“Stop building walls and start building doors.” Inside the Conversation at The Good Men Project.
Publisher’s note: Every Friday, we hold an hour-long conference call for Premium Members and any ongoing contributors to The Good Men Project. On each call, we talk about different aspects of the changing roles of men in the 21st century. These posts are a glimpse into what is said on the calls. The post is not an actual transcript, but a summary of the ideas discussed, and not every person was quoted. If you would like to join in the calls, please consider becoming a Premium Member [click here] or a contributor [click here].
These calls are designed to invite the talk about the issues of men that we discuss on Good Men Project. However, what I really like to do is to look at what has been happening in the news over the past week—to look at the stories about what is part of the cultural conversation—and then tie those stories back into the discussion we are having about men here on The Good Men Project. And those of you who have been with us for a while know that the breadth and scope of what we talk about on these calls is pretty amazing—yes, we talk about the changing roles of men, but we look at that change through the lens of relationships, the workplace, online dating, racism—from politics to prison reform, to marriage, to LGBT issues, to the Man-Box—and many other topics and issues that overlap and intersect.
And today—one of the more poignant news stories of the week was a small piece of the migrant/refugee crisis that is happening across Europe and the Middle East—the photo of the body of a 3 year old Syrian boy that washed up on a beach after drowning when the raft he was in with his family overturned as they were traveling from Turkey to Greece, on their way to seek asylum in Canada.
First, by way of definition and context, refugees are forced out of their country by war, persecution or human rights violations. Migrants are people who leave a land they have been living because they are seeking a better life. Refugees are not leaving for economic advantage, migrants are. Refugees often have to leave at a moment’s notice, traumatized, often torn from their families. For migrants, it is a more of a conscious, deliberate choice, although—as is in this case—it can still be incredibly traumatic and can have catastrophic consequences.
And there are a few points I would like to make about what is going on and how they tie to what we talk about on The Good Men Project.
- We have a lot of very lofty goals at GMP, but stopping the war in Syria is not one of them. That said, we believe that this conversation we are having is so important that ultimately it can create the type of change that can help solve some of the bigger challenges the world is having today. We are not trying to do it alone, we don’t believe we are superheroes, we don’t pretend to have greater influence than we do. But by understanding the role that men play in power and economics worldwide—and then understanding some of the ways we’ve been able to create social change and see results on a much smaller level—we do believe that we can help work towards goals that include ending human rights violations and opening up relationships to be healthier, more empathetic and more helpful across a vast array of circumstances.
- Getting back to migrants vs. refugees, there are a couple of interesting pieces to the story—none of which is meant to dilute the tragicness of what happened. One is that migrants often travel with nothing more than a cellphone, and they use the GPS tracking system to find figure out where they are going. And I think that maybe—if you think about the way that the world is changing, you can almost see how technology can help be one of the solutions. But this is something I don’t yet see in the conversation about solutions. Think of the two trends in “apps”. For example, AirBNB allows people to rent out rooms in peoples homes, day by day or month by month. And other Apps allow people to get jobs by signing up—things like Task Monkey or Uber. Regardless of what country people are in—migrants are driven by economics and available jobs. And so I wonder what the next way that technology will intersect with a global crisis like this will be. For those of you had heard about how I had helped Iceland get on social media, for example, and now Iceland says it is opening its country up to try to help…I think looking at ways technology can be an enabler is important. Can ordinary people help in this crisis through being connected with technology? Connecting migrants to the two things they need—shelter and jobs? I think it’s worth thinking about.
- The flip side of that coin is that because migrants are people who are have time to plan and are specifically seeking an economic advantage—they are often taken advantage of economically. The illegal smuggling of migrants as a business has, according to the NYTimes, grown larger than the illegal smuggling of either drugs or weapons across country lines.
- And that was the scenario that lead to the death of the Syrian boy, and the picture of this boy that traveled round the world. His family had paid about $4,500 for a boat that was supposed to get them from Turkey to Greece. It was supposed to be a yacht, not a rubber raft. And this is where it gets to the point that it is men, power and economics.
This story is one that prompted someone I know to tell me how the story caused them to feel completely overwhelmed, and how they could never make enough of a difference.
