John Bunzl found that as a businessman—a Mighty Man—that competitive pressures sometimes ran contrary to his values. And that competition sometimes had a dark, destructive side.
The world needs Mighty Men. And why not? In the ultra-competitive, dog eat dog world of public and business life it takes a special kind of invulnerability to achieve success. Leave your emotions behind and muzzle your sense of compromise—only the mightiest of macho gets the bone.
And let’s not forget the Mighty Maids—those valiant women doing double time for fewer rewards than their male counterparts, the Sheryl Sandbergs and Angela Merkels making great strides into the old boys networks of technology and politics that work to keep them out.
It doesn’t take superhuman senses to see why it’s not just the heights of business and politics which demand the Mighty. The problems they’ve generated—climate change, faulty financial systems, and global poverty—it’s clear the world is in trouble and that the Mighty, whether Men or Maids, are nowhere near solving them.
I was one of those Mighty Men. Or at least, I’ve put in my fair share of time trying to be one, back when I was merely a businessman. So I’m more than familiar with what it means to be a man in a culture of competitiveness. I was born to the world of Mighty Men—is it any wonder that would have an impact on my work, let alone the rest of me?
As a businessman I was (and am) aware that the competitive pressure of being a Mighty Man sometimes demands decisions that run contrary to my values. With time I began to realise that although society generally perceives competition to be universally good (the engine of innovation and lower prices for consumers), it also has a dark, destructive side. How many times have you taken a decision you knew to be wrong, justified simply because the alternative might be worse? Under the shadow of competition, its a compromise I became all too familiar with.
Years of measuring myself according to the ideal of what it is to be a man—invulnerable, emotionally frugal, economically successful and, above all, competitive—began to take their toll. I felt profoundly disconnected—a sense I think all men (and women) working in business or politics sometimes feel (assuming they have the courage to admit it, even if only to themselves). Somehow, I felt the battle hadn’t just been out there, but in here too—I’d been fighting to keep myself the perfect specimen of Mighty Man—and my sense of self felt fractured as a result. By the mid 2000s, my home life was suffering like my business one; my marriage dissolved, and I divorced from my wife.
It was during that dark period I went against the conventional wisdom that compels men to keep their feelings suppressed – I went to therapy. Not a Mighty move, you might say, but one that was instrumental in helping me understand how the unspoken consequences of our competitive culture had taken their effect. I experienced therapy as a deep process of self-cooperation. What I mean to say is, I began the process of first recognising, often painfully, the emotional side I had always been discouraged from expressing, the relatedness to myself and to others I was supposed not to want. Slowly I began to reintroduce those aspects of myself long excluded from the half-person the so-called Mighty Man had made of me. Therapy became shorthand for a process of cooperating, in a sense, with myself.
Cooperation, I was realising, was also key to my vision of the future. These days I am not just a businessman, but the founder of a global citizens campaign that has the idea of cooperation between nations at its core. One of the biggest fears of our Mighty Politicians is the fear that their nation might become uncompetitive, that it might fail to attract capital and investment—the key ingredients of economic success. Such is their fear that it paralyses their ability to make real global change. But if these Mighty Men were only to work together, simultaneously, they could avoid the negative consequences of competition. My campaign seeks to create a situation where all nations might cooperate on global solutions—towards a holistic vision of the future.
It was only by going through my own therapeutic process that I saw the real tragedy—for both men and women—in our macho misreading of Darwin’s ‘competition and survival of the fittest’ (a phrase he didn’t even coin). By overemphasising the importance of competition and in failing to see its destructive side, not only do we miss cooperation’s integral place in helping us to survive and thrive, we see how it reduces all of us to being only half who we really are. From psychology to evolutionary biology, time and again it is cooperation, not competition, that proves to be the team leader in humanity’s continued success.
For me, that revelation was a life-changer. With it I realised just how this destructive cycle, had impacted me in all areas, not just personal, but professional. But when I took those first steps towards vulnerability, the benefits were not just personal, but helped my campaign soar. Maybe the Buddhists were right when they said what goes on within us manifests on the world outside.
Cooperation and adopting an evolutionary perspective made it possible for me to develop new understandings of the Simultaneous Policy (Simpol) campaign I founded, (called ‘Simpol’, although the process for getting there was anything but!). More than that, cooperation within myself as in wider society has revealed itself to be the key to deeper understanding of the man I am. I now understand how the self fits together in ways that go beyond our current very partial understanding of masculinity, and see clearer how we might change the world around us. No longer content with the fractured, overly competitive Mighty Man, a rather different and more complete “Man of Meaning”—a man capable of balancing competition with cooperation, while integrating feeling—is the one I seek to be.
And I know I can’t be the only one. I’d love to hear from other Men of Meaning/ former Mighty Men in the world of business. Maybe through our shared vulnerability can we cooperate on a way to save the world. Mighty Men not included.
photo: jdhancock / flickr