Frederick Marx wants you to take all your anger and put it toward something you’re passionate about.
When I moved to Northern California from Chicago in 1998 I experienced culture shock. I went to places like Harbin Hot Springs – a sixties time capsule where young male and female gods and goddesses wander around nude, flowers literally in their hair, relaxed, beatific smiles on their faces. I experienced some of the San Francisco party scene. From multiple available institutions, I immersed myself in Buddhist study and practice, hearing inspirational teachers, attending numerous workshops and retreats. At dinner parties, past lives and aliens living among us were standard topics of conversation.
But the shock I experienced most deeply was in the ManKind Project men’s community. I experienced so many passive, listless, receded men. Men who seemed to have receded from the exterior of their bodies to a dim, cobwebbed space in the inner regions of their brain. What happened to these men? What was going on here?
For those unfamiliar, The ManKind Project (aka New Warriors) is a men’s personal growth organization. The purpose of MKP is to create a safer world by growing “better” men.
The circumstances I left behind in Chicago were quite the opposite of what I discovered in California. The men I worked with on a regular basis in and for the ManKind Project were “big” men, powerful men – alive, engaged, full of humor and passion, emotionally available, mission driven, fierce and unafraid. What accounted for this difference?
Perhaps the Chicago men were Type-A males and the California men were not. But I don’t find those kind of classifications helpful. What I do find helpful is the neo-Jungian system of archetypes. Starting with Jung himself, key thinkers like Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, Robert Bly, Michael Meade, James Hillman, and many others have helped synthesize the wisdom of indigenous cultures to make it useful for us. Robert Moore is key. His book “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover” is the starting point for much of my present-day understanding of the human psyche. I’ve worked with men and boys in MKP, other workshops, prisons, juvenile detention centers, orphanages, in high schools and in family homes for 16 years now. In each circumstance I’ve tried to bring some of what I’ve learned about archetypal energies to the mix.
The ideal is to have fully developed capacities in all four quadrants. This applies to both men and women. So in any instant the mature individual can access whatever talent or capacity is traditionally the hallmark of any one quadrant: compassion, action, intellect, vision… whatever. So I applied this framework to my own understanding of the culture shock I experienced in northern California.
Simply put, the Chicago men tended to have more developed Warrior sides. They were more assertive, clear, direct… they were doers. A lot of them were lawyers, business and professional men. They didn’t shrink from conflict. This may have been due to a tougher urban environment. Unfortunately, many didn’t have well-developed King or sovereign energy to mitigate against the excesses of their Warriors. So some were over-developed Warriors – aggressive and in-your-face.
The northern California men I experienced had under-developed Warriors. Many were not good at setting healthy boundaries. They seemed lethargic, without much drive. Overly cerebral. Some had difficulties making decisions. On more than one occasion it shocked me how difficult it could be for one man to make a simple decision, like “can you still join us if we move the meeting from Tuesday to Thursday?” Getting to a simple yes or no could involve a tiresome round of phone calls and emails.
I was further shocked when I met many of their wives. These women were tough, directive, forceful. By and large the men were following their lead rather than co-creating an egalitarian relationship. It’s one thing to consult your partner on decisions. But I saw quite a few men defer completely to their partners to make decisions.
I guess you could say I experienced the flip side of what has been the historical norm for 5,000 years of Western history – i.e. I experienced subservient males and dominant females. I felt sad for many of the men. I felt the ache of their disempowerment.
This experience dovetailed with some of what David Deida talks about in his book Way of the Superior Man. Successful relationships where parties are co-equals, equally empowered, are those that retain some degree of polarity. Put simply, if a man does not access and utilize his own Warrior energy, his partner will fill the vacuum with hers. When a man accesses his own Warrior energy, his partner can relax more. She tends to feel safer. She is afforded more breathing space for what traditionally would be called her femininity.
This is not to say that when a man fully realizes his Warrior energy that the couple is no longer co-equal, that the men are now running the show. A warrior not in service to a strong King and Queen, to the sovereign energy in both of them, can quickly become a savage. So in co-equal relationships men and women decide together to what uses their respective Warriors are put.
In addition, I never think it’s a woman’s fault if a man exhibits the signs of disempowerment. If he feels emasculated, it’s his fault. (At least a white, upper middle class, heterosexual man. Men of color, gay and trans men have profound historical reasons for feeling emasculated by society.) Unlike women, a white, upper-middle class, straight man hasn’t inherited thousands of years of acculturated disempowerment and the deep sexist socialization woven into the functioning of every institution. At most he’s experienced (and felt confused or threatened by) 30-40 years of a balancing of the historical scales.
It’s he himself who hasn’t figured out how to properly access and harness his Warrior energy. That energy that says no 4,000 pound automobile will stop me from freeing this pinned child; that says no crooked government institutions or morally bankrupt corporations will stop me from seeking justice by exposing corruption.
So to all you men out there feeling victimized by women, or your notions about feminism, I suggest taking all that anger and resentment, all that shadow Warrior energy that makes you want to lash out at women, or at men who stand up for women, and transmute it into fevered action for a cause that you’re most passionate about, that most serves your greatest good, that is best guided by your King.
That’s what I do when I write articles like this.
Frederick Marx is interested in starting an advice column on all things male related. We invite you to place suggestions, or specific questions, below on issues you would like to see addressed.