connection, Expression and Empathy?

They are locked away in the Man Box, but we can break them out.

Our dominance-based culture of masculinity can appear to define all there is to know about men. The vast impact of our bullying Man Box culture often feels so exhausting and universal that men’s capacities for connection, expression and empathy seem like an impossibility.

But we know from men’s work with organizations like The ManKind Project, that men can form authentic community, connect, show our whole selves via authentic emotional expression, connection, and empathy. Once men realize we won’t be bullied by other men in the room, we show all these capacities.

Men, who are shut down and isolated by dominance-based masculinity often don’t want to take the risk to enter these rooms, but once we do sit down in men’s circles of support, we speak with such eloquence and impact. We speak of our grief, our loss, our failings, our deep loneliness. Men in these circles weep and rage at the isolating childhood trap Man Box culture bullied them into. Their stories as little boys, beaten and bloodied. They grieve for the lifetimes of bullying they have done, can never undo. Survival strategies born in childhood trauma.

Out of all that pain comes connection. In Men’s circles, the deep empathy that rises for us when we listen is because we know what other men have gone through. We know it in our bones. The loss/shame of being raised in a culture where we will never be able to prove ourselves. This is what Man Box culture is about. It’s about convincing us we’ll never be enough. How much money did you make? How much sex did you have? How much did you control, dominate, show power over others? Every day it resets, “Did you prove it again today?” Men judge, police every action of other men, tracking status.

But men are so deeply human, kind, compassionate. I truly believe this is true of most men. I have seen it too many times to think otherwise. The seemingly hardest of men, given the opportunity to break out of Man Box culture, reach out like drowning men for a life raft. And they show up.

Men all remember the close joyful friendships of our boyhoods. In our dominance culture, the joy and connection of close intimate boyhood friendships is bullied out of us. Niobe Way’s Deep Secrets documents the process by which boys are stripped of connection. But we remember. Men remember the pure joy of our childhood friendships, joy that somehow just faded out of our lives. Instead, we live lives of isolation and disconnection, because dominance-based masculinity broke our joyful connection in the world. This is the grief that haunts men.

This is the grief that pours out in men’s circles. The deep loss of connection that men try so hard to replace with sex, money, violence, alcohol, drugs. We turn, over and over, to our intimate partners, shocked that they alone can not fill the void of disconnection for us.

I stood “on the carpet” almost ten years ago at a Mankind Project weekend. It was my turn to speak my truth. I said, “Because of the men in my life, I don’t trust men, I don’t like men, I hate men.” I began weeping as I spoke. Then this came out. “I’m so sick of being alone.”

I think my greatest shame was admitting my loneliness. It was an admission that I had somehow failed. Failed to be the man that other men wanted to befriend. Failed to be enough. The men before me responded with a simple question: “Are you willing to trust us?” I’m weeping as I write this now.

I have come to understand why I felt I wasn’t enough. It seems so simple to me now but utterly profound. Man Box culture never asked of me to bring those aspects that make me human. They are, in fact, a threat to the Man Box. So I hid them away. Everything authentic to who I am.

In men’s work, the men around me wanted me to bring that authentic self. All the pain and grief and loss, yes, but underneath that, joy, playfulness, empathy, love, and not knowing. In time, all of it came rushing back to me. And it was there that I found my voice, waiting. Now, when I confront a challenge, see someone in distress, am offered friendship, feel something profound, I don’t run it through the silencing rules of dominance masculinity. I don’t calculate what my response should be in the bullying confines of Man Box culture. Instead, I speak from my heart. And the Man Box is shattered.

In this way my life has been transformed. I have fought and won the battle to be fully human. My work continues. Of course, I have failings. But my dear brothers, sisters, non binary friends, I am free.

There a many organizations doing men’s work. The Mankind Project is just one of them. Men can begin this work with a therapist who specializes in men work, listen to pocasts, get a book. Our podcast is called Remaking Manhood. You can find it here: https://anchor.fm/remaking-manhood

If you want to learn more about Man Box culture, we have links to our podcasts, book samples, videos and other resources here: http://linktr.ee/RemakingManhood

Our dominance-based culture of masculinity is killing boys and men and all those whose lives we impact. We can break out of all the disconnection, loneliness, anxiety, anger and grief that Man Box culture enforces. Men are waiting to help us do this work.

I’ll close with two things of which I’m absolutely certain:

1) If I can break out of the Man Box, other men can.

2) My life is a thousand times better.

I love you, brothers. Now get your work done.

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