And as overwhelming as that story is, I disagree that we can never make enough of a difference. For this is also a story about a father, and the fact that the father was trying to create a better life for his children is actually the part of the story that resonated with me most. And that story is a story that gets told time and time again on The Good Men Project. Fathers who are opening their minds, changing the way they were raised, creating a better life for their children in any way that they can. One of the biggest changes we’ve helped create is to overturn the stereotype that Dads are bumbling idiots who couldn’t possibly change a diaper if a sports game was on TV. We helped create that change in very concrete ways. Another, similar change we helped create is that SAHD’s were somehow slackers who just couldn’t get a job. It’s no longer assumed that dads staying home with their kids are doing so because they didn’t have a choice — which was the cultural narrative out there only a few years ago. Another change we’ve seen is the fear in the past that Dads shouldn’t take paternity leave because they might lose their economic advantage in the workplace—and we’ve highlighted sports figures and entrepreneurs and celebrities and average guys who are all looking at that differently. We’ve also talked about Dads who are Ok with their own kids gender and sexual fluidity—men who were themselves raised in very homophobic environments but now fully embrace their children’s choices as they express a wide array of gender and sexual choices.
And I remember a story on Good Men Project, about how changing the dynamics of homophobia created additional change. The post was called “Like Any Other High School But Without Bullies”. And the point of the article was that school environments that support gender and sexuality expressions of all kinds simply don’t have the bullying that other schools have.
And, what is war but the ultimate form of bullying? Again, I’m not trying to stop the war in Syria with this conversation we’re having about men. But seeing this grow of the past few years has made me realize “change is possible.”
I’d like to open it up to the group now.
Yasmina Blackburn: I’m really glad you are talking about this. I write about Civil Rights and specifically Islamaphobia. And I’m happy to see a place for that conversation in The Good Men Project. Your point about using technology to provide solutions is amazing. And the conversation about migrants and refugees is all of much personal importance to me. I am a Muslim-American—and my mother was born in a refugee camp in Austria. So when I heard Austria was opening its doors again to refugees, I got a wave of emotion—I wouldn’t have even been here without Austria’s help. And my dad was a migrant from Bulgaria who escaped into Greece. I’m noticing in the cultural conversation, large companies are using the word “migrant” inappropriately. Refugee does mean something different, and in fact having refugee status may afford you certain rights….In my fight against Islamaphobia, I run across a lot who are frustrated and sad, as well as a lot of the blame game. So it’s good to hear positive and immediate solutions. You are already offering others ideas that can help.
Gina Raymond: I like the connection about war being like bullying. And one thing that has been effective to making bullying less public is bystander intervention. Technology can also help to make bystander intervention easier. And technology can, of course, allow people to give money to those in need. It does make it easier to help.
Zat: The work I do is as a men’s coach, individual personal development—and that is very fulfilling to me. But I’ve always wanted to reach out and do more global work. I’d like to connect with people who are affected by the big picture as I am. I understand the idea of people feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Yes, I can and do work locally, but I’d like to help on a more global level. How can I help?
Cynthia Barnett: I’d like to tell a story about a bully in my neighborhood. His older brother had already been in trouble with the law; his parents were angry and disruptive. This boy, about 10 years old, was teasing kids at the bus stop, pulling up flower beds, shooting animals with bb guns. And my own kids were terrorized by him at the bus stop. So I did one good thing, which I realize now wasn’t nearly enough, and the story doesn’t have a completely happy ending. I wrote a letter to the boy, and I said ‘I notice you have great leadership skills. People will do as you say. But I need you to protect the young ones. They are scared. I hope you use your power for good.’ And I baked some brownies and said I hoped he would share them at the bus stop. And I heard after that he did share the brownies, and that the bullying stopped at the bus stop. But sadly, years later, after we had moved away, I heard he was in trouble with the law. So it didn’t have a completely happy ending. But I do think that honoring the qualities of leadership in men when they are used for good can be an effective strategy for change.
Yasmina Blackburn: That story sparked something else in me. When there’s a crisis happening globally, there’s often an insularity here in the US: “that’s happening over there, it’s not my problem, there’s nothing I can do.” But even by witnessing, we can help. And we should be afraid about what might happen if we can’t even help a small country in crisis. What would happen if it dominoed? Plus, if there was a crisis here, I believe there would be a sense of entitlement—because we are a superpower, we believe that people would come to our aid automatically.
