Future Directions for TMC

Thoughts of the Current President,
Bron D. Skinner
November, 2013

     Ever since we began the process of reinvigorating the organization of the Triangle Men’s Center (TMC) back in April of this year, I have been ruminating about our purpose. It was clear that the machinery of the TMC had become overgrown with disuse and rusty with inattention. So the first order of business was clear. We needed to breathe new life into the operational structure that supports our work and focuses the energies needed to fulfill our mission of service to men.

     To that end much has been accomplished. A governing Board is now in place and a new slate of officers has taken charge of the TMC business. The members of the Board have accomplished a number of important tasks:

  A new name has been chosen which TMC membership has approved. Henceforth, TMC will stand for The Men’s Council. The paperwork is on its way through official channels with offices of the state and federal governments to finalize this change.

  The TMC website has received a complete overhaul, thanks to Jim Neill and Larry Sorkin (themenscouncil.org). We have new web masters (Larry Sorkin and Jim share those duties) so we can now keep the information that appears on our website current and relevant to what TMC is doing. There are still things to be done to improve what is offered there, but the revision and update has been a refreshing change. The resources are growing rapidly.

  TMC now has a presence in social media with both a page on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/themenscouncil) and an account on Twitter (@themenscouncil).

  The bylaws governing the TMC are in the process of being revised. When this is completed the operational guidelines for keeping the organization functional will be in place.

  The Board has conducted a retreat to address the Mission and Vision of the TMC and that work is now reflected in what you will find on the TMC website.

     However, for me these steps represent a necessary, but only partially satisfying, set of accomplishments. I did not set out to simply breathe life back into a languishing organization by relying on “what we have always done.” We have derived great benefit from the mythopoetic, Native American, and Jungian based traditions and writings to explore fresh, previously unknown territories of feeling and thinking. It was through the doors opened by honoring these ways of thinking that we have been able to travel from the dry, arid landscape that we had been left to live in by the absence or abuse of our fathers and other important male figures in our lives, our habitual denial of emotions, and the false definitions of our masculinity that a patriarchal society tends to leave men with. In place of that landscape we were able to find the courage to create safe containers for connection, to define new rules for relating to one another, and to descend into warm, dank, dark, previously unexplored places of our souls and begin to own more complete understandings of what being masculine has to offer us, other men, our female counterparts and society in general. That work has served to provide a vast array of treasures to nurture our personal development, and continues to serve as the basis for the success of our annual Gathering, ongoing projects, like the Joshua Project, support groups around NC, and the work of men around the country in other active organizations that are providing men with opportunities for increased self understanding and self worth. So we need to continue doing what we have been doing.

     At the same time I worry that the effectiveness of using only these traditions to impel the “men’s movement” (if there ever was such a thing) to grow has possibly diminished. Charismatic leaders, like Robert Bly and Michael Meade, had particular talents for story telling and an almost magical ability to create sacred spaces and containers where men could feel safe to be vulnerable. Their presence on the national scene sparked enough interest to suggest that there was such a thing as an active men’s movement and entice people like Bill Moyers to do some in-depth reporting on the subject. Today these figures have stepped out of the limelight and no comparable personalities are on the national stage with the same power to incite today’s men to seek what they unconsciously most hunger for and to entice them into actions that risk challenging the status quo of their lives. For me this has been a major point of concern, and as the first President of the newly minted version of the Triangle Men’s Center (before the Raleigh Men’s Center) now to be known as The Men’s Council, I feel it incumbent upon me to try and address it. It is unlikely that we will see leaders of our work in the future that will provide the same kind of energy that Bly and Meade have. But organizations like ours can make a difference in continuing the positive directions begun when people like them did hold sway. The question is though: In today’s complex world how can TMC best direct its resources and energies to effect the most positive change on the most critical issues that affect men’s physical, mental, psychological and spiritual health?

     Background. To start to answer that question it might help to reflect on some history. For many of us men’s work as we know it began about 30 years ago. The women’s movement and feminism was in full swing and the effects of organizations like NOW and national figures like Betty Friedan were being felt politically and socially across the country. The radical changes we were seeing in the women we had relationships with began to have an effect on us.

     We grew to understand that the societal definitions of maleness had placed constraints on men as profoundly limiting as those that women experienced. But as males we had a harder time than women in achieving an upgrade of consciousness that could promote our willing change. After all, as males our role in the centuries of patriarchy that women were rebelling against was one of power and privilege. Acceding to the demands for change that feminist thought was suggesting meant that we needed to be willing to step aside from a position of entitlement provided at birth to males and share it with our female partners in ways we had never conceived before.

     The first stage of our work was to engage a process to raise to a new level of consciousness our emotional selves and discover the bonds of brotherhood that civilization had taught us to ignore outside the venues of war and sports competition. We had to learn how to trust our full range of emotions, not just our anger and rage, and to turn to our brothers, our fellow males, when we were emotionally needy, to be willing to be vulnerable and not have to look tough and invincible all the time. We had to be willing to let it be known that we were capable of weeping and experiencing grief. We had to learn how to find comfort in the embrace of those who best understood how we felt about being in the world–other males. We had to do this while we were overcoming our societal prohibitions about loving other men and letting them know that we had those deep and enduring emotions that come with brotherhood.

     We accomplished this work in a number of ways. As individuals we sought opportunities to connect with other men in support groups, weekend and longer retreats, drumming, writing and reading poetry. We took the risk of joining other men in hugs and sweat lodges. We listened without judgment as men read their poetry, both inspired and uninspired, and unveiled the most intimate secrets of their souls. We learned how to trust our own hearts and those of our companions on the journey. We learned to welcome the pain of grief and the opportunities for connection that came with comforting our brothers in their pain and sorrow. We learned what authenticity means in our selves and others.

