I think it’s time that we as men broaden our definition of personal leadership and masculinity. Our contributions to family and community are important. Coaching the soccer team, helping meet family financial goals, being a stable presence in the life of our kids. What’s sometimes gets missed is our leadership in the inner dimensions of experience.
All of us carry unconscious imprints from the formative episodes of our past. Whether that was in our family environment, or on the schoolyard. We came to learn specific things about life that have long been solidified into character and the organizing beliefs we hold about relationships, what we deserve, and how he habitually show up for ourselves and with others.
This inner dimension of experience holds the hidden software keys that determine much of the results we experience on the outside. The Buddha said 2,700 years ago that “everything changes” what we learned about the world as kids. The beliefs we internalized no longer provide an accurate map for our adult behavior. It is this kind of mismatch that leads to the health challenges, relationship difficulties or adverse work situations that let us know something needs to change.
This part of the story is true for both Men and Women. All of us can carry our unconscious past and can find ourselves acting it out in present time. Yet Women seek help and support for change much more readily than Men. As men, we carry outdated messages about what constitutes a healthy masculinity and often struggle to reach out.
Perhaps it was a father telling his son that” big boy’s don’t cry” or the schoolyard taunts to “suck it up and don’t be a wuss”. The learned behavior in our culture of men is to “push the nose against there grindstone” ( ouch!) and disregard the experience of physical pain.
Not surprisingly, we end up doing the same thing with our emotional pain when we hit the speed bumps that life brings. Many of us men have become so good at pushing away the emotional signals coming from our own bodies, that when a partner asks us what happening? What are you feeling? Many of us may not know how to find the answer.
In contrast, women are pushed by menstruation and childbirth to relate to what is happening in their bodies even when it’s difficult. As a result they find themselves more adept at knowing what is happening inside, reading the emotional language offered up through their own bodies.
The cultural changes unleashed in the 1960s and 70s led to Women taking their place in the workplace as equal participants in the financial life of most families. This has led through twists and turns to our present “#MeToo”. Far too many Women have been subject to unwanted sexual attention and abuse than can be accepted by any culture wanting to call itself healthy. This is an invitation to All Men to raise the bar and take responsibility for how we hold and contain our sexual attention in the workplace. This is a healthy, necessary, and important conversation.
What is hidden here in plain view Is a no less important conversation. The one that men need to have with other men. How do we start to broaden the narrow cultural definitions of masculinity we have inherited to make room for men to come together and turn toward our growth and healing as human beings? How do we make it okay for men to seek out therapeutic help? To come together socially not just to watch the hockey game, but to help unpack and address the difficulties that show up in each others lives? To hold that together.
As men, we are being called to step forward toward a new definition of personal leadership. One which adds a new depth to the old skill sets of problem solver, handyman and provider. This new depth means gathering skills that allow us as men to engage with difficulty in healthy ways. To embrace change when we feel stuck, to ask for help when we are vulnerable and need support. Bringing opportunities to rewrite the hidden scripts that can leave us stuck in reactivity.
Accessing this new depth in ourselves is a learn-able skill like any other. It takes a willingness to look at ourselves clearly and practice bringing our attention and awareness to the non-cognitive information offered up by our body and emotions. Turning toward what is happening within us and acting on this knowing means coming into a new alignment. Different from the old mismatch.
So when our partners ask “what do you want?” We can answer with an authenticity that women long to experience from us, whether they agree or not with our choices. They can feel our truth. This is leadership from the inside out.
If you are interested in participating in a Men’s retreat this year, check out our Men’s Healing Circle (June 5-10 2020).