Theresa Byrne: I love listening to Lisa because she never gives something dark without being able to bring it to light. I love the idea of the story being about a father who was trying to help his family. I love the story of the bully. I love the idea of witnessing and of bystander intervention. We need to bring awareness and consciousness to our stories and bring a light to it.
Thaddeus Howze: I am going to say something unpopular, and I’m just warning you. We are talking about a singular event when it comes to migrants without looking at the fact that these mass migrations are happening all over the world. We need to look at the systems behind what is happening. We have our own migrants who came from Mexico because they were terrorized there, and when they came to the US they were treated horrifically…Whenever the stock market rises, people get displaced. When we make money somewhere, others suffer. Because we exploit workers. That is what we do to make a profit. We don’t talk about environmental migration, but these things are happening because we are not good stewards of the earth. Why aren’t we looking at the processes that cause these migrations to happen?
Jessicah Lahitou: I’m glad you brought up the migrant crisis in our own country and how we are oblivious or nasty about it. There are opportunities to speak up about migrants in our own country if what is happening globally seems too out of reach to affect.
Roger Toennis: Whenever Thaddeus speaks, I’m in awe. I agree with him that we have to address the underlying issues. And as Patty and I speak of often, we believe it is the versatility between positive and negative, masculine and feminine energies and how we can use those qualities to create good everywhere around the world. We need more positive psychology around masculinity. To take the positive masculine traits and balance them with the positive feminine traits. It’s not masculine vs. feminine, it’s choosing positive energy vs. choosing negative energy.
Lisa Hickey: I want to touch on one thing Thaddeus said about environmental migration. I had read that in a recent report by the Pentagon, they believe the number one threat to national security is going to be climate change, which they believe will lead to more wars and fighting over a scarcity of resources. And if we cannot step up our stewardship of the earth, which Thaddeus so eloquently stated, war, poverty and battling over resources will be among the consequences.
Thaddeus Howze: You should see what earth looks like from space. In one of the last photos Voyager sent back, the Earth looks like a little smudge, a little speck of dust at the edge of the photograph. If we don’t view the earth as a closed system, one that needs to be maintained, and nurtured and kept alive, it will kill us. The earth will still exist—it’s lasted billions of years. But the earth has also killed 99.9% of everything that has existed on it. And what we have to remember is that we matter. We matter more than profit, more than money, more than religion. There are dead zones in the ocean, radioactive patches, melting ice caps. We have to start putting the world first. We also have to remember there will be more migration, not less. Migrants will come to America. The solution is not a wall. Ask China how that great wall project worked for them. It worked for maybe 50 years and then got too difficult to guard, too difficult to maintain. We need to stop making walls and start making doors. War is convenient and easy and we’ve now made it invisible. That has to stop.
Roger Toennis: That was great Thaddeus, because you balanced the bad with the good, and talked about what we need to do next. It’s stunning how fast thing will change for the better if we put our heads together. We can fix the floating garbage. It’s not impossible…In the next election, we need to use positivity to vote for positivity so we can find the way up and over. Don’t scare people. Inspire them.
Thaddeus Howze: We sent a rocket that landed on Mars. To give you a glimpse of the technological feat that involved, it would have been like sitting at a hotel window in Los Angeles, shooting a bullet out of the window, and having someone in NY shoot a bullet out of a window over there. And then having the two bullets meet on their trajectory somewhere over the Midwest. We can do amazing things when we are clear. NASA doesn’t work for profit, it works for knowledge. I did the math. If we had spent the same $3 billion we did on war, we could have put a solar panel on every building in America and immediately gotten rid of our dependence on foreign oil.
Yasmina Blackburn: I have seen change. Start in your own community. Lead by example. Connect. Know that the world is small.
Dixie Gillaspie: Most of what I’ve been hearing here is about opportunity. We leave these calls with different points of view about the details, but big picture we all leave these calls with the reinforcement: “Change is possible.”
Photo: DVIDSHUB / Flickr
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