     Sometimes we get a fleeting bit of proof that we have possibly learned our lessons well. Men who took the time in October to participate in planning for next year’s Gathering will all tell you that it was a very special experience. Reports from participants at the last retreat of the Joshua Project indicate that a deep level of connection and sharing marked the occasion. Gatherings in recent years have left warm memories of time well spent with a company of men who have taken extraordinary paths to self understanding.

     We seem now to be able to move into these spaces of sharing and emotional freedom with ease and at will. The years of effort to connect with one another and to be authentic in our support groups, retreats and personal therapy seem finally to have borne fruit. Many of the wounds that we carried have been healed or we have learned how to live peacefully with them. Hopefully, much of our denial has been laid aside so that honesty is more or less the norm. Many of us have faced our shadow selves and found a way to integrate rather than deny their existence. Now more than ever I am prompted to wish that every man that I know could experience what we create when we come together. What we have to offer has value and is worth making available to the world. It is so rich I have to wonder why we have not attracted a wider audience than we have; why has what we do not become a real movement of national, perhaps world wide, significance?

     My sense is that we have become something we only vaguely felt was possible to become when we began our work together 30 years ago. I think we yearned to be what we have become together. But like the caterpillar that does not know its own potential butterfly, we had no clue what the end result might be. Our personal work is by no means complete. We are still the flawed human beings we were 30 years ago. But now we are perhaps wiser, hopefully less addicted to feeding our egos, and just possibly more conscious beings than we were then.

     The Future Work. More importantly, the work to raise men’s consciences is far from done. The world is in pain and distress. I think that men need to learn what we take for granted about being men more than possibly at any other time in the history of civilization. I would like to see The Men’s Council be an important resource for men who are coming into a conscious awareness of what their part is going to be in making the world a better place, just as those who began the Raleigh Men’s Center did three decades ago. I would like to see the organization provide the opportunities that men will need for another three decades to follow a path to personal healing and redemption through the discovery of those lost and damaged parts of themselves that are a result of familial and societal experiences and cultural norms. What I don’t know is how to do that.

     The reality is that we are living in a very different time from when “men’s work” was in its infancy. In 1983 when I began with a support group to explore my masculinity, personal computers were just making their appearance as interesting adult playthings, like the Commodore 64 or, like the Apple II, as experimental items in offices. There was no internet. Cell phones were not widely available. The interoffice memo still had not been superseded by electronic mail and AOL made a lot of money providing email to those without access at work. Most offices still used typewriters to conduct their business. Word processors were specialized devices that needed trained operators.

     With such a radically different world to work in I believe that what we did to get us from 1983 to now cannot be replicated, nor will it, I believe, be effective to try to do so. I doubt seriously that we can expect to attract the wealth of participation the world needs with acknowledgment of our ancient ancestral roots, drumming, poetry and story telling. I don’t think that we should give those up. They have served us well and continue to provide the foundation for our coming together. But now I think we might be ready, and probably need, to consider a broadening of what we do to address societal and cultural issues that go beyond the personal level that we have concentrated on to this point. If we want TMC to be relevant and capable of attracting men interested in the task of self examination, we probably need to look at what young and middle-aged men in their most productive years are currently confronting as they try to fulfill their designated male roles.

     Here are some themes that we see in the news almost every day that were rarely, if ever, a part of a news cycle 30 years ago:

      Young men acting out their pain in unspeakable acts of violence. The all too common stories involving someone with an assault rifle or other fire arm in a public place, first killing and then being killed, frequently involve a young man with a history of mental health problems.

      Stories about bullying that have led to terrible and avoidable consequences.

      The appalling numbers of men, especially men of color, incarcerated for possession and use of recreational drugs.

      The shocking numbers of male veterans who have chosen to end their lives rather than continue to fight the demons that have come back with them from the battle fields.

      Massive changes in society’s attitudes toward the rights of LGBT members of society to live their lives in the open.

      Stories that highlight the instability of the world with war always a distinct possibility.

      Stories about how women now make up over half college student bodies and are in unprecedented numbers the main bread winner families around the country.

      An economic scenario that makes job security a thing of the past. National debates about public policy that make the promises of security in retirement, affordable and accessible health care, and safety nets doubtful for the foreseeable future.

      A jaw-dropping increase in the gap between the annual incomes and proportion of the nation’s wealth found in the most wealthy members of society compared to everyone else.

      Stories about the effects of climate change that promise possibly to obviate the need for concern about any other issue, no matter its importance for a more stable world.

     I am sure in my list that I have skipped one of your favorite issues. There are many, many issues that men today must confront that were quite different 30 years ago. If TMC is going to be effective in helping men to experience the fulfillment of being men in a changing world, we are going to need to find ways to address these issues and to provide men with ways to engage the world with emotional candor and with as fully operational psyches as possible. It is only with all the resources of the King, Warrior, Magician and Lover that each of us carries in our souls that we can hope to deal with the complexities that are confronting us in the world to come.

     I want to posit a challenge to all men to join me in determining how we can best act now to help the next generation of men to do the work needed to manifest these energies in their lives and the world around them. I want to invite you to become active with us in men’s work. If you have not yet, join a support group. Come to a TMC Gathering of Men. Become a member of The Men’s Council. (Currently you can do so for just $10.) If you have ideas for grander ways of reaching out to men of all ages through educational programs, we are looking for ideas you might have. It is through our combined efforts as a community of men that we can hope to have the most profound impact on the world.

As ever at your service,
Bron D Skinner
President, The Men’s Council
(November, 2013)