The Transformational Power of Listening: Why Tom Matlack is Right

Mark Greene explains why Feminism (or any ideology) is not a large enough container to hold the Good Men Project.

Tom Matlack published a powerful article about his goals for the Good Men Project titled Why Being a Good Man Is Not a Feminist Issue. Tom speaks in very moving ways about the healing dialogues that happen when men speak to men from the heart about their lives. He talks about a particular journey that men can choose to take; of telling their private and powerful stories and the transformations that this can put into motion.

Tom is not saying feminism is bad. What he is saying is that feminism (or any ideology) is not a large enough container to hold the Good Men Project. Nor does it hold the key to interpreting what happens here.

Tom is right about that.

What Tom founded the Good Men Project to do, is happening. A vast range of men are telling their stories. Each time a man reads one of them, the narrative circuit from one man to another is complete. The story is passed on, the potential for personal and social change is made wonderfully possible.

But other things are happening as well. The most obvious is that various folks are getting into some pretty heated ideological debates. The process gets messy and binary.

Which is always the first thing that happens on the net, right? It seems predetermined that we should speak from our political or ideological identities. It’s a public space and that how we talk in public spaces, right? So we go binary and label each other as liberals and conservatives. Up pop words like feminazi and rapist. And we craft endless comments tearing down the other person’s point of view, pausing occasionally to scan their responses, parsing for the trigger words that start our keyboards flying anew. And this shows us both the immense power and the dreadful limitations of politically charged ideological conversations.

Tom didn’t found his site so we could rhetorically kick each others’ asses back to the stone age. And thank god, this is not the only thing that is happening here. There are powerful quiet moments of connection occurring as men and women tell their sometimes hilarious and sometimes harrowing personal stories.

Which is what Tom witnessed in his AA meetings in South Boston years ago. Another person’s personal story is always unique. It doesn’t fit neatly into any ideological frame you could possibly imagine for it. And if you seek to make it fit a political or ideological frame, you strip it of its nuance and its essential meaning. In fact, you cease to hear the story at all. But, if you let that story reach you, you may see something new in yourself and in that person.

The fact is, we argue enough in this binary culture we call America. We need a new way of listening. We need to intentionally decouple ourselves from our ideologies. Otherwise, we will quash the fully human stories that can not flourish in filtered or ideologically driven spaces. When we decide to set aside our filters, we listen openly to the stories others bring. We locate the interpersonal bridges that create understanding and change in ourselves and others. Even if, at first glance, these bridges seem to be coming from unfamiliar or antithetical sources.

Listening without our ideological filters, is a way of listening that is more powerful and more relational. But in order to do this, we have to choose to be curious about what the other person is saying, instead of jumping to conclusions based on the political or ideological filters we all carry. Then if we need to speak into an issue that is raised or a concern we have, we can come from a more fully human place. We can bring a tone and a way of speaking that acknowledges we are responsible for what the conversation is creating.

Tom is seeking to create a space where Men’s stories get told. He, like all of us, carries his ideological baggage. But his belief in the transformational power of stories is right on the money. And if we can all just dump our baggage (at least occasionally) and share our stories, we’ll make change that will startle the world.

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene writes and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, the New York Times, The Shriver Report, Salon, HLN, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
Click here to read more GMP articles by Mark Greene. Get Mark's fully illustrated children's book FLATMUNDER for iPad from iTunes about kid's fears and the power of play. For kids ages 4-8.

Comments

  1. Tom Matlack says:

    Thanks Mark. Obviously what I am describing changed me the most significantly was listening. Finding men with amazing stories and just listening to them. To them cry, to their fears, to their aspirations. No judgement. Just inspiration.

    • Inspiration to do what? To act? To inspire others? This judgement thing weighs heavily in what you write. I think the act of hearing and listening is powerful stuff. And if you are inspired by work, isn’t there a judgement inherent in that (a good one, that of hearing something of value and power)? Otherwise you’d not be inspired to make this site or do the work you find so valuable.

  2. I agree with much of what you are saying Mark, save this. The work we are doing is part of the baggage dump (or should be). The baggage informs the listening (or not), the baggage is important for each of us to listen to, after all it came from somewhere. There are systemic issues which are made up of people carrying baggage who want to tell stories and to be heard. Where does the baggage go?
    Do you mean ego? Dump the ego to listen? Sure thing, that’s also hard to do in our culture but it’s a great start.

    I do like what you said here, ” What he is saying is that feminism (or any ideology) is not a large enough container to hold the Good Men Project. Nor does it hold the key to interpreting what happens here.” Because that’s been hard to hear in Tom’s words. I agree with this, that the project is bigger than the sum of it’s parts much like the body is bigger than individual parts. I do think however, those parts are all part of what makes the body work. And as such, valuable.

    • Thanks Julie,
      Your post inspired me to modify the final line about baggage. I wouldn’t suggest we dump the baggage permanently. We need our baggage. But stepping away from it sometimes is crucial to listening from a different space.

      • I get that, yeah I get that. It’s like…”I have this baggage but I still want to hear you. If I get any of my baggage on you, let’s work it out and keep talking/listening.” And for the most part I see a lot of that here on GMP because I see ALL of the comments and from my perspective, people are working hard to listen, hear and not dump on people.
        I think the thing is that some of the baggage is so hard, so heavy that it’s put roots down into people and it becomes nearly impossible to see where it stops and starts. Like I may be able to see yours, and you mine, but maybe we can’t see inside our selves at all or enough.

        Forgiveness and compassion are needed more not less.

    • “What he is saying is that feminism (or any ideology) is not a large enough container to hold the Good Men Project. Nor does it hold the key to interpreting what happens here.”

      I also agree with the idea behind that statement, but that is not what I was reading in Tom’s piece. I mean, in part it was certainly due to the title…title’s set the tone for the whole piece. The title wasn’t “Why GMP is More than Feminism,” or even “Why Being a Good Man is Not Only A Feminist Issue.” Or heck, it could have even been “Why GMP Isn’t Just Gender Theory.” It was why it’s NOT a feminist issue…with the not in all caps. And then the rest of the piece followed a similar vein, I thought. I mean he even says one of the dangerous aspects to GMP getting popular is how it’s discussing gender theory now…dangerous, for goodness sakes.

      So yeah, Mark, I appreciate what you’re saying…but that is certainly not what I read in Tom’s piece.

  3. Thanks for sharing your perspective Mark especially in a compassionate manner. I really appreciated the last paragraph:

    “Tom is seeking to create a space where Men’s stories get told. He, like all of us, carries his ideological baggage. But his belief in the transformational power of stories is right on the money. And if we can all just dump our baggage (at least occasionally) and share our stories, we’ll make change that will startle the world.”

    Even if we disagree with each other I believe we don’t always have to bogged down by the things that define us. I think our intentions are to share and I assume most of the time that sharing is coming from a positive place.

    Hopefully the binary listening can be paused from time to time.

  4. I’m just going to play the provocateur here and drop in one short thought:
    Men are binary or they’re nothing.
    Discuss